By Jeffrey the Barak.
Look Ma’uka from Kailua and you will see upon the shoulder of Konahuinui, two very square looking notches in the ridge line. Approaching Kailua on the highest part of Pali Highway from Honolulu they appear huge and close up on the right, just before you dive down through the tunnels.
It seems quite obvious to people who can read the land, that vertical dykes in the basalt fractured, and two neat square gaps appeared in the ridge line.
However, according to legend, the Pali Notches, which to many, exhibit signs of being man-made, were carved out of the mountain ridge leading up from today’s Pali Lookout to the the summit of Konahuanui, also known as Mount Olympus.
It is told in local legend that in preparation for the defending battle against Kamehameha the Great, the armies serving O’ahu’s last chief, Kalanikūpule, using nothing more than stone tools, quickly carved out the massive gaps in the solid basaltic ridge in order to place small cannons acquired from British sailors. The division was led by one of Kamehameha’s own chiefs, Kaiana, who had defected to Kalanikūpule’s side before the battle of Nu’uanu.
In fact, Kamehameha also employed the guns of Europeans in the battle of Nu’uanu, and it is easy to imagine a few of the O’ahu warriors dying of gunshot woulds from weapons they had no idea existed as they retreated up the Nu’uanu valley for the last time.
But why do we just accept this legend?
For humans without machinery or explosives, the carving of such enormous notches, as tall as multi-story buildings, could take decades or centuries, and you don’t get centuries to prepare for a naval invasion by a chief who may exist in the future.
These are massive cliffs. 18th Century guns are very small objects, which operate just as well when they are not between two giant rock walls. Many brave, and perhaps foolhardy, people hike up the knife-thin ridge and ascend and descend each side of each notch. A few fall and die, but most make it down in time for lunch. None have taken pictures of, or seen any evidence of, two and a quarter century old carving, chiseling or blasting on these eroded rock faces, which, when viewed close up, are not the neat square notches that they appear to be from lower altitudes.
Add to this, the elephant in the room. If you look up the Pali from the Kailua side, there are other, very similar, notches along the Ko’olau ridge line, including some just across the Pali gap beyond the Pali Puka hike.
And then when we really start to think, and we understand collapse via vertical dykes in eroded basalt, it becomes less of a surprise that these giant square gaps appear along the ridge line. They probably looked virtually identical to how they appear today, when Polynesian humans first glimpsed upon them from the ocean.
Today’s Ko’olau, despite their imposing grandeur, are just the roots of a great mountain, once as high as Mauna Kea, that has collapsed and dissolved over time to leave the current terrain. Some great lumps, such as the 230 cubic mile Tuscaloosa Seamount, which is not a seamount at all, but a boulder that fell off this mountain, are far offshore at the bottom of the abyss far away from, and many feet below the height of, today’s Kaneohe Bay. But besides the great Nu’uanu Slide that led to the debris field at the bottom of the ocean off Kaneohe, most of the volcano has simply slowly dissolved away and dispersed over the deep ocean floor.
So why is this story of the the notches being man-made, universally accepted and automatically repeated? It seems that anyone and everyone has made the assumption that they are not natural, and were truly created as gun emplacements for one epic day in history.
It is repeated by Local historians, by hipster hikers, and in tour guides that entice ill-prepared malahini and kama’aina to the deadly climb.
However even squadrons of Menehune with modern jackhammers and dynamite sticks could not have made them. Something far greater was needed, and that was rainwater and lots of time.
Jeffrey the Barak lives in Kailua and glances up at the notches quite frequently.