Wednesday, December 29, 2010


On October 23, 2010, we were given a tour of the Honolulu area by my cousin Rob and one of the sites that we located was the Nu’uanu petroglyphs. They are located in Nu’uanu valley which is where the deciding battle of King Kamehaha I’s drive to conquer Oahu and thus unify the Hawaiian islands occurred in 1795.
Nu'uannu Stream, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. Photo: Peter Faris, Oct. 23, 2010.
According to Wikipedia the battle “is known in the Hawaiian language as Kalelekaʻanae, which means "the leaping mullet", and refers to a number of Oahu warriors driven off the cliff in the final phase of the battle. Kamehameha I had begun his campaign to unify Hawaii in 1783, but prior to 1795 had only managed to unify the Big Island. In February 1795 he assembled the largest army the Hawaiian Islands had ever seen, with about 12,000 men and 1,200 war canoes. Kamehameha initially moved against the southern islands of Maui and Molokai, conquering them in the early spring. Then he invaded Oahu”. ('uanu)

Nu'uannu petroglyphs, dogs and human figures. Honolulu,
Oahu, Hawaii. Photo: Peter Faris, Oct. 23, 1020.

Kamehameha I prevailed and at the climax of the battle, caught between the Hawaiian Army and a 1000-foot drop, “over 400 Oahu warriors either jumped or were pushed over the edge of the Pali” ('uanu) - the leaping mullet. This had been the last major challenge to Kamehaha I and afterword the combined islands were known as the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Dog petroglyphs, Nu'uannu, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii.

The Nu’uanu petroglyphs consist of three sites along the Nu’uanu stream behind the Nu’uanu Memorial Park Cemetery and the Royal Mausoleum, near Alapena pool. They have a total of as many as forty carved images mostly human figures and dogs. The number of dog images is somewhat surprising as there are no wild canids on the Hawaiian Islands to commemorate, so they have to be representations of the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris).

While the meaning of these dog images is not known for sure there are a number of possibilities in mythology listed in Traditions of O’ahu: Dog Gods of the Ko'olau Mountains. A number of the tales involve a supernatural dog named Poki. Seeing Poki was an ill omen and a traveler who saw the dog would be wise to return home to avoid disaster. In other tales Poki was the pet of an evil spirit living in the mountains.

Nu'uannu petroglyphs, dogs and human figures. Honolulu,
Oahu, Hawaii. Photo: Peter Faris, Oct. 23, 1020.

There is another interesting myth involving a dog. In this myth Kane, the chief god of the Hawaiian pantheon used to party with his companions at night in the mountains over Wai-pi’o valley and each drink of awa (the intoxicating drink known as kava in the Pacific islands ) was accompanied by a blast on their conch shell horns (pu). Kane’s horn, the famed kiha-pu, was of divine origin and possessed supernatural power, as well as being louder than any other. These loud sessions disrupted the whole countryside and kept the inhabitants awake all night. To deal with these disruptions King Liloa sent a dog named Puapualenalena to steal Kiha-pu, which subsequently became a prized possession of Hawaiian monarchs. ( This Kiha-pu can be seen on display at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
One myth directly related to the Nu’uannu petroglyphs claims that they portray a mythical dog named Kaupe who had once been a human who had ruled Nu’uanu valley. During his reign he ate a lot of people and later Kaupe became a malevolent spirit in dog form that calls out to people at night to lure them to their deaths. (Reference:
Whichever story we choose to believe this concentration of dog petroglyphs seems totally unique and is off the beaten path so it may not be visited as regularly as more publicized sites.


Traditions of O’ahu: Dog Gods of the Ko'olau Mountains, Asia-Pacific Digital Library, Kapi’olani Community College, (


Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Hereford, West face of the painted boulder, South
Park, Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris, 1994.

One day in the summer of 1994 I was driving down South Park in the Colorado Rockies on C-285 headed for Chaco Canyon when I came upon this idyllic scene. I do not know exactly what caused me to pay attention to this cow specifically because there is no shortage of cattle in pastures along rural roads in Colorado to observe. Something about this cow lying down in the field attracted my attention. A few seconds later I looked back in the rear-view mirror and saw the second scene. I pulled over and stopped on the shoulder of the highway before turning around and going back to take the pictures included here.

This erratic boulder in the field which so resembles in size and shape the form of a reclining cow had been (as you can see) painted to look like just that, and cleverly, whoever the artist had been, a different breed was used for each side. The east face of the boulder resembled (to my eyes anyway) a Holstein while the west face of the boulder was obviously a Hereford. They were certainly well enough done that they stood up to a casual glance and I was at least momentarily fooled by the scene.

Holstein, East face of painted boulder, South
Park, Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris, 1994.

To me this is a wonderful example of playfulness, whoever painted this boulder (and I assume that it was the rancher who owns the land it lies on) took the time and effort with no possible profit other than the joy involved. And it has been kept up as far as I know. The last time I saw it was just a couple of years ago and it was still painted although the paint looked much less fresh than when I first saw it. In its current incarnation it is not painted as two different breeds, at my last observation of it both sides were painted to look like the Hereford.

Each time I drive down C-285 I look forward to visiting my old friend, and it has been that way for the past sixteen years. My thanks to that anonymous rancher for adding a spot of joy to the world. Oh, and by the way, good job painting too!


A REVIEW: Reading the Rocks: Aboriginal Australia’s Painted History, by Samir S. Patel, pages 32 – 37 & 68, Archaeology, January-February 2011, Vol. 64, No. 1.
This article, excellently written by Samil S. Patel, a senior editor and writer at Archaeology, is about the researches of archaeologist and rock art specialist Paul S. C. Tacon of Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia, at the amazing rock art site of Djulirri in the Wellington Range of Arnhem Land in northern Australia. Its setting is a visit with Tacon and the aboriginal owner of the site Ronald Lamilami to Djulirri which affords the opportunity to describe the site and its significance. Djulirri’s additions and overpaintings cover an immense period of time. Tacon traces its early images back 15,000 years and the last major additions to the panels were painted about 50 years ago.

Aside from good information, and a very interesting look at the Australian rock art tradition, the importance of this piece by author Samir S. Patel is that for a change rock art is being discussed as a valid part of the historical record and a source of cultural information. “Djulirri is among the top handful of rock art sites in the world, and in its layers of pigments and stained rock is an abundance of information about Aboriginal culture and how it dealt with the sweeping changes of the last few centuries.”

This article also includes valuable information on how the aboriginal culture understands the rock art record. “All the stories are here in the rock” says Lamilami. “Each year, a new concept would be drawn - what happened the year before that, it’s a time lapse.” Patel points out that “Other rock art sites, such as Lascaux in France, capture only a narrow period of time, and even the deepest archaeological deposits aren’t willful creations like this. Djulirri might be the longest continuously updated human record in the world.” In other words according to Lamilami, this site represents an annually updated record of what happened to his people over that span of time, much like the winter counts of many of the Native American tribes of the Great Plains of North America.

I feel that this six page article contains more real understanding and usable information than some of the books on rock art sitting on my bookshelf. Do yourself a favor; make sure you get to read this one.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Among the birds pictured in rock art of the American southwest are the figures of some birds that are not native to North America but which had been imported from Meso-America. These alien visitors are parrots and macaws. Macaws and parrots, along with copper bells, and sea shells were imported from the jungles of southern Mexico, up to 1,000 kilometers (more than 600 miles) to the south.
Macaws and parrots were important birds in prehistoric Mimbres-area communities by A.D. 1000. Scarlet macaws apparently were imported into the area from the tropical lowlands in Mexico. Macaws in particular evidently were of special, perhaps ceremonial, importance as indicated by consistent age at death, probably reflecting sacrifice in the spring, and by deliberate burial, often in special rooms in the community. Remains of macaws and parrots were also found in abundance at Chaco Canyon and other sites proving that not just the feathers, but the birds themselves had been traded for.

There were basically two species of Macaw that were prehistorically imported into the American southwest from Mesoamerica. These are the military macaw (Ara militaris), a green feathered species, and the scarlet macaw (aro macao). The military macaw is from relatively dry areas and its range reached to within 20-30 miles of the Arizona/Mexico border. The scarlet macaw occupied wetter habitation so its natural range ends considerably farther south (Hutchins 36-37). Scarlet macaws are relatively easily tamed and so would have been easier to transport (Hutchins p.40).

Three macaws, Hovenweep National Monument,
Utah/Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris.

My petroglyph of macaws is located at Hovenweep. There are three of the birds arrayed horizontally across the center of the picture with their heads with curved beaks facing to the right and their tails pointing out to the left. The bird on the right has a squared fret design sticking up from its tail, the center bird seems to be standing on a Mesa Verde style t-shaped doorway, and a smaller, fainter one is on the left side past the spiral.

Close-up of three macaws, Hovenweep National
Monument, Utah/Colorado. Photo: Peter Faris.

Native American societies prized feathers for decorative purposes as well as for their perceived symbolic and spiritual meanings. For any people who highly prized feathers the feathers of Mexican macaws would have been valued highly indeed for the beauty of their bright colors. Pueblo peoples associated macaws with the rainbow because of their bright colors and, as birds, they belonged in the sky. The accompanying complex of associations included clouds, the sun, and rain, and maize (which needed rain to grow). The multicolored plumage of macaws also suggested the many colors of kernels found on Indian maize. Thus it is not surprising that macaw and parrot feathers were important for the creation of “Corn Mother” fetishes. Pueblo peoples create “Corn Mother” fetishes, based on a perfect head of corn bundled within a cluster of feathers. Called the mi’li at Zuni, the base was hollowed out and a heart of flint was placed within. Called a tiponi at Hopi, instead of flint it held seeds. Among the feathers affixed to the corn mother, the feathers of the macaw were highly prized. They would have also been prized for the creation of Pahos the so-called "prayer sticks".

Parrot effigy pot, Tonto polychrome, ca. 1300-1400,
p.189, Brasser, Native American Clothing, 2009

The Tonto polychrome macaw effigy pot illustrated was created by the Hohokam people of southern Arizona.

It is hardly surprising then to find images of parrots and/or macaws in the rock art of the region. While we cannot know if the motive for the creation of their images was to invoke spiritual influences, a prayer for rain, or just to brag about wealth, it is interesting to reflect that the images of parrots and macaws are placed on the rocks in a region where they never naturally lived. These images remain as a symbol of the complexities of the culture of these people who benefited from these long distance trade networks.


Hutchins, Megan
2008   Survey of the Macaw, p. 36-44, in Mesoamerican Influences in the Southwest, Kachinas, Macaws, and Feathered Serpents, edited by Glenna Nielsen-Grimm, Museum of Peoples and Cultures, Popular Series #4, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


In March 2004, we had an opportunity to visit the fascinating rock art of Hueco Tanks, east of El Paso, Texas. While the main purpose of the visit was to see the numerous mask pictographs at that location we saw many other things as well. Named for a number of natural pools of rainwater (or tanks) so valuable to non-technological people in that arid landscape, Hueco Tanks has obviously attracted visitors for millennia. According to the DesertUSA website: “Over the millennia, Hueco Tanks has drawn desert plant and wildlife communities and prehistoric and historic man into its folds primarily because its huecos (a Spanish word for “hollow”) – especially the deep ones that lie beneath sheltering rock ceilings – trap and hold drinkable water, that most valuable desert commodity. Indeed, as Robert Miles and Ron Ralph said in an article in The Handbook of Texas Online, Hueco Tanks held virtually the only dependable source of water between the Pecos River, roughly 120 miles to the east, and El Paso, some 30 miles to the west.”

Mammoth rub, Hueco Tanks, Texas.
Photo: Peter Faris, March 2004.

Not too far from the park headquarters, our ranger guide pointed out an area up on the cliff face where the rock projection had been been artificially smoothed and polished. This smoothing had been done by mammoths scratching their itches by rubbing against the rock. According to the ranger this had been confirmed by laboratory analysis which found the remnants of proteins from their skin and hair absorbed into the rock.

A number of other such locations have been discovered and can be researched online. This vestige of Paleolithic giants gave one a sense of personal connection. Unlike the sterility of simply academic knowledge of their former existence, here we could personally experience contact with a rock that they had rubbed up against. This feeling was not at all unlike the feeling we get when in the presence of rock art, that we can somehow contact on a personal level the reality of the person who created the art, and what can be more exciting than that?

Although these are generically known as "mammoth rubbing stones" and that is certainly accurate and descriptive, I have been looking for a technical term to apply to these sites. In the context of RockArtBlog I have decided to name them pachydermaglyphs - what do you think?


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Pohaku Ka Luahine, Moanalua Valley, Oahu. Showing one deeply
pecked anthropomorph and some random markings and grooves
on the top. Photo: Peter Faris, October 23, 2010.

Pohaku Ka Luahine is said to translate as "the rock of the old woman". It was reportedly given this name after an incident in which a child broke kapu by crying at a religious ceremony, an offense punishable by death. The child’s grandmother ran up the valley with it and hid behind the stone until the kapu expired and the warriors stopped searching for them.
Pohaku Ka Luahine, Moanalua Valley, Oahu. Showing 
random markings and grooves on the top.
Photo: Peter Faris, October 23, 2010.

Pohaku Ka Luahine, Moanalua Valley, Oahu. Showing two faintly
pecked anthropomorphs and the trunk of the mango tree it sits under.
Photo: Peter Faris, October 23, 2010.

Wikipedia gives a short history of the Moanalua valley. “Samuel Mills Damon inherited the ahupuaʻa (uplands-to-sea tract) of Moanalua in 1884 from Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, whose husband Charles Reed Bishop was a business partner of Damon. Before her, since the lands were won in battle by Kamehameha I they passed from Kameʻeiamoku to Ulumāheihei Hoapili, then to Prince Lot Lot Kapuāiwa (who became King Kamehameha V), and Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani. Damon later became one of the first trustees of the Kamehameha Schools established by the Bishops. The Damon estate sold much of Moanalua to commercial and residential developers in 1956.” Formerly part of Samuel Mills Damon estate, the trail follows the old estate carriage road up the valley from the Moanalua Valley park.

Old carriage road hiking trail, Moanalua Valley, Oahu.
Photo: Peter Faris, October 23, 2010.

Cobbles of the old carriage road hiking trail, Moanalua
Valley, Oahu. Photo: Peter Faris, October 23, 2010.

With cousin Rob as my guide we hiked up the cobbles of the old carriage road the requisite seven crossings of the stream and there on the right under the mango tree just as described was the petroglyph boulder Pohaku Ka Luahine. Earlier records credit this boulder with twenty one anthropomorphic figures as well as a 90-point konane game board (James 2010:49). Unfortunately it has received a certain amount of vandalism and appears to have suffered from weathering erosion as well. A few traditional style Hawaiian figures are visible on the sides of the stone. I could not really see the grid of pits of the konane game board supposedly pecked into the top. This is a checkers-like game played with black and white pebbles by Hawaiians and examples have been found with one hundred and more pits pecked into boulders. Given the dim light under the jungle canopy there were few options for visual clues from side-lighting, the surface of the boulder appears fairly uniform, and much of what can be seen did not come through on photos.

It was certainly a lovely hike through the jungle though, well worth it for the exercise alone, and to also see the rock art made it a really special afternoon.


James, Van
2010      Ancient Sites of Oahu: Revised Edition, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu.