MAKENA, Maui — A group of Native Hawaiian elders has joined the controversy over nude sunbathing at Little Beach, retaining a lawyer and vowing to bring "pono'' values to a shoreline area they consider sacred.
Members of Na Kupuna O Maui met yesterday at Makena State Park with a citizens' task force assigned to help the state Parks Division create a master plan for the 165-acre coastal park, which includes Pu'u Ola'i Beach, popularly known as Little Beach.
J.P. Schmidt, a former Maui County corporation counsel who is working for the group on a pro bono basis, told the task force that Na Kupuna would be seeking designation for Makena State Park as a state and or national historical district.
While such a designation would help preserve the historical and cultural resources of the region, it might also lead to greater enforcement of laws that prohibit nude sunbathing, Schmidt said.
"People don't go nude sunbathing at Gettysburg, the National Mall or the Vatican,'' he said.
Members of the elders group described the area as "sacred grounds'' where people should conduct themselves in a pono, or seemly and proper, manner.
In Hawaiian legend, Pu'u Ola'i, the 1,000-foot hill that towers over Little Beach, is believed to be the tail of a lizard that angered the fire deity Pele by becoming the wife of Lohi'au. Pele cut the lizard into pieces, leaving its head at Molokini islet.
The area also contains the birthplaces of the demigod Maui and another prominent figure named 'Ai-kanaka, they said, as well as other culturally significant features to be identified in archaeological and cultural surveys.
Phil Ohta, state parks manager on Maui, said his agency would welcome any effort to preserve the history of the area.
Na Kupuna representative Patty Nishiyama said the group wants to open Little Beach to traditional uses. As it stands now, she said, most Native Hawaiians don't go to the beach because the nudity offends them.
"The kupuna believe the nudity is not pono,'' she said. "There is a temple here, and we feel it's Little Beach.''
Nishiyama said the group, through its lawyer, will be keeping an eye on the issue as it is being discussed by the task force and may resort to protest, if necessary.
Although it is against the law, nudity has been a prominent feature at Little Beach for more than 30 years. Authorities have tried to enforce the law, but recent court rulings have prompted officials to look the other way.
Now, as state officials attempt to plan for development at the park, the issue has emerged again. Task force member Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., a specialist in Hawaiian culture, has issued a formal complaint against the nudity.
"When you go into somebody's house, you follow the rules of the house. This is Hawai'i. This is our culture. If part of the rules is to put on your clothes, you put on your clothes,'' Maxwell said at the park yesterday.
But Little Beach regular Alana Morgan of Kihei told Maxwell that the fear of nudity is a "Christian wound'' that needs to be healed.
Nearly 200 Little Beach regulars attended a task force meeting last month to support nude sunbathing.
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