In ancient Hawaii, the penalty for a person who violated a sacred law was always death since Hawaiians believed that if they did not execute a defiant villager, the gods would react violently and allow the village to fall victim to natural disasters. To protect their village from volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, famine, or earthquakes, the warriors of Honaunau pursued commoners who violated the kapu until they captured and executed them, or until lawbreakers managed to swim over to Pu'uhonua or City of Refuge. Since the remains of the chiefs protected the refuge area, the warriors could not shed blood on the sacred grounds of Pu’uhonua, and so they would end their pursuit of the lawbreakers who found refuge there.
After reaching the City of Refuge, a villager would ask the Hale o Keawe gods for a second chance at life. The priest would then perform the ceremony of absolution, which eventually allowed the lawbreaker to return to Honaunau. Since all ancient Hawaiians respected and honored the sanctity that the remains of the chiefs at Hale o Keawe bestowed on Pu’uhonua, lawbreakers would not face execution at Honaunau upon their return, and therefore believed that the gods had granted their requests for a second chance at life.
DSC08656HDR20160221 Volcano National Park Jane Mchan Fletcher Steele puuhonua o honaunau black sand beach city of refuge