Long ago, these primitive renderings depicting people, animals, canoes and other objects were painstakingly carved onto rocks or old lava flows, but their exact meanings remain a mystery.
Are they the result of some sacred rituals practiced by the early Hawaiians? Where they used to record family genealogy? Were they meant to provide directions to certain places? Or could it be that petroglyphs were simply doodlings carved by bored or weary natives?
No one knows for sure. Curiously, petroglyphs aren’t mentioned in chants or myths that have been handed down through the generations, making it even more difficult for historians to piece together the petroglyph puzzle.
Petroglyphs can be found throughout Hawaii. On Lanai, ancient rock carvings may be viewed in an area near Shipwreck Beach (north of Lanai City. Depicted appears to be a hunting scene with 13 men, a horse, a dog and either a wild pig or cow. There are also many petroglyphs showing men, women and children in an assortment of poses; they’re depicted performing a number of activities, including surfing, fishing and hunting.
One petroglyph shows a man with a dog and Axis deer. It’s believed that the first wave of Polynesian settlers to Hawaii brought dogs with them. Axis deer were brought to the islands from India in the mid-1800s. Today, there are more than 8,000 Axis deer on Lanai.
Another petroglyph reserve is located in the southern part of Lanai. From Lanai City, head toward Manele Bay on Manele Bay Road, then turn left on the first dirt road. The petroglyphs are just beyond the large water tank on the slopes of the hill. Most of the petroglyphs found in this three-acre area are found on the south faces of the boulders.
Even though the exact meanings of these images may forever be a mystery lost in time, they remain important vestiges of Hawaii’s past. Always show respect for the petroglyphs and take care not to damage them.