Despite growing protests from the Polynesian community, tiny Kaho'olawe Island although two men who landed there to demand its return to public use have not been located.

In the past two weeks, seven men of Polynesian descent have staged mini-invasions of the island in two waves, stepping up pressure on the Navy to abandon the use of Kaho'olawe (pronounced ka-ho-oh-LAW-vay) as a target site. navy search parties found five of the invaders, but Walter Ritte Jr. and Richard Sawyer remain, according to their supporters.

The island, 90 miles southeast of Honolulu, has assumed more symbolic than practical significance for an increasing body of Hawaiians who are experiencing a resurgent interest in their cultural and racial past. "Hawaiian" in the 50th state generally refers to those of Polynesian blood; caucasians are known as "haoles."

Kaho'olawe is barren, dusty 45 square miles with 29 miles of coastlkne. Some Hawaiians feel that the island is sacred, the site of numerous ancestral heiaus (temples) and koas (fishing shrines) that still remain.

Since May, 1941, the military has continually conducted operations on the island, dropping untold tons of bombs.

In 1953 President Eisenhower issued an executive order returning the island to Hawaii but reserving its use for naval pruposes and giving jurisdiction to the Secretary of the Navy.

The case differs from the celebrated one of Culebra, the island off Puerto Rico that the navy used for target practice for 40 years until public outcry halted the practice in 1975. Culebra was inhabited by 800 people, while Kaho'olawe is usually uninhabited.

Whether it's practical to clear what has been called the world's most bombed island of unexploded ordnace to make it safe for public use remains unclear. A Navy-sponsored study put clean-up costs at $70 million to $130 million. A vocal segment of the Hawiian community discounts the study as biased, and demands that the rocky island become a place for public use.

Since the illegal landings, interest has mushroomed and the state's political leaders have stepped in. Gov. George Aryoshi has expressed concern. Freshman Congressman Daniel K. Akaka has asked President Carter to meet with leaders of the group opposing the bombing.

Sens Daniel K. Inouye and Spark M. Matsunaga have favored legislation supporting a year's pilot project to remove ordnance from at least 1 per cent of the island, to a depth of 4 1/2 feet, to see if removal techniques work.

And Mayor Elmer Cravalho of Maui, an island just five miles away, has gone into federal court seeking a permanent injunction against the bombing. The Navy says its bombing runs offer no hazards to Maui residents, but the mayor found an unexploded bomb in his cow pasture.

Contributing to the interest in wresting kaho'olawe from the Navy is a study of archeological and historical sites the Navy itself started last year with the state at the behest of hawaiian activists. To the surprise of many, the continuing project has turned up evidence that Hawaiians lived and worked on Kaho'olae from 1000 A.D. or earlier.

Gail Kawaipuna Prejean, leader of the Hawaiian Coalition of Native Claims, has called the Kaho'olawe issue "the first step, it's only 28,000 acres," in the entire native claims movement. "The irony of the thing is that the military is adding insult to injury by continuing their bombing, even though they realize that they must eventually clean the place up. The more bombs they drop, the bigger their clean-up job will be."

Mayor Cravalho said the newly discovered archeological sites are proof that the island "is not just a barren rock but a living link with the past," adding that the discoveries "bring us that much closer to stopping the bombing."

Although smarting from adverse publicity, the Navy says it will continue using Kaho'olawe as a target island for bombing. Maintaining combat readiness requires live exercises, and nowhere else in the mid-Pacific is there a suitable site, naval spokesmen say "We have reviewed all the alternatives to Kaho'olawe, and we haven't been able to come up with one," said Adm. Maurice Weisner, commander of U.S. armed forces in the Pacific.

The safety of the two men who landed on Kaho'olawe to protest the bombing is a reoson to stop it immediately, the protesters say. A federal court has been asked to enjoin the bombing until the pair are found and removed. But the Navy, after several days of futile searching, resumed the air stikes, saying the men wouldn't be endangered because specific sites were being targeted.

The numerous other islands in the Hawaiian archipelago are either inhabited or set aside as a national wildlife refuge, occupied by literally millions of sea birds and several endangered species of land birds.

A Navy spokesman said the projected use for Kaho'olawe is for target practice 285 days and 123 nights each year through 1979.

Another spokesman, speaking of claims that Kaho'olawe holds sacred significance for Hawaiians, said. "This isn't their Stonehenge. There's absolutely no evidence we can find that Kaho'olawe held my sacred or special religious place in the lives of the early Hawaiians. Their own creation chant refers to Kaho'olawe once, and in their reference it's called simply a rock."

Ritte, one of the two men supposedly on the island at present, recently characterized the issue as an inability of the haole to understand the Hawaiian.

"His roots are not of this soil; his history is not of this soil; his religion is not of this soil; thus he will not understand aloha aina ([love of the land]). This is Hawaii, a unique and different culture; no matter how hard one tries to make us all Americans, our differences must be respected."