In ancient times, the sacred places of Oahu were treated with great
reverence and care. These significant areas help perpetuate Oahu's
history, culture and the island's sense of place. Sites include heiau
(temples or places of worship), pohaku (stones), petroglyphs, caves and
rock shelters and fishponds. Today, these places are still considered sacred,
and according to many native Hawaiians, possess spiritual power.
Oahu's North Shore
On Oahu's North Shore at Waimea Valley, is Hale o Lono Heiau. Dedicated
to the god Lono, the heiau was built between 1470 A.D. and 1700 A.D. It
is the only place in the state where you can see and hear chants and
ceremonies in a meticulously restored heiau.
The largest heiau on Oahu, Puu o Mahuka Heiau, a state monument, covers
almost two acres on a ridge overlooking Waimea Valley. In the 1770s,
high priest Kaopulupulu, under Oahu Chief Kahahana, oversaw the heiau
and attended to the many gods installed there. Because this was a time
of political upheaval, it is likely that this powerful heiau was used
as a sacrificial temple, perhaps for successes in war. In 1795, when
Kamehameha I conquered Oahu, his high priest Hewahewa conducted
religious ceremonies at the heiau. This practice continued until 1819 when this religion was
abolished by Hawaiians themselves.
Kukaniloko Birthstones, a state monument, is the first ancient site on
Oahu to have been officially recognized, preserved and protected. The
Daughters of Hawaii were responsible for this important feat. When
Kukaniloko was visited by the alii (chief), they sat arranged in two
rows on 18 lava rock seats flanking a central birthing stone. The
stones, many of which are indented with bowl-like shapes, now lie
haphazardly in a small grove of coconut and eucalyptus trees located
between Wahiawa and Haleiwa in a pineapple field. According to Hawaiian
tradition, powerful gods of chiefly lines inhabited this area and could
relieve the pains of labor. The alii birthing ritual conducted at this
site involved the participation of an additional 48 chiefs to
administer to the newborn and the use of sacred drums to announce the
birth to the commoners gathered below.
Perhaps one of the most captivating temples on the island is Kaneaki
Heiau, known to have been both an agricultural and war temple.
Construction began in the 15th century with a two-terrace structure,
followed by five more construction phases that, by 1650 A.D., doubled
the size of the heiau. It is located in the upper Makaha Valley.
The Kapaeleele Koa is a fishing shrine located on the western slope of
Kahana Valley overlooking Kahana Bay. From this vantage point,
fishermen could spot the schools of fish in the bay and signal
fishermen below to surround them successfully. Offerings given at the
shrine ensured a bountiful catch.
In the 1700s, Kailua was a favored place of Oahu chiefs because of the
fresh waters of Kawainui Marsh that fed a large fishpond and irrigated
numerous taro fields. Located on the eastern side of Kawainui Marsh is
the Ulupo Heiau, also a state monument. Legend says it was built by menehune (legendary race of small people) with stones carried from
across the island and completed in a single night. A pool of fresh
water in the corner of the site was used to prepare offerings for the
Oahu's South Shore
On a high ridge in the forested uplands, overlooking Puuloa and the
southern shoreline of Oahu, is Keaiwa Heiau (part of Kea'iwa Heiau
State Recreation Area) which was built during the time of Kakuhihewa, a
benevolent chief of Oahu in the 16th century. Keaiwa translates to "mysterious or incomprehensible" and may refer to the spiritual power
of the kahuna (priest) and the use of herbs for healing.
Na Pohaku Ola Kapaemahu a Kapuni, also known as the wizard stones, date
back to the 15th century. According to legend, four priests from Tahiti
with healing powers arrived on Oahu during the last migration of
Polynesians to the islands. They spent many years in Waikiki. Before
returning home, they gave residents a gift - the four stones imbued
with their mana (healing powers). The healing stones are believed to
have been quarried from Kaimuki, several miles from Waikiki - two in
the ocean and two on land. The stones are now located on Kuhio Beach in
Nuuanu Petroglyphs can be seen along Nuuanu Stream below Nuuanu
Memorial Park, at Alapena Pool and Kapena Falls. Numerous carved animal
and human figures can be found throughout these three locations. The
dog figures, prominent in Nuuanu Valley lore, are a guardian spirit.
The lava rock formation seen from the Hawaii Kai Golf Club and on the
road to Makapuu is Pele's Chair or Pele's Throne. It is at the end of a ridge, right at the water's edge, and
said to be one of the places where the volcano goddess left Oahu
to continue on her search for a suitable home on other islands.
Photo Courtesy: Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Petroglyph photo by Kirk Lee Aeder; Nuuanu Pali Lookout photo by Chuck Painter