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Ancient Sites of Oahu, Hawaii

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.

Central Oahu
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.

Leeward Oahu

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.

Windward Oahu
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 altar.

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 Waikiki.

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.



Oahu Visitors Bureau
733 Bishop Street, Suite 1520
Honolulu, HI 96813
(808) 524-0722

Photo Courtesy: Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Petroglyph photo by Kirk Lee Aeder; Nuuanu Pali Lookout photo by Chuck Painter