Sacred Sites of Hawaii
- Take a tour of some of the idyllic sites across the many islands
- Native Hawaiians have longstanding spiritual connections in many locations
- a rich history of folklore and myth make this a rich tradition worth studying!
Picture #1 - Puu Loa Petroglyphs
About 16 miles from the rim of Kilauea, on the southeastern coast of the Big Island, is a trailhead that leads to Puu Loa, Hawaii’s largest field of petroglyphs. The site, within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, contains over 23,000 centuries-old etchings—of dimples, circles, bars, even humans and sailing canoes—in hardened lava formed sometime between the years 1200 and 1450.
Picture #2 - Puuhonua o Honaunau National Park
For centuries, Hawaiian society, stratified into classes of chiefs, priests, skilled laborers and commoners, operated under a system of laws called kapu. The punishment for breaking the kapu, set forth by the gods, was death—unless the criminal fled to a puuhonua, or place of refuge.
Picture #3 - Puukohola Heiau Historic Site
The Hawaiian Islands were first unified through King Kamehameha I. The Heiau at Pu`ukohola on the Big Island of Hawaii has a prime significance in this rich history. The remains of the Heiau (temple or “spiritual place”) at Pu`ukohola is currently a US National Historic Site. Pu`ukohola, or hill of the whale, is named as it appears like a whale’s tail from below. This quite large structure is comprised of loose, tightly fitting, rocks (lava stone) without mortar and is considered the last temple built by the ancient Hawaiians between the years of 1790 and 1791, under the leadership of Kamehameha I. The construction was undertaken due to a prophecy received by Kamehameha that if he built this temple he would achieve his goal of unifying the islands. Long human chains, likely miles long, passed the water worn, smooth rocks many miles from Pololu Valley to build the heiau. After the relatively short time of approximately one year, the heiau was completed and the process – through many battles – for unification was underway.
Picture #4 - Mt. Haleakala, Maui
Massive Haleakala Volcano comprises the whole of east Maui and its 10,023 foot height provides abundant water as well as an almost temperate climate zone on its western slope that locals call “Upcountry Maui.” Haleakala means the ‘House of the Sun’, and originally applied only to the eastern peak. According to Polynesian legend it was here that the demigod Maui captured the sun and forced it to slow its journey across the sky in order to give his people more daylight hours. Before then the sun had moved too rapidly and there was little time to do anything during the day. Today the name Haleakala is applied to the entire mountain. Archaeological studies of several small temples and altars within the crater indicate that Hawaiian peoples venerated Haleakala since at least 800 AD.
Picture #5 - Kukaniloko
From perhaps as early as 1100 to the late 1700s, pregnant women bearing the children of Hawaii’s chiefs came to Kukaniloko to give birth. Often referred to in oral traditions as the piko, or navel, for its location in the center of Oahu, the grouping of 180 boulders is considered to be a spiritual center of the island.
Picture #6 - Keahiakawelo
Centuries ago, at a prominent hill in Kaa, a traditional land division in the northern portion of the island of Lanai, native Hawaiians would offer prayers to Kane, a god associated with freshwater and life. In 1400, Kawelo, a priest of the region, began to notice that the health of his people and their animals was deteriorating. Kawelo traced their illnesses to a fire that Lanikaula, another priest, was burning across the Kalohi Channel on the island of Molokai. To ward off Lanikaula’s bad prayers, Kawelo made his own fire. He also went a step further. He fetched some of Lanikaula’s feces from Molokai and burned them in his fire in Lanai. According to Kepa Maly, the executive director of the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center, whose kapuna, or elders, taught him the story, the sorcerous act led to the death of Lanikaula and restored health to Lanai.
Picture #7 - Mauna Kea,
at 13,796 feet, is the tallest mountain in Hawaii and all of the Pacific Ocean. If measured from its base at the ocean’s floor, 16,000 feet down, it is the tallest in the world. Due to its great weight it has also subsided an estimated 35,000 feet into the crust. Adjacent to Mauna Kea, the cone of Mauna Loa, is only 35 meters lower. Mauna Kea comprises 23% of the island of Hawaii and is its fourth most active volcano. The oldest known rocks are perhaps 237,000 years old and the age of Mauna Kea is estimated to be 1 million years. Mauna Kea is currently dormant and its last eruption was approximately 4500 years ago.
Picture # 8 - Mauna Kea Winter Solstice Celebration
Winter snow falls on the heights, accumulating to many feet, and this has given the peak its indigenous name Mauna Kea, meaning ‘White Mountain.’ Glaciers have existed on Mauna Kea, an estimated three times in the past 100,000 years. Since humans first came to the Hawaiian Islands, Mauna Kea has exerted a powerful spiritual magnetism and pilgrims have often made the long climb up its steep slopes. In Hawaiian mythology, the peaks of all the Hawaiian Islands are sacred, and Mauna Kea is one of the most sacred. An ancient law allowed only high-ranking tribal chiefs to visit its peak. In a modern Mauna Kea Solstice Ceremony a Hawaiian elder whispers “Remember the mood tonight is aloha. The prayer tonight is ssssshhhh… listen. We are not going to the summit to speak. We are going there to listen.” The summit is the highest point among all the islands of Polynesia and is known as a Wao Akua, sacred realm of the gods. Mauna Kea has more than 90 shrines and burial sites. Areas where spirits live have always been respectfully kapu. Building on this sacred space is desecration of cultural and spiritual land.
Picture #9 -The Trails of the last Temple Of Mu, KAUAI
Ancient Hawaiians practiced skills that many of us would easily recognize today. They used telepathy, clairvoyance and geomancy. They did channeling, dream interpretation, and astral travel. They healed with herbs, energy, symbols and beliefs. The places where they did these things still exist, right where so many people think the modern world has taken over. Their descendants exist, too - in the same areas, doing the same things. Kauai, the Garden Island, is so rich in spiritual and magical places and so small in area that its hard not to find an ancient site no matter where you go. Because of this fact, some Hawaiian elders have dubbed the entire island as the Temple of Mu - one of densest spiritual remnants of the ancient lost empire (according to legend). After the deluge (great flood sinking the MU central continent) there were left three peoples who made their home on Kauai: the Mu (Rena-mu), the Wa (Ke-na-wa), and the Menehune. The three peoples are told of building the old heiaus (temples made of stone), fishponds, and other stonework found about the island. Three of the best trails to explore the Last Temple of Mu are:
- The Kukui Trail is a 5-mile trail dropping about 2,000 feet into the Waimea Canyon. It offers a short route going to the canyon floor. As a form of reward from nature, there is a huge swimming hole at the canyon’s bottom.
- The Kuilau Ridge Trail is a 4.2-mile hike that offers picturesque views of a wealth of flora and several waterfalls. Its trailhead is a mile from the University of Hawaii Agricultural Experimental Station.
- The Kalalau Trail is noted for being the original hiking route going to Kalalau Valley. It offers panoramic views of the equally popular Kee Beach and Na Pali Coast. Many hikers decide to take an overnight camp and spend the night at Hanakapial, where you can mingle with other hiking adventurists for a unique nightlife. This trail is most suited for experienced hikers for logical reasons.
Picture #10 -Heiau Pilgrimage
Hawaiian Temples or Heiaus are typically rock platforms central to the ancient society for religious purposes. Heiau were constructed under the direction of the ali‘i nui (high chiefs) and kähuna (priests). They were dedicated to different gods for various purposes which could change over time with a new ali‘i. The mana (divine power) of the ali‘i dictated strict kapu (prohibitions) at these sites. Prayers and rituals were offered up here to Ku (spirit of battle), Lono (spirit of peace), Laka and Pele (spirits of Hula), and other principal dieties. The entire of network of Heiaus fell into ruin and disuse with the arrival of Christian missionaries (what a surprise!) and the promotion of foreigner religions. As with all other energetically charged sites, however, the locations of these heiau still carry the charge of spiritual tone and energetics. An interesting sacred site idea visit to the Hawaiian Islands is a multi-stop heiau pilgrimage. The listing of heiau’s for the various islands is, as follows:
Island of Maui: Haleki`i Heiau and Pihana Kalani Heiau
In Wailuku aside Iao stream immediately off Hiway 340. Sacred Haleki`i was contructed in the 1700’s formerly the size of a football field. Pihana Kalani sits nearby and was believed to be a sacrificial temple.Haleki’i and Pihana Heiau are the most accessible of the remaining pre-contact Hawaiian structures of religious and historical importance in the Wailuku-Kahului area. Located about 1/4 miles inland along the west side of Iao Stream, they overlook Iao Stream, Kahului Bay, Wailuku Plain and Paukukalo Hawaiian Homestead. According to oral tradition the Menehune (little people) are credited with the construction of both heiau in a single night using rock from Paukukalo Beach. Both temples were used to perform ritual sacrifice in the ancient past.
Island of Maui: Hale Pi`ilani Heiau
Considered to be the largest in Hawai`i, this Heiau lies in Hana on private property now owned by the Pacific Tropical Botanical Gardens. Recently through the efforts of the local community the heiau has been re-constructed to its original granduer. The grounds around the heiau now feature the world’s largest collection of Breadfruit trees.
Island of Hawaii: Ahu’ena Heiau - Kailua Kona - Ali’i Dr, near Palani Rd. at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Resort. Restored in 1812 by King Kamehameha 1.
Island of Hawaii: Heiau O Kalalea - South Point Park. 60 feet long and 40 feet wide, believed to have been built by the “menehune”. Also found here is the ancient Pu’u Ali’i Burial Site, a burial site for Hawaiian royalty.
Island of Hawaii:Kailua Kona - Ali’i Dr., a mile south of White Sands Beach Park. The heiau is a stone platform, approx. 100 feet long and 50 feet wide and used by Hawaiian chiefs to pray for good surf.
Island of Hawaii: Pu’uhonua O Honaunau - Hwy. 160, 3 1/2 miles west of Hwy. 11. 180-acre national historic park preserve, containing Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, or “Place of Refuge,” where violators of the ancient Hawaiian “kapu” system sought refuge. One of the best-preserved heiaus.
Island of Hawaii: Pu’ukohola Heiau - 1/4 mile west of the junction of Hwy. 270 and Hwy. 19. National Historical Site. 77-acre park with two other heiaus (Mailekini Heiau and Haleakapuni Heiau) located offshore and submerged in the ocean.
Island of Hawaii: Mo’okini Heiau -Hwy. 270, to mile marker 20, then 2 miles north on a secondary road to Upolu Point, and 1 1/2 miles west from Upolu Point on a small dirt road to the heiau. 280 feet long, 140 feet wide and 25 feet high. Built in 480 A.D. and rebuilt in the 12th century.
Island of Hawaii: Kane’ele’ele Heiau - Hwy. 11 to Punalu’u Rd. to Punalu’u Beach 8 miles east of Na’alehu. 250 feet long and 150 feet wide.
Island of Kauai: Ka’ulu a Paoa Heiau - Kuhio Hwy. to western end of Ke’e Beach in Haena State Park, to a trail along the shoreline. Dedicated to Laka, the Hawaiian goddess of hula and where she did much of her dancing. Students of the hula still make this pilgrimage.
Island of Moloka`i: Ili’iliopae Heiau - Kamehameha V Hwy. to the Wailau Trail. Private property. Can be accessed with permission from Destination Molokai (553-3876). 87-foot-wide and 286-foot-long platform. Was both a place of worship and human sacrifice.
Island of O`ahu: Pu’uomahuka Heiau - Kamehameha Hwy. on Pupukea Rd., across from Pupukea Beach and 1 mile north of Waimea Bay. State Monument. The “Hill of Escape” is the largest heiau on Oahu at 575 feet long and 170 feet wide. Believed to have been built by the menehune.There is a paved trail that journeys around the heiau. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Island of O`ahu: Ulupo Heiau - Kalanianaole Hwy. to Pali Hwy. North on Ulupo St. and east on Manu Aloha St., south on Manu O’o St. which leads to the YMCA. State Historical Site. 180 feet long and 140 feet wide, believed to have been built by the menehune.
Island of O`ahu: Kuilioloa Heiau - Farrington Hwy. to Kane’ilio Point, at the southwest end of Pokai Bay Beach in Waianae.150 feet long and 35 feet wide. Three platforms surrounded on three sides by the ocean. A place of refuge.
Island of O`ahu: Kaneaki Heiau - Makaha Valley Rd then east on Maunaolu St. to Alahele St. in the Mauna Olu Estates. 150 feet long and 75 feet wide, comprising an altar, two thatched houses. Originally built between 1470 and 1640, and enlarged and modified into a war temple. Open 10am-2pm, Tues.-Sun.
Concluding Notes: PLEASE GRANT THE HAWAIIAN CULTURE THE RESPECT IT PROPERLY DESERVES. THIS BLOG IS WRITTEN WITH THE INTENTION OF BEING A MATURE PILGRIM VISITING OTHER TRADITIONS IN THE HOPES OF EDIFYING YOUR OWN EXISTENCE. AS NOTED IN THE POST ABOVE, THE HAWAIIAN CULTURE HAS CONNECTION TO ANCIENT CIVILIZATION AND HAS SUFFERED FROM THE AGE OF EXPLORATION AND CONQUEST. APPROACH WHAT YOU SEE ABOVE WITH A LOVING AND UNIFIED SPIRIT.
THE Spirit of Aloha.
Approaching the sacred in the Hawaiian Island chain is best done by embodying the spirit of Aloha. This is a difficult concept to teach in one blogspot. However, one early teaching of the spirit of Aloha goes like this:
Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. When there is pain - it is my pain. When there is joy - it is also mine. I respect all that is as part of the Creator and part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. When food is needed I will take only my need and explain why it is being taken. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect (and to enjoy!). This is Hawaiian - this is Aloha!
Notes on KAPU on WAHI PANA: A lesson in protocol begins by following the kapu (the rules) for visiting wahi pana (sacred sites). In recent years, there has been increased evidence of desecration and destruction at many Hawaiian sacred places by visitors and tourists. Much of the damage is done through ignorance of appropriate behavior rather than outright vandalism. I recommend contemplating the points at the following website before visiting: