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Places In Hawaii: Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Basic Information

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

Narrative

Another historic site my family and I visited during our trip to Hawaii’s Big Island was the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site.  A heiau is the Hawaiian word for “temple” and this particular heiau is arguably the most important one in Hawaiian history.  This is because that Pu’ukohola Heiau was built by King Kamehameha I, the King who first united the Hawaiian Islands into one political entity.

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

Before he was able to conquer the Hawaiian Islands he had to first conquer his home island of Hawaii.  In order to do this the priest Kapoukahi told Kamehameha that he had to build the Pu’ukohola Heiau and dedicate it to the war god Kuka’ilimoku.  Kamehameha was determined to comply with the prophecy from the priest and built Pu’ukohola between 1790-1791.  To quickly build the temple Kamehameha pressed just about every able body person into service to move lava rocks hand-by-hand from the Kohala Mountains 20 miles away:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

Even more amazing is that this large temple was built without the use of mortar or cement to hold the structure together.  The lava rocks had to be perfectly placed so the structure was held together by gravity.  The priest’s prophecy had immediate effects because Kamehameha invited his cousin Keoua Kuahuula, his main rival to rule all of the Big Island to the dedication ceremony of the temple.  Amazingly Keoua accepted the invitation and attended the ceremony despite the rivalry and warfare that had occurred in the years prior between the two leaders.  Kamehameha used Keoua attendance as an excuse to capture him and then proceeded to offer him as the first human sacrifice at Pu’ukohola Heiau.  Over the years countless more human sacrifices would be made at the temple to please the war god Kuka’ilimoku as Kamehameha led war parties to attack the other neighboring islands.  By 1795 he had conquered all of the Hawaiian Islands besides Kaua’i.  Through a political deal he was able to add Kaua’i to his kingdom by 1810:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

After the death of Kamehameha his son Liholilo would succeed his father in 1819.  Liholilo would end up being a very different ruler than his father.  Only six months after becoming king he ended the system of religious laws that had governed Hawaii for hundreds of years.  He then destroyed all the Hawaiian temples thus ending the human sacrifices that had continued to occur at Pu’ukohola Heiau.  Today the tiered lava rock walls of the temple can still be seen by visitors to the park:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

It was inside of these walls that the hut structures of the temple were located:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

Today visitors are not allowed to enter into the temple due to its cultural significance to native Hawaiians.  This means visitors are only able to walk down the short path from the visitor center to view the outside of the temple:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

During the walk down the paved path to the temple we noticed a few other walls that shows that there was once a small Hawaiian community of huts below the temple:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

I would have to think that the Hawaiians who lived here must have been close friends of Kamehameha to be given permission to live so close to his most sacred temple:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

Here is a picture of how close I was able to get to the Pu’ukohola Heiau before a barrier on the path blocked entry:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

It was a bit spooky to think of how many people were sacrificed at this temple as we looked up at it.  It did make me stop and think if King Kamehameha is really the great man that he is often described as being in Hawaiian history?  Anyway here is one final panorama photo of the Pu’ukohola Heiau from the trail:

Picture from Pu'ukohola Heiau

Conclusion

Despite the morbid past of the Pu’ukohola Heiau this is an interesting location to checkout due to its importance in Hawaiian history.  However, for people not interested in Hawaiian history this park is probably not worth stopping at since all that can be seen is basically a rock wall from a distance.  Not exactly exciting stuff, but for someone like myself with an interest in Hawaiian history, this important temple was fascinating to see firsthand.

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