“Ancient Sites of O‘ahu” by Van James

According to Hawaiian tradition, Mokili‘i (Chinaman’s Hat) was created by the goddess Hi‘iaka, Pele’s sister, after a mythic struggle with a gigantic mo‘o (dragon). Hi‘iaka slayed the mo‘o, Mokoli‘i, set its huge flukes in the water as a landmark, and spread its enormous lizard-like body to form the lowlands below the Ko‘olau Mountain Range at Kualoa to provide travelers with a broad, flat pathway.

Ka‘ena, a cape of land at the western-most point of Oah‘u, is said to have been created by the demigod Māui when he attempted to fish Kaua‘i closer to O‘ahu. Using his magic fishhook Manaiakalani, Māui snagged the base of Kaua‘i and pulled with all his might. But his followers broke the spell and the hook released itself from Kaua‘i, bringing with it a small piece of the island that dropped into the waters off Ka‘ena Point that is known as Pōhaku o Kaua‘i. 

These glimpses into Hawaiian myth and more are revealed in “Ancient Sites of O‘ahu: A Guide to Hawaiian Archeological Places of Interest” (2010) by Van James.

The book begins with a brief background on Hawaiian culture and a summary of the five major types of sites found on O’ahu: heiau (temples) and shrines, pōhaku (stones), petroglyphs (engravings in rock), caves and rock shelters, and loko (fishponds). The 50 ancient sites are grouped into five general regions of O‘ahu, and presented with site descriptions, location maps, and site photos. There is even a helpful appendix with a pronunciation guide and glossary.

James includes famous historical sites like Diamond Head, ‘Iolani Palace, Punchbowl, Hanauma Bay, and Waimea Valley, but here are seven intriguing lesser-known sites that are relatively easy to visit:

#8 Nu‘uanu Petroglyphs (Nu‘uanu): Numerous carved animal and human figures can be found at three separate sites near Alapena Pool below Kapena Falls. The dog depicted in stone carvings is believed to be a guardian spirit of Kapena Falls. Located behind Nu‘uanu Memorial Park Cemetary, along the trail west of Nu‘uanu Stream.

#22 Pahukini Heiau (Kailua): A rectangular enclosure of stacked rock walls, once standing 6′ high and measuring about 120′ by 180′, this heiau was believed to be built by Chief ‘Olopana about AD 1100. Located inside the Kapa‘a City Landfill, off Quarry Road, above Kawai Nui Swamp Regional Park.

#26 He‘eia Fishpond (Kaneohe): An 88-acre brackish-water pond with walls made of lava and coral fill, and a 5,000 foot long enclosing seawall. There were originally four watchtowers and six sluice gates. According to legend, it was protected by a mo‘o named Meheanu. Located adjacent to He‘eia State Park and Ke‘alohi Point, and best seen from He‘eia State Park.

#35 Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau (Waimea): The largest heiau on O‘ahu, it measures 575′ by 170′, with three adjoining enclosures and a low surrounding wall, paved with waterworn pebbles from Waimea Stream. Believed to be built by Menehune, the great kahuna communed with the akua (god) Mahuka. Signal fires were used to communicate between the heiau and the sacred complex at Wailua on Kaua‘i. Located east of Waimea Bay off Pūpukea Road.

#41 Kūkaniloko (Wahiawā):  Once the birthplace of high-ranking kapu ali‘i, the Kūkaniloko pōhaku (stones) were once arranged in two rows of 18 lava rocks facing north and flanking a central birthing stone. According to Hawaiian tradition, ‘aumākua inhabited the stones and could relieve labor pains and ease the birthing process. The site is believed to be aligned with important places on O‘ahu, may have astronomical significance, and is often referred to as the piko (navel) of the island. Today, the stones lie haphazardly in a small grove of coconut and eucalyptus trees. Located between Wahiawā and Hale‘iwa, off Kamehameha Highway, opposite the road to Whitmore Village.

#48 Kāne‘’ākī Heiau (Mākaha): Once an agricultural heiau dedicated to the god Lono and later a luakini heiau (human sacrifice temple), it was constructed as early as AD 1545 with a two-terrace structure. Today you can see an upper stone platform with restored thatched hale (houses), a wooden lele (offering stand), ‘anu‘u (oracle towers), and a small carved image of the god Kū. Located off Mākaha Valley Road, past the golf course, on Ala Holo Loop in Upper Mākaha Valley. Call Mauna‘olu Estates at 695-8174 for visiting hours; check in at the guard station.

#49 Mauna Lahilahi (Mākaha): Once sacred to the god Kāne and marked as a prime fishing spot by the fish god Ai‘ai, it is a high rock with a 230′ summit projecting from a sandy beach. There are numerous ancient rockwall enclosures, small stone platforms, several shrines, a possible heiau site, burial sites, and more than two dozen dog and human petroglyph figures abraded into the coastal rock cliff. Located adjacent to Mauna Lahilahi Beach Park and approached from Lahilahi Place off Farrington Highway.

You can learn more about other islands in Hawai‘i by reading “Ancient Sites of Hawai‘i: Archeological Places of Interest on the Big Island” and “Ancient Sites of Maui, Moloka‘i, and Lana‘i: Archeological Places of Interest in the Hawaiian Islands.”

How important is it to you to preserve historical sites? Do you feel a spiritual connection to places in Hawai‘i or your community?

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One Comment on ““Ancient Sites of O‘ahu” by Van James”

  1. Piracetam Says:

    Whatever floats your boat, The islands will be able to serve up the time of your life. Weather it’s hiking , camping , fishing, biking or even backpacking there is a forest or state park that can deliver what you asking for. Be sure to spend time on one of the other islands of Hawaii , Maui , Kaua’i or Molokai as well.


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