A heiau (/ˈheɪ.aʊ/) is a Hawaiian temple. Made in different architectural styles depending upon their purpose and location, they range from simple earth terraces, to elaborately constructed stone platforms. There are heiau to treat the sick (heiau hōʻola), offer first fruits, offer first catch, start rain, stop rain, increase the population, ensure the health of the nation, achieve success in distant voyaging, reach peace, and achieve success in war (luakini).

Only the luakini was dedicated through human sacrifice.[1] There are two types of luakini. They were called the ʻohiʻa ko and hakuʻohiʻa.[2]

After the official end of Hawaiian religion in 1819 and with later pressure from Christian missionaries (who first arrived in 1820), many were deliberately destroyed, while others were allowed to fall into disrepair. Heiau are still considered sacred by many of the inhabitants of Hawaii, and some are not open to the public. In ancient times, only chiefs and priests were allowed into some of these heiau. Some heiau structures have been fully restored physically and are operated in the 21st century as public attractions.

Hale O Pi'ilani Heiau, near Hāna on Maui
Ruins of mahuka heiau
Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau
Kealakekua Bay heiau illustration.jpeg
An illustration of a heiau at Kealakekua Bay at the time of James Cook's third voyage, by William Ellis.


Heiau were made in different shapes depending upon their purpose, varying from simple stone markers to large stone platforms, which were both parts of human sacrificial temples.[3] Their shapes could be rectangular, square, or rounded.[4] Some consisted of simple earth terraces, while others were elaborately constructed stone platforms. They could be placed on hills, cliffs, level earth, valleys and on the coastline touching the sea.[4] Some koʻa or fishing shrines were built underwater. Heiau of the people varied in size. Large heiau were built by prominent people while small heiau were built by the humble.[5]

US missionary Hiram Bingham described a heiau he saw on route hiking between the summits of Mauna Kea and Hualalai. Made of piled lava rock, it was a square of 100 feet (30 m), with walls eight feet high and four feet thick (2.5 by 1.3m). A doorway led through the middle of the north wall. Eight pyramids surrounded the outside of the temple. Made also of piled lava rock, they were 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter and 12 to 15 feet (4.6 m) high.[6]

Heiau types

The luakini poʻokanaka were large heiaus. Only the Aliʻi nui of an island or moku could use this type of heiau. Other chiefs or the makaʻainana that built this type of heiau were considered rebels. This type of heiau was usually built alongside coastlines, in the interior of the land, or on mountain sides.[2] The largest heiau on Oahu is Puʻu O Mahuka, which covers almost two acres of land.[7]

Preserved sites

The heiau most commonly preserved are war temples of the later period of history (e.g. Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site). They are composed of large stone platforms with various structures built upon them. The structures were used to house priests, sacred ceremonial drums, sacred items, and cult images representing the gods associated with that particular temple. There were also altars (Ahu) on which to offer sacrifices (plant, animal and human). The heiau were sacred places; only the kahuna (priests) and certain sacred ali'i (high chiefs) were allowed to enter.

The largest heiau known to exist, Hale O Pi'ilani Heiau, is a massive, three-acre (12,000-square-meter) platform with fifty-foot retaining walls, located in Hāna on Maui. Built for Pi'ilani, it dates to the 13th century.[8]

Agricultural heiau, called generally Hale-o-Lono for the god of fertility, can be found today on Oʻahu at Makaha (Kaneaki heiau - fully restored) and in Hawaii Kai (Pahua heiau - partially restored). The Kaneaki heiau was built in the 17th century, containing grass and thatched huts that were chambers used for prayer and meditation.[9]

The ruins of a healing heiau, Keaiwa ("the mysterious"), are located at the entrance to Keaiwa State Park in ʻAiea.[10]

Puʻuhonua o Honaunau, in South Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi, is a place of refuge. It incorporates a heiau complex within it.

Because the land of heiau was sacred, it was not unusual for successive generations to add to original structures and the heiau purpose could change over time. An example is Ulupo heiau in Kailua on Oʻahu, which is said to have been built by the menehune, that is, a long time ago. It is thought to have been used first as an agricultural heiau and later as a luakini.[11]


The kapu or 'ʻai kapu system was abolished in October 1819 by Kamehameha II (Liholiho). The abolition of the kapu system ended the use of heiau as places of worship and sacrifice. A period referred to as the 'Ai Noa or "free eating" followed. Missionaries arrived in 1820, and most of the aliʻi converted to Christianity, including Kaʻahumanu and Keōpūolani.

It took 11 years for Kaʻahumanu to proclaim laws against ancient religious practices. All heiau were officially abandoned; most were destroyed over the years. Often they were broken up and plowed under to make way for fields of sugar cane. However, some of the families who were responsible for the heiau have continued the tradition of caring for them.


Necker Island Standing Stones
Heiau on Necker Island (Mokumanamana), Northwestern Hawaiian Islands







  • Kauwaha Heiau
  • Pahau Heiau
  • Pueo Heiau
  • Kaunupou Heiau
  • Kaunuapua Heiau
  • Puhi Ula Heiau

See Also


  1. ^ Kamakau, Samuel. The Works of the People of Old, pp. 129-134
  2. ^ a b Samuel Kamakau, Ka Poe Kahiko; The People of Old (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1993), 130.
  3. ^ "Pu'ukohala Heiau: History & Culture", Natural Park Service, 15 August 2012. Retrieved on 13 November 2012.
  4. ^ a b Kamakau, p. 135
  5. ^ Samuel Kamakau, Ka Poe Kahiko; The People of Old (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1993), 131.
  6. ^ Bingham, Hiram. A Residence 21 Years in the Sandwich Islands, Tuttle (1981) p. 397
  7. ^ Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site, Department of Land and Natural Resources, N.d. Retrieved on 13 November 2012.
  8. ^ Engledow, Jill (May 2009). "A Heiau in the Garden". Native Soul - The Culture and Aloha of Maui, Hawaii. 13 (3). Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine. Archived from the original on 2009-08-31. Retrieved 2009-08-17.
  9. ^ Kaneaki Heiau Oahu, Hawaii Web, N.d. Retrieved on 13 November 2012.
  10. ^ "> Parks > Oahu > Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area". Hawaii State Parks. Retrieved 2009-09-27.
  11. ^ "> Parks > Oahu > Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site". Hawaii State Parks. Retrieved 2009-09-27.

Further reading

Charles Montague Cooke Jr. House and Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau

Charles Montague Cooke Jr. House and Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau is a property in Honolulu, Hawaii. The house, also known as Kualii (also spelled Kualiʻi), was built in 1911–1912 for Charles Montague Cooke Jr., and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The listing's boundaries were increased in 2000 to include the Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau (Tax Map Keys 2-9-19:35 and 2-9-19:43, respectively).

Haleki'i-Pihana Heiau State Monument

Halekiʻi-Pihana Heiau State Monument is a 10-acre (4.0 ha) park containing two important luakini heiau on a high ridge near the mouth of ʻIao Stream in Wailuku, Maui. Both Halekiʻi and Pihana were associated with important Hawaiian chiefs, have been closely studied by archaeologists, and overlook the fertile Nā Wai ʻEhā ('Four Waters') region irrigated by the Wailuku, Waikapu, Waiheʻe and Waiehu streams. The heiau complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places on 25 November 1985.Pihana ('fullness' or 'gathering') is also known as Piihana and Pihanakalani ('gathering of the supernatural'). It began as a small temple site between 1260 and 1400, was expanded between 1410 and 1640 to serve as a residence and luakini (war/sacrificial) temple for Kiʻihewa, who lived at the time of Kakaʻe, the father of Kahekili I.Halekiʻi ('image house' or "Tiki House") was added along the crest of the hill at about this time, reputedly at the instigation of chief Kihapiʻilani. Both were greatly expanded into their present shape between 1662 and 1705, and Pihana was enhanced and reoriented to face the island of Hawaiʻi during a period of interisland warfare between 1684 and 1778. In 1790, after the forces of Kamehameha I won the very deadly Battle of Kepaniwai, his son Liholiho rededicated Pihana.

Hawaiian religion

Hawaiian religion encompasses the indigenous religious beliefs and practices of Native Hawaiians. It is polytheistic and animistic, with a belief in many deities and spirits, including the belief that spirits are found in non-human beings and objects such as other animals, the waves, and the sky.

Hawaiian religion originated among the Tahitians and other Pacific islanders who landed in Hawaiʻi between 500 and 1300 AD. Today, Hawaiian religious practices are protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Traditional Hawaiian religion is unrelated to the modern New Age practice known as "Huna."

Haʻena State Park

Hāʻena State Park is a state park located on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Kauaʻi. It is often referred to as the "end of the road" and marks the end point of the Kuhio Highway. The park provides access to beaches, trails, and several ancient Hawaiian sites, including sea caves estimated to be more than 4,000 years old. Archaeological sites associated with the hula, including a heiau (shrine) dedicated to Laka, are located above the park's beaches.

Kahanu Garden

Kahanu Garden and Preserve is a botanical garden located on the Hāna Highway (close to the 31-mile or 50-kilometre marker) near Hāna, Maui, Hawaiʻi. It is one of five gardens of the non-profit National Tropical Botanical Garden, the others being McBryde, Allerton, and Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kauaʻi, and The Kampong in Florida.The garden was established in 1972 on Maui's northern coast, with rugged black lava seascapes, and is surrounded by one of Hawaiʻi's last undisturbed hala (Pandanus tectorius) forests.

The garden's ethnobotanical collections focus on plants traditionally used by Pacific Island people. It includes the world's largest breadfruit collection, first established in the 1970s. Today the garden contains accessions of approximately 150 varieties of breadfruit collected from field expeditions to over 17 Pacific island groups in Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, as well as Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Seychelles. This collection is used for research and conservation by NTBG's Breadfruit Institute.

Other garden holdings include bamboo, banana, calabash, coconut, kava, kamani (Calophyllum inophyllum), loʻulu (Pritchardia arecina), sugarcane, taro, turmeric, vanilla, and bitter yam (Dioscorea bulbifera).

Kahanu Garden is open to visitors. An admission fee is charged.

Kaunolu Village Site

Kaunolū Village Site is located on the south coast of the island of Lānaʻi. This former fishing village, abandoned in the 1880s, is the largest surviving ruins of a prehistoric Hawaiian village. The archaeological site is very well preserved and covers almost every phase of Hawaiian culture. It was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1962 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.The site consists of two historical villages straddling Kaunolū Gulch, a dry stream bed subject to occasional flash floods after rainstorms at higher elevations. The village on the western side was named Kaunolū; the one on the eastern side was called Keāliakapu. The land is parched, with little fresh water, but the sheltered bay at the end of the gulch offers access to rich fishing in the deep seas below the high cliffs along the south coast of the island. Ancient Hawaiian bone lures used to troll for pelagic fish were found in Ulaula Cave, a small lava tube near the village.King Kamehameha I frequently enjoyed fishing here. His house platform lies directly across the gulch from Halulu Heiau, high on the edge of a cliff above the bay. Between 1778 and 1810, he is said to have held ceremonies at this heiau (probably a luakini war/sacrifice heiau). During the late 18th century, Maui high chief Kahekili, a rival of Kamehameha, also used to visit here. Near the heiau is a notch in the cliff called Kahekili's Leap, where he is said to have ordered his warriors to dive into the sea below to prove their courage.

Keaʻiwa Heiau State Recreation Area

Keaʻiwa Heiau State Recreation Area is the ruins of a temple (Heiau in the Hawaiian language) at the summit of a hill and neighborhood called ʻAiea Heights on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. The recreation area includes camping facilities and a 4.8-mile (7.7 km) trail. It also offers clear views of Pearl Harbor. A possible translation of Keaʻiwa would be mysterious, incomprehensible. It is believed that this name was given in reference to the healing powers of the plants that no one could really explain.Erected sometime in the 16th century, the 160 feet (49 m) stone temple and abundant medicinal herbs in the area were used by kahunas as a type of ancient herbal clinic. The kahunas would also train haumanas (students) in the practice of praying, fasting, and medicinal healing using the neighboring plants. The reputed healing powers of the surrounding plants still draws visitors who leave temple offerings, hoping to experience medicinal benefits.Most of the trees in the area were replanted during the early 20th century. Although native species can be found at the highpoint of the trail. The remnants of a military airplane that crashed onto the area in 1993 can also be seen from the trail.The site provides a map for the 4.5 miles (7.2 km) Aiea Loop Trail. Several varieties of trees and other vegetation are enjoyed by visitors who make the trek.

Kohala Historical Sites State Monument

Kohala Historical Sites State Monument includes the National Historic Landmark Moʻokini Heiau and the birthplace of Kamehameha I.

It is located in remote North Kohala on the Island of Hawaiʻi.

Kukaniloko Birth Site

Kūkaniloko Birth Site, also known as the Kūkaniloko Birthstones State Monument, is one of the most important ancient cultural sites on the island of Oʻahu. It was first listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and its boundaries were increased in 1995, after 5 acres (2.0 ha) of land which included the site became a state park in 1992.


In ancient Hawaii, a luakini temple, or luakini heiau, was a Native Hawaiian sacred place where human and animal blood sacrifices were offered.

In Hawaiian tradition, luakini heiaus were first established by Paʻao, a legendary priest credited with establishing many of the rites and symbols typical of the stratified high chieftainships of the immediate pre-European-contact period. Modern archaeologists no longer believe in a historic Pa'ao, but many Native Hawaiians still believe that he was a historical figure, and often vilify him for introducing what they now see as the bloody, barbarous rites of the luakini heiau.List of currently known or reputed luakini heiaus:


Wailua Complex of HeiausOʻahu:

Puʻu O Mahuka, "Hill of Escape"Maui:

Loaloa HeiauBig Island of Hawaiʻi:

Puʻukohola National Historic Site

Moʻokini, birthplace of Kamehameha I

Aha'ula (now engulfed by lava)

Keʻeku Heiau on Kahaluʻu Bay


Menehune are a mythological dwarf people in Hawaiian tradition who live in the deep forests and hidden valleys of the Hawaiian Islands, hidden and far away from human settlements.

The Menehune are described as superb craftspeople. They built temples (heiau), fishponds, roads, canoes, and houses. Some of these structures that Hawaiian folklore attributed to the Menehune still exist. They are said to have lived in Hawaiʻi before settlers arrived from Polynesia many centuries ago. Their favorite food is the maiʻa (banana), and they also like fish.

Mākaha, Hawaii

Mākaha (Hawaiian for “fierce” or “savage”) is a census-designated place (CDP) in Honolulu County, Hawaiʻi, United States. It is a town located along the Pacific coast, west of the Mākaha Valley, and at the foot of Mt. Ka'ala in the Wai’anae Mountain Range. It is the last of the leeward towns on O'ahu. North of Mākaha is little development, i.e. no towns, no gas stations, or restaurants. The population of Mākaha was 8,278 at the 2010 census. It is located 35 miles northwest of Honolulu, but is a part of Honolulu County.

In the Hawaiian language its name means “fierce” or “savage”, which refers to the group of bandits who were based in the Mākaha Valley. They would hide and wait for unsuspecting passersby to show up, and then plunder and pillage them. Mākaha has a higher percentage of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders than most settlements on O’ahu, 26.2% of the population were Pacific Islanders in 2010. Mākaha Resort stages weekend traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts fairs and other Hawaiian cultural programs in order to preserve the Native Hawaiian traditions in Mākaha.The town is particularly known for its surfing waves and surfing history, the Hawaiian temple Kāne’āki Heiau, and Mākaha Beach Park, which is a nesting place for several species of sea turtles. Aside from surfing, other water activities include diving, canoe-surfing, fishing, tandem surfing, bodysurfing, and other recreational water sports. Kāne’āki Heiau is Hawaii's most thoroughly restored ancient heiau, it was excavated by Bishop Museum archeologists in 1970 and can now be visited Tuesdays-Sundays. It originated as an agricultural temple to the god Lono in the 15th century. 200 years later, it was converted into a luakini, where human sacrifices were dedicated to the god Kū – a typical progression indicating Mākaha now supported a large enough population to have its own chief.

Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument

Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau State Historic Site on the North Shore of Oʻahu is the largest heiau on the island, covering 2 acres (8,100 m2) on a hilltop overlooking Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley. Puʻu o Mahuka means 'Hill of Escape'. Hawaiian legends have it that from this point, Pele (Volcano Goddess) leaped from Oahu to the next island, Molokai. From its commanding heights, sentries could once monitor much of the northern shoreline of Oʻahu, and even spot signal fires from the Wailua Complex of Heiaus on Kauaʻi, with which it had ties. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, when it became the center of a 4-acre (16,000 m2) State park. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.The highest of the three walled enclosures may date to the 17th century, with the lower two enclosures perhaps added during the 18th century. These were times of great conflict, and the upper platform appears to have functioned as a heiau luakini (sacrificial temple) to bring success in war. During the 1770s, the overseer of this heiau was Ka'opulupulu, the high priest of the last independent high chief of Oʻahu, Kahāhana. In 1792, George Vancouver's ship, HMS Daedalus, anchored near Waimea Bay to collect water. Three men in his shore party were killed in a skirmish with Native Hawaiians, and may have been taken to the heiau as human sacrifices. After Kamehameha I conquered Oʻahu in 1795, his high priest Hewahewa led religious ceremonies here and the heiau remained in use until the traditional kapu system was abolished in 1819.The first new moon after the Pleiades (Makali'i) as seen from Kaena Point, rising out of Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau just after sunset, mark the beginning of Makahiki, the four months of Hawaiian New Year.

The site can be reached from Pupukea Homestead Road (Highway 835), which starts at Kamehameha Highway (Highway 83) across from Pupukea fire station.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park located on the west coast of the island of Hawaiʻi in the U.S. state of Hawaiʻi. The historical park preserves the site where, up until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who broke a kapu (one of the ancient laws) could avoid certain death by fleeing to this place of refuge or puʻuhonua. The offender would be absolved by a priest and freed to leave. Defeated warriors and non-combatants could also find refuge here during times of battle. The grounds just outside the Great Wall that encloses the puʻuhonua were home to several generations of powerful chiefs.

Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site

Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site is a United States National Historic Site located on the northwestern coast of the island of Hawaiʻi. The site preserves the National Historic Landmark ruins of the last major Ancient Hawaiian temple, and other historic sites.

Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site

Ulupō Heiau on the eastern edge of Kawai Nui Marsh in Kailua, Hawaiʻi, is an ancient site associated in legend with the menehune, but later with high chiefs of Oʻahu, such as Kakuhihewa in the 15th century and Kualiʻi in the late 17th century. It may have reached the peak of its importance in 1750, before being abandoned after Oʻahu was conquered in the 1780s. The site became a territorial park in 1954, was partially restored in the early 1960s, marked with a bronze plaque by the State Commission on Historical Sites in 1962, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.The massive stone platform of the heiau measures 140 by 180 feet (55 m), with outer walls up to 30 feet (9.1 m) high, its size and scale indicating both its cultural importance and the chiefly power of its patrons. Many of the stones may have been transported from as far as Kualoa, more than 10 miles (16 km) away. Although it probably began as an agricultural heiau (mapele) with springs feeding crops of taro, banana, sweet potato, and sugarcane along the fringes of the 400-acre (1.6 km2) Kawai Nui pond full of mullet and other fish. However, the great warrior chief Kualiʻi may have converted it to a heiau luakini, with an altar, an oracle tower (anuʻu), thatched hale, and wooden images (kiʻi).Kailua, with its ample supplies of pond fish, irrigated fields, and canoe landings, was a center of political power for Koʻolaupoko, which often vied with Waialua for control of Oʻahu. After defeating the forces of Oʻahu high chief Kahahana in the 1780s, Maui chief Kahekili lived in Kailua, as did Kamehameha I after conquering Oʻahu in 1795. In later years, Queen Kalama, consort of Kamehameha III, inherited most of the land in Kailua after the death of her husband in 1854, most of it acquired in 1917 by Harold Kainalu Long Castle for his Kaneohe Ranch. The acquisition of land for Kaneohe Ranch brought about changes to the area due to the grazing and ranching of livestock.

Wailua River State Park

Wailua River State Park and the Wailua Complex of Heiaus, which it includes, are located on the eastern side of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The park consists primarily of the Wailua River valley, which is the only navigable river in Hawaii. Visitors to this park can kayak, take riverboat cruises and explore the rainforest. Even motorboats and water skiing are permissible on the river.

Wailuku, Hawaii

Wailuku is a census-designated place (CDP) in and county seat of Maui County, Hawaiʻi, United States. The population was 15,313 at the 2010 census.Wailuku is located just west of Kahului, at the mouth of the ʻĪao Valley. In the early 20th century Wailuku was the main tourist destination on Maui, though it has since been eclipsed with the rise of the resort towns such as Kaʻanapali, so much so that there are currently no hotels to speak of in Wailuku.

Historic sites in the town include Kaʻahumanu Church (named after one of Hawaiʻi's great monarchs, Queen Kaʻahumanu) which dates to 1876, the Wailuku Civic Center Historic District, the site of the Chee Kung Tong Society Building, and the Bailey House, a 19th-century former seminary and home that houses a history museum and the Maui Historical Society.

There are two ancient temples near Wailuku, called heiau — the Halekiʻi Heiau and the Pihanakalani Heiau. Both date back hundreds of years and were used for religious purposes by the native Hawaiians.Wailuku is served by Kahului Airport.


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