Hawaii February 24, 2019
The Ancient Temple Complex In Hawaii That Will Take You Back Hundreds Of Years
Ancient Hawaiian temples, or heiaus, were built for many reasons, including the treatment of the sick, offering of the first fruits, to start and stop rain, to increase the population, achieve success in distant voyaging, ensure a nation’s health, or reach peace, for example. You’ll find the remnants of these temples across the Hawaiian Islands, and while all are sacred, there is one unique destination where you’ll find not one, but four, ancient temples — as well as ancient petroglyphs, a royal birthstone, a place of refuge, and more.
Primarily nestled within the lush and gorgeous Wailua River State Park on the hillside overlooking one of Hawaii’s only navigable rivers, the Wailua Complex of Heiaus is one of the most important archaeological site complexes in the Aloha State, with components spanning all phases of Hawaiian culture.
Most of the heiau and sacred sites within the complex are associated with Hawaiian rulers, legends, and events that have played an important role in the culture of our islands are of traditional significance to contemporary Hawaiians of native descent. Let’s take a look at these four unique temples, shall we?
Translating to "rising of the sun" in Hawaiian, Hikinaakala offers phenomenal sunrise views. In ancient Hawaii, dawn was celebrated here with prayers and chants. The walls were believed to be six feet high and up to 11 feet wide, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the traditional Hawaiian religion was abolished, many rocks were taken away. Only the heiau’s foundation stones remain today.
At more than an acre in size, the Poli’ahu is believed to have been constructed by the Menehune in the 1600s or 1700s, though it could have been earlier than that. It has been suggested that Poli’ahu might have been a laukini heiau dedicated to the Hawaiian god of war, Ku. Luakini heiaus are often associated with human sacrifice as well as offerings of fish and other animals.
The Malae Heiau, found near the mouth of the Wailua River, is not only the largest heiau remaining on the island of Kauai but is one of the largest surviving temple platforms found in Hawaii. Archaeological records date the construction of this luakini heiau to before 1200 AD. Covering almost two acres, the Malae Heiau featured 10-foot tall walls and has been used for various purposes during its long history.
It is believed that the Holoholoku Heiau was used for human sacrifice as well. Prisoners of war, as well as those who had broken a kapu, were sacrificed here. Holoholoku is thought to be Kauai’s oldest temple, and legend has it that the first Polynesian Kaeke (a large sharkskin-covered temple drum) introduced to Hawaii was brought from Tahiti to Kauai and placed here.
Nearby, you will find the royal birthstone, Pohaku Ho'ohanau, and the Pohaku Piko, a ceremonial niche for a newborn child's umbilical cord. Expectant mothers of royal lineage would travel here to deliver her child, and legend states that if the child was destined to be a great chief, the sky would fill with thunder, lightning, and a downpour of rain. When the storm cleared, a rainbow would appear with one end indicating the spot of the child’s birth.
In addition to these four heiaus, the Wailua Complex of Heiaus is home to a place of refuge, ancient petroglyphs (pictured below), and a bellstone. This reddish basalt boulder was intended to be "drummed" with cobbles, and when struck, would produce a hollow sound so it could be heard across great distances. The bellstone was used to announce important events, including the approach of chiefly or religious processions or royal births.
A National Historic Landmark, the Wailua Complex of Heiaus was once the center of chiefly power on the island, as now serves as a reminder of Hawaii’s religious, economic, and political power over the last several centuries.
The Wailua Complex of Temples is located within Wailua River State Park at Nalu Rd., Kapaa, HI 96746. For more information, visit the National Park Service’s
If you’re interested in visiting another one of Hawaii’s historic heiaus, head to the largest temple of its kind on Oahu:
Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau.