The land division or ahupua‘a of Waimea was the
major political and religious center of northern O‘ahu.
Waimea Valley offered fertile agricultural lands,
abundant fresh water, rich offshore marine resources,
and good surfing and canoe landing sites. The ali‘i and
kähuna sought areas such as Waimea to reside. To support
this ruling center, the maka‘ainana cultivated fields of kalo
(taro) and sweet potato on the valley floor and fished
in Waimea Bay. Housesites were scattered throughout
the valley. At the valley mouth are 2 large heiau; Pu‘u
o Mahuka on the north and Kupopolo on the south. In
the valley is Hale o Lono, a heiau dedicated to the god
Lono. Religious ceremonies to Lono were held during
the annual Makahiki season to promote fertility of the
Soon after Western contact, the
people left the taro fields to cut
sandalwood in the upper valley.
By the 1860s, the population
was reduced by disease,
floods, and famine.
STATE OF HAWAI‘I
Department of Land &
Division of State Parks
Special recognition is given
to Nä Hoa o Pu‘u o Mahuka,
a community volunteer
group and curators of Pu‘u o
E mälama no këia mua aku
Traditionally, food items were
left as offerings at a heiau. Please
do not wrap or move rocks and
do not leave items such as coins,
incense, or candles as they cause
Heiau artwork by Ipo Nihipali.
1930s photo of Waimea Valley with Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau.
Credit: Bishop Museum Archives
Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau was declared a National
Historic Landmark in 1962 in recognition of its
importance to Hawaiian culture and history. Also in
1962, the 4‐acre property encompassing the heiau was
placed under the jurisdiction of State Parks to preserve
this significant site for future generations.
In the 1960s, the path through the heiau was created.
Today, we ask that you observe the site from outside the
walls and do not enter the site to avoid further damaging
the walls and paving.
The upper enclosure of Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau
conforms to the generalized pattern for a luakini heiau.
The altar area at the east end probably held the anu‘u
tower, ki‘i images, and lele altar. Thatched buildings
were constructed on the level stone paving in the
western portion. The ledges along the interior side of
the walls may have been where participants sat during
1. Lananu‘u mamao or anu‘u (oracle) tower where religious
services were conducted and the gods spoke to the
kähuna and high ali‘i. This structure often measured
20 feet or more in height and was a pole frame covered
2. Ki‘i or carved wooden images placed by the altar and
the entrance to oversee the site.
3. Lele altar where offerings for the gods were placed.
Often a raised wooden platform.
Artist's rendering of Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau as a luakini heiau, circa 1750.
Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau is the largest heiau (religious
site or temple) on O‘ahu, covering almost 2 acres. The
name is translated as “hill of escape”. Undoubtedly, this
heiau played an important role in the social, political, and
religious system of Waimea Valley which was a major
occupation center of O‘ahu in the pre‐contact period.
Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau may have been constructed
in the 1600s. Built as a series of 3 walled enclosures,
the stacked rock walls ranged from 3 to 6 feet in height
and the interior surface was paved with stone. Within
the walls were wood and thatch structures. Such a
large heiau would have been built by the maka‘ainana
(commoners) under the direction of a high ruling ali‘i
nui (chief) and his kähuna (priests).
It was not unusual for a heiau to be expanded and
modified by a new ruling chief. It appears that the
upper, eastern enclosure was constructed first and was
the ceremonial focus of the heiau. The other 2 enclosures
were added later, probably in the 1700s.
In the 1770s, high priest Ka‘opulupulu under O‘ahu
chief Kahahana, oversaw this heiau. This was a time of
political upheaval and it is likely that the heiau was used
as a luakini heiau (sacrifical temple), perhaps for success
In 1795, when Kamehameha I conquered O‘ahu, his
high priest Hewahewa conducted religious ceremonies
at this heiau until 1819 when the traditional religion was
Situated on a ridge with a commanding view of
Waimea Valley and the northern shoreline of O‘ahu, this
heiau had ties with the heiau at Wailua on Kaua‘i. It is
reported that signal fires at these heiau provided a visual
communication between the islands.
In 1792, Capt. George Vancouver anchored his ship
Daedalus off Waimea and sent a party onshore to collect
water. A skirmish ensued with the Hawaiians and 3 of
Vancouver’s men were killed. Some have suggested
that these men were taken to Pu‘u o Mahuka Heiau for
After the heiau was abandoned, circa 1819, the site
may have been used for other purposes. Some have
suggested that the middle enclosure was used for
agriculture and the stone mounds are clearing and/or
planting areas. Pineapple was cultivated around the
heiau until the 1960s.
Archaeological research has indicated several
changes in the heiau structure over time. Initially, the
heiau consisted of the upper, mauka enclosure with a
paved floor of basalt and coral boulders. At a later time,
a paving of smaller stones known as ‘ili‘ili was laid over
In more recent times, rock has been taken from the
walls which has reduced their height. The breaks in the
walls appear to be recent. This leads one to wonder how
the kähuna and ali‘i entered the site.
4. Hale Pahu where the sacred drums were kept to
announce rituals and send messages.
5. Hale Waiea where the sacred water was kept.
6. Hale Umu where the temple fires were lit. These fires
might be used to cook the offerings.
7. Hale Mana where the ceremonial objects were stored
and where the kahuna might reside for short periods.
8. Ledges along walls where those admitted to the rites