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Pu‘u Kohola



Pu‘u Kohola

Pu‘u Kohola heiau sits atop the hill for which it is named. Photograph by Jennifer Ballengee.


“Kawaihae occupies an important place in the history of Kamehameha’s takeover as rule of the Island of Hawai‘i,” Marion writes. “Not having been able to defeat in battle the last of his serious contenders, cousin Keoua Kuahu‘ula, Kamehameha and his supporters turned to intrigue and deceit to gain their ends. Consultation with Ka-pou-kahi, a kahuna soothsayer from Kaua‘i, resulted in a plan to gain prestige and power by building a new heiau (perhaps on the site of an old one) at Pu‘ukohola.”



“Before he died in 1782,” Marion continues, “Kalaniopu‘u had designated his son, Kiwala‘o, to succeed him as high chief of Hawai‘i, but Kiwala‘o was killed at Moku‘ohai, Kona, by Kamehameha’s forces shortly after Kalaniopu‘u’s death. Moku‘ohai has been called Kamehameha’s first battle ‘for the empire of the group’.”

“Kamehameha was ascending to become the paramount chief of this island,” Hannah elaborates, “and things were going well for him. Kiwala‘o had fallen to Ke‘eaumoku at the battle of Moku‘ohai. Then when Keoua Kuahu‘ula falls to Ke‘eaumoku at Pelekane Bay, we see Pu‘u Kohola emerging as an important touchstone for Kamehameha’s expansion of his military career to the rest of the Archipelago."



Painting of Kamehameha by Herb Kane. Courtesy of the National Park Service, Pu‘u Kohola.



Herb Kane's painting of Kuka‘ilimoku, the war god of Kamehameha. Courtesy of the National Park Service, Pu‘u Kohola.


Some time after Kamehameha’s famous battle at ‘Iao on Maui, he sent Ha‘alo‘u (grandmother of Ka‘ahumanu, who became Kamehameha’s favorite wife) to Kaua‘i in search of a wise man to instruct him how to conquer all the islands of the group.

Kamakau (1992:149-150) records, “There lived at Kamoku in Waikiki a certain man of Kaua‘i named Ka-pou-kahi, of the order of Hulihonua, and he was skilful in the art of reading signs and omens.

"When Ha‘alo‘u found that this wise man was close at hand, she ran quickly and offered the genealogy of her grandmother, Kane-i-kahei-lani, in exchange for the blessing for her lord. When the old man said, ‘What shall I give you in return, O chiefess?’ she said, ‘This is your return gift, to tell me how the rule over all the islands may become my lord’s.’"



Building the heiau

Painting by Herb Kane showing the construction of Pu‘u Kohola. Courtesy of the National Park Service, Pu‘u Kohola.


"Ka-pou-kahi answered, ‘Build a great house for the god and mark out its boundaries.’ Ha‘alo‘u asked, ‘Where shall this house be?’ ‘At Pu‘u-kohola. If he makes this house for his god, he can gain the kingdom without a scratch to his own skin.’"

In Desha's version (2000: 268), the seer states, "At Pu‘ukohola. That place, Pu‘ukohola, is on the great island of Hawai‘i and is placed at Mailekini. This is a double heiau and a resting place for the people from Waimea and Kahua. If this is the house of the god, then the whole island (puni ka moku) will belong to your haku ali‘i. This is the makaha [sluice gate] of the fish, and if the niuhi [man eating] shark is the fish which enters, then the skin will not be hurt. However, the niuhi shark is the fish which shall sweeten this house of the god, and all will be fulfilled. Then the obsession of your haku ali‘i will be ended, and the night will be pleasurable all around great Hawai‘i."

"Because of these words by this kahuna kilo of O‘ahu," Desha continues, "Ha‘alo‘u ceased to think of going as far as Kaua‘i," and she returned to inform Kamehameha.



Heiau back

Outside the back wall of the heiau.


“Relays of people were ordered from Kona, Kohala, and Hamakua to repair to Kawaihae to carry stones and assist in the building,” Fornander records. “Chiefs of the highest degree and common natives worked side by side, and Kamehameha himself set the example of carrying stones to the building.”

Fornander adds, “The author a few years ago conversed with a centenarian Hawaiian at Kawaihae Uka who had assisted in carrying stones towards building this heiau. His description of the thousands of people encamped on the neighboring hillsides, and taking their turns at the work, of their organization and feeding, their time of work and relaxation, the number of chiefs that attended, and who, as the old man said, caused the ground to tremble beneath their feet; and the number of human victims that were required and duly offered for this or that portion of the building — this description was extremely interesting and impressive” (Fornander 1996: 328).


“When the heiau was complete," Hannah says, "Keoua, having fought with Kamehameha valiantly and viciously over the years since the felling of Kiwala‘o at the battle of Mokuohai, arrives at Pu‘u Kohola with small party.”

“Kamehameha sent Keoua’s uncles, Keaweaheulu and Kamanawa, to convince Keoua that Kamehameha was offering him a truly respectful peace,” Marion writes. “Apparently trustful at first, Keoua consented to go with them, but at some point on the trip to Kawaihae he evidently suspected he was being led into a trap.

"By the time Keoua’s canoes arrived at Kawaihae, it was clear that he expected Kamehameha’s warriors would try to kill him and all his supporters traveling with him in his canoe."


Heiau entrance

Entrance to the top of the heiau. This site is kapu to visitors.



Keoua comes ashore

Painting by Herb Kane showing Keoua's canoes coming ashore at Pelekane. Courtesy of the National Park Service, Pu‘u Kohola.


“Just as Keoua was stepping from the canoe onto the beach at Kawaihae, Keeaumoku and other chiefs of Kamehameha’s forces attacked him and the occupants of his canoe. Victory over Keoua and the chiefs in his canoe was so easily accomplished and so complete, that a decision was made to spare everyone else.”

"At Kawaihae today [1974], a different version is told," Marion goes on to note. "Keoua is said to have been shot and killed by John Young and Isaac Davis who stood a short distance back from the water's edge below Mailekini heiau. This area is now known as Pelekane, meaning 'Britain' or 'British,' because of Young and Davis' action taken there."



"Keoua fell at the time of the dedication of the heiau," Hannah adds, "most often accounted as 1791. He and his party were then offered as sacrifices for the dedication of Pu‘u Kohola."

Desha's account, written in the early 1900s, states that "Ke‘eaumoku took hold of Keoua, binding him in a lua hold. When thus held, he was ducked into the sea and was unable to move out of the lua hold, and as a result he drowned. He was not, as some people say, speared by Ke‘eaumoku because there should be no blemish on the body of Keoua which was to be the foremost offering to consecrate the new house of Kamehameha's god" (Desha 2000: 332-3).

But all records concur that before he arrived, Keoua sensed that he was to die, and disfigured himself so that he would not be a perfect sacrifice.


Replicas of traditional weapons, displayed during the annual cultural festival at Pu‘u Kohola.


The Hill

This view shows how the heiau sits atop a hill.


The name "Pu‘u Kohola" is generally translated as "Hill of the Whale." Kohola is the gray humpback whale, and these whales do frequent the waters off Kawaihae during the winter months.

"It’s not ‘the hill of the whale’," Papa refutes. "Pu‘u meaning 'mound,' koho meaning you vote on. La—'the day,' see. You go in and settle your differences—between Kamehameha and Keoua, but that never happened, so Keoua got killed before he came sit down and talk story with Kamehameha, what they can do. That’s what Pu‘u Kohola means."

Read old descriptions of Pu‘u Kohola here.



Pu‘u Kohola is a very recent heiau. But on this site were two older heiau, already in place when Kamehameha built Pu‘u Kohola: a heiau to Lono, and Mailekini heiau.



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