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Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau, Oahu, Hawai’i

Pu’u O Mahuka (“hill of escape”) heiau is the largest heiau  (temple complex) on the island of O’ahu. It covers roughly two acres of land and sits on the northern hillside of the Waimea valley, overlooking Waimea Bay.

Puu o mahuka

Satelite Image of Pu’u O Mahuka
(c) Google Maps

Pu'u O Mahuka, view over Waimea Bay photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, view over Waimea Bay
photo: Torwen Baus

It was declared National Historic Landmark as early as 1962, due to its importance to Hawaiian culture and history.

Pu'u O Mahuka, enclosure wall photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, enclosure wall
photo: Torwen Baus

During the pre-contact period, Waimea valley was heavily populated. Not only was the bay and the valley used for fishing, taro and sweet potato cultivation, it also offered good canoe landing sites in the bay and high visibility for signal fire even between different islands from the hilltops. At a strategic location, at the valley mouth, overlooking the bay, are two large heiau, the Pu’u O Mahuka on the northern hills, and the Kupopole on the southern ones.
Constructed in the early 17th century, Pu’u O Mahuka was remodelled several times to adapt to the needs of the changing high chiefs (ali’i nui). At first the upper (mauka) enclosure was built with a paved floor of basalt and coral boulders, then a paving of smaller stones (‘ili ‘ili) was laid over the boulders. The upper enclosure represented a typical luakini heiau, dedicated to the war god Kukailimoku, with an oracle tower, ki’i figures, a lele altar, drum tower, and hale buildings which housed sacred water and artefacts needed for ceremonies.

Mahuka artist

Artist’s Rendering of Pu’u O Mahuka at around 1750 http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/brochure_pdfs/Puuomahuka%20Brochure.pdf

Pu'u O Mahuka, basalt and coral lining photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, basalt and coral lining
photo: Torwen Baus

Later a second and third enclosure were added which provided for domestic activities and suggest a prolonged stay of the royal court in the heiau (cf. Kolb 1999 who excavated heiau on Maui and demonstrated diverse usage periods and reorganisation of the heiau investigated).

Pu'u O Mahuka, platform of upper enclosure photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, platform of upper enclosure
photo: Torwen Baus

Pu'u O Mahuka, outline of hele building photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, outline of hele building
photo: Torwen Baus

At around 1819 the heiau was abondend and the site used for agricultural purposes. The larger middle enclosure was probably used for cultivation. Smallish stone mounds around the outside of the heiau walls probably originated from clearance activities to make space for crops.

Pu'u O Mahuka, Stone Mounds  photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, Stone Mounds
photo: Torwen Baus

Up to the 1960s pineapple was grown around the heiau.

Pineapple Plantation , Dole Plantation, Wahiawa, O'ahu photo: Torwen Baus

Pineapple Plantation , Dole Plantation, Wahiawa, O’ahu
photo: Torwen Baus

site coordinates: 21.641727,-158.058694

Bibliography:

Kolb, M 1999. Monumental grandeur and political florescence in pre-contact Hawai’i: Excavatons at Pi’ilanihale Heiau, Maui, Arch. Oceania 34, 71-82.

Links:

http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/brochure_pdfs/Puuomahuka%20Brochure.pdf

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2 Comments

  1. Very interesting post. Thank you. and I spotted the basalt.

    Reply
    • Thanks Rita, very appreciated :) I have always regretted to not have taken the geology course at uni. It took me quite a while to get my rocks right :) great you spotted it at once, you have my full admiration :D

      Reply

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