Ancient Religion and the Heiaus

[This article was written for the Nalo News, a community newspaper published by the Waimanalo Council of Community in the late 1970's. My uncle's mother, Mrs. Julia A.F. Enoka, wrote numerous articles on ancient Hawaiian folklore and myths.]

The Hawaiians had four main gods that they worshiped-- KANE, the creator-god; LONO--the God of Storm, Rain, and Fertility; KU, the God of war and strenuous activities, and KANALOA, the god of Sea and Death. When the Tahitians migrated to Hawaii they brought their worship of Tane (Kane) and Taaroa (Kanaloa). This was the religion in the ancient days, similar to that of the rest of Polynesia.

Heiaus are enclosed areas built of stone where the Hawaiians worshiped their Gods and held religious ceremonies.

On the Island of Hawaii there are two known heiaus built by Pa'ao, a Samoan priest who left Samoa and went adrift on the high seas, finally landing at Puna. He built the heiau Wahaula at Puna and Heiau O Mookini at Upolu Point.

There are six known heiaus in Waimanalo. KEIKIPUIPIU heiau was situated on Quarry Hill, just above Kalaniole Highway directly opposite the Olomana Golf Course. Traces of this heiau were destroyed when W.G. Irwin and the Maunawili Ranch planted pineapples on the hillsides.

The Hawaiians made their adzes and small chisels from the stones at Quarry Hill. Adzes are made from very hard basalt rock and the rocks at Quarry Hill were considered some of the best. (The Hawaiian word for adze is ko'i.)

POHAKUNUI is a small heiau (50' x 90') on the crown of a hill at the base of the Koolau Mountains. The heiau is located on Ekahi Farms on the hill between Kaulukanu and Mahailua Streets. The site is in a fairly good state of preservation.

There is a possible heiau of stone ruins above Kaikaina St. Its size is about 130' x 110', but archeologist were unable to give a detailed inspection of the area due to the heavy growth of underbrush.

There is also an unnamed heiau on the Waimanalo side of Olomana ridge facing the Koolau Range. According to McAllister, the archeologist who researched the site, the heiau consisted of two terraces and was 50' x 130'.

The largest of Waimanalo's heiaus is PUEO, located above the University Experimental Farm on Waikupanaha Road. It is 130' x 150' and is still well-preserved.

There was another heiau in Kaupo Village at Makapuu. The heiau was situated in the present Sea Life Park area. In 1853 there was a small pox epidemic and many Hawaiians moved to Kaupo Village to escape the quarantine. Most of that site was destroyed when the present highway was built.

PUUHONUA heiau is located on a coral hill just a short distance from the main entrance of Bellows Field. This hill was a sacred place of refuge and all who sought safety there had their lives spared. On all of our islands there is a PUUHONUA. Most famous of these sites is our National Park City of Refuge at Honaunau on the Big Island.

Enoka, J. A. F. (1979, February). Old Waimanalo: Ancient religion and the heiaus. The Nalo News, [4(2)], [4].


The Little Green Man

Informant: Male/26/mixed ancestry
Location: Hanama’ulu, Kauai

When I was about three or four, I was playing in the backyard of my house in Hanama’ulu, where we lived at the time. I remember turning the corner and seeing a little man with dark skin dressed in green near the corner of the house. The minute I looked at him, he disappeared, like he jumped into the ground.

I was terrified. I yelled to my older sister and my mom and told them what I had seen, but they didn’t believe me. But thinking about it now, the little man I saw could have been a Menehune wearing green.


Pele in the Tunnel of Trees

Informant: Male/40/part Hawaiian ancestry
Location: Tunnel of Trees, Kauai

A friend of mine was driving home to the south side of Kauai to Koloa town one night. In order to get to Koloa one must pass through the "tunnel of trees," one way in one way out. 

It was about 2:00 a.m. and he was driving home alone after a party in Lihue. The moon was full that night, but as you enter the tree tunnel there are no street lights, just glimmers of moonlight shining through tree openings flickering like a strobe light. 

As he entered the tree tunnel, he noticed an old lady dressed in white hitchhiking in the middle of the night. He thought it odd, but just kept driving and stepped on the accelerator to get out of the tunnel as fast as possible. He did not recall the events that took place after this; all he remembers is his car had skidded to the side of the road and stalled. When he looked in his rear view mirror the old lady dressed in white was sitting in his back seat. 

He did not stick around to ask her how this happened but just ran as fast as he could through the tunnel of trees to get home. He was clearly shaken when retelling the events of this night, but speculates that this person was "Pele."

Pele at Halfway Bridge

Informant: Male/64/Portuguese-Filipino ancestry
Location: Halfway Bridge, Koloa

My grandfather had a job as a taxi driver on Kauai around the 1950's. One night as he was driving toward the west side, he noticed an old woman in white walking on the side of the road. Since it was his job to drive people where they needed to go, he instinctively pulled over and asked the woman if she needed a ride. She didn’t say anything, but just got into the car, and my grandfather drove off again. After a little while he turned around to ask the old woman where she was heading to, but when he looked in the backseat, she had vanished. 

He immediately knew that the old woman he picked up had to have been Pele.


Menehune at Marine Camp

Informant: Male/64/Portuguese-Filipino ancestry 

Location: Marine Camp, Kauai

When I was around seven or right, me, my brother, my dad and his friend went to Marine Camp to fish. This area at the time was very remote, with no houses around. Even today it’s still a hard place to get to with just a bumpy dirt road. 

We had planned on staying the night, so after fishing we set up our tents and went to sleep. When we woke up in the morning, we discovered footprints all around the tents. Not just regular footprints, but prints that were only about 4 inches long. They were small, like a toddlers. And there wasn’t just one pair, there were many pairs, like many little people had been running around our tents. 

My dad’s friend, who was half Hawaiian, said nonchalantly, “Ahhh, that was menehune.”

The Haunted Desk

Informant: Female/62/Portuguese ancestry 
Location: Lihue, Kauai 

A colleague of mine at the school I taught at was having some problems in her classroom. Not student problems, but mysterious problems. The lights would go on and off on their own, her TV would turn on and off on its own, things like that. She knew that I was Catholic, so she asked me if I could come and bless her classroom. 

She didn’t always have these problems. They all started when she got a new teacher’s desk (a hand-me-down) for her classroom. The flickering lights and TV she could handle, but when it started to follow her home, that’s when she got scared. 

She picked her kids up after school one day, and noticed that her infant stared at the ceiling of the car laughing the whole ride home, as if being entertained by something. When she got home, stranger things happened. There was a wind chime by the door that rang every time someone came near the door. She heard it ring and asked her older child to check who was there. Nobody was there. It rang again, they checked again, and still nobody was there. 

So finally I was asked to bless the classroom. When I walked into the room, it felt very cold and ominous. Just a strange feeling. I said a few prayers, sprinkled some holy water, and that was that. When I told this story to my daughter, she asked me if anything was in the desk. My colleague said when she had gotten it, the only thing in it was an old bible in one of the drawers which she threw away. My daughter was sure that the bible was left there to keep the spirits contained.