Pre-Christian place of worship, a sacred place. Heiau were constructed primarily as centralized places of gathering for the purpose of communicating with deity who are responsible for certain functions of nature and its relationship to man. Construction of heiau range from very large elaborate platforms of stone with residential structures, carved images (akua ka’ai) and sacrificial towers, to simple indicators of place, such as a single stone or even a human body, in the case of a sacred ali’i (chief).
Practice of ritual at the heiau covers the broad range of issues that Hawaiian people deal with in their daily lives. Based on the premise that all living things in nature are possessed of spirit, native Hawaiians have a need to engage these spirits to ensure that all activities on our part are pono, or are in balance with all essence of life around us, i.e.: mind, body and spirit are in harmony with each other as well as the natural environment.
Some of the simpler in design, although no less significant in practice, include the kū’ula, or fishing shrine, generally located on the shoreline, usually consisting of a single stone adorned with coral. Offerings to the deities of the sea for protection and productivity consist of food stuffs harvested from the sea. Temporary sites established by kahuna or priests who specialize in activities that are transient in nature, such as the harvesting of a tree used to build a canoe.
Larger heiau, created for ceremonial celebrations and protocols to the greater deities were always commissioned by the chiefs, and those dedicated specifically to politics, war, and sacrifice could only be built by the greatest of the mō’ī, or high chiefs. These heiau are saturated in sacred ritual, relegated by the kahuna (priestly class) and are often seasonal in nature. Heiau dedicated to the more life sustaining functions were less ritual in nature and generally accessible all year.
Today’s tour will take you by ancient sites, some that have been totally destroyed by the sugar plantations in the early 1800’s, and others that are in various states of repair. Regardless of the physical conditions of the structures, it is the honua, or the ground upon which the hieau is built that is considered sacred. Your alaka’i (guide) will explain the various purposes that these sites serve.
Because these sites continue to be used by practitioners of the ancient culture, out of respect for these practices, we will not approach or identify access to these sites. We appreciate your understanding about this delicate issue.