Pu’ukohola Heiau, one of the last major temples built in the Hawaiian Islands, was constructed by Kamehameha the Great from 1790 to 1791. Arguably one of the greatest leaders in Hawaiian History, Kamehameha became the first person to unite the warring islands into the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Pu’ukohola Heiau played a crucial role in the unification of the Hawaiian Islands, for Kamehameha built the temple as a result of a prophecy that came through a priest named Kapoukahi. This kahuna, or priest, told Kamehameha that if he were to build a heiau on the hill known as Pu’ukohola, and dedicate it to his family’s war god Kuka’ilimoku, he would be able to conquer all of the islands. It is said that thousands and thousands of men labored for nearly a year to construct this heiau. Through the stories that have been passed down generation to generation, we believe that the builders brought these rocks from the distant Pololu Valley, Forming a human chain nearly 25 miles long, the laborers handed the water-worn lava rocks one person to another up and over Kohala Mountain to this site. Without the use of mortar, cement or other bonding materials, these skilled laborers placed these rocks in exact locations in order to meet specific building specifications. It is important to remember that Kamehameha was building a sacred temple and not a common structure. There are many stories that have been passed down that talk of the various events that occurred during the construction of the heiau. One such story tells of an event that highlights the grave importance placed upon following specific guidelines in building the heiau. It is said that Kamehameha had a younger brother, Keali’imaika’i, that was instructed not to work with the rocks during the construction of this heiau, for he was told that he would be defiled if he did so. Ignoring these instructions, the younger brother is said to have worked with the stones, assisting the other workers. Furious, Kamehameha gathered all of stones that his brother worked with, placed them on a canoe and had them carried beyond the horizon and dumped into the sea, hoping to appease his war god, to whom the temple would be dedicated.
Many visitors are surprised to find that the events that took place here occurred not to long ago. At the same time that George Washington was serving as the nation’s first president, Pu’ukohola Heiau was being used by Kamehameha to secure his mana or spiritual power to help in his unification of the Hawaiian people. What might appear to some as nothing more than rocks on a dry and desolate hill, in reality stands as a silent testament to one of the greatest periods in Hawaiian history. (courtesy National Park Service)