A heiau is a Hawaiian temple or shrine, a place of worship. Many types of heiau were built in different architectural styles depending upon their purpose and location. There are heiau to treat the sick (heiau hōʻola), offer first fruits, offer first catch, start rain, stop rain, increase the population, ensure the health of the nation, achieve success in distant voyaging, reach peace, and achieve success in war (luakini). Heiau are sacred places; in ancient times only the kahuna (priests) and certain sacred ali’i (high chiefs) were allowed to enter.
Architect of heiau varied from simple stone markers to large stone platforms. Their shapes could be rectangular, square, or rounded. Some consisted of simple earth terraces, while others were elaborately constructed stone platforms. They could be placed on hills, cliffs, level earth, valleys and on the coastline touching the sea. Some koʻa or fishing shrines were built underwater. Heiau of the people varied in size. Large heiau were built by prominent people while smaller heiau were built by the humble.
At the official end of Hawaiian religion in 1819 under pressure from Christian missionaries, many were deliberately destroyed, while others were allowed to fall into disrepair, left for ruins. Some heiau structures were preserved, some fully restored physically. Heiau are still considered sacred by Hawaiians and the people of Hawai’i.
A few notable heiau are listed below:
Hawai’i – Big Island
North Kohala: Moʻokini Heiau is one of the oldest historical sites in Hawaiʻi and among its most sacred. It is the birth place of King Kamehameha I.
Kawaihae: Puʻukoholā Heiau was the last major ancient Hawaiian heiau constructed.
Kailua-Kona: ʻAhuʻena Heiau – Kamakahonu, the residence of Kamehameha I is located at the North end of Kailua Bay.
Hana: Pi’ilanihale Heiau, also called Hale O Pi’ilani Heiau is the largest heiau known to exist, a massive, three-acre (12,000-square-meter) platform with fifty-foot retaining walls.
ʻUalapuʻe: ‘Ili’ili’ōpae Heiau is the most impressive structure belonging to a 6 heiau, 2 fishpond complex. Second largest heiau constructed.
Waimea: Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau (ruins) is the largest heiau on Oahu, covering 2 acres on a hilltop overlooking Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley.
Aiea: Kea’iwa Heiau (ruins) were erected during the 17th century, the 160 feet (49 m) stone temple and abundant medicinal herbs in the area were used by kahuna as a type of ancient herbal clinic.
Kailua: Ulupo Heiau is an ancient site associated in legend with the menehune, later with high chiefs of Oʻahu, such as Kakuhihewa in the 15th century and Kualiʻi in the late 17th century.
Hale o Kapuni Heiau
Hale O Piʻilani Heiau
Haleki’i-Pihana Heiau State Monument
Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau
Wailua River State Park
Kaulu Paoa Hula Heiau
Kaulu-o-Laka Hula Heiau
Puhi Ula Heiau