A Visited to Pu’ukohola heiau…

At 6 A. M. on July 8th, 1823 I visited the large heiau or temple called Pu’ukohola. It stands on an eminence in the southern part of the district, and was built by Kamehameha about thirty years ago, when he was engaged in conquering Hawaii, and the rest of the Sandwich Islands. He had subdued Maui, Lanai, and Molokai, and was preparing, from the latter, to invade Oahu, but in consequence of a rebellion in the south and east parts of Hawaii, was obliged to return thither. When he had overcome those who had rebelled, he finished the heiau, dedicated it to Ku his god of war, and then proceeded to the conquest of Oahu. Its shape is an irregular parallelogram, 224 feet long, and 100 wide. The entrance to the temple is by a narrow passage between two high walls. As I passed along this avenue, an involuntary shuddering seized me, on reflecting how often it had been trodden by the feet of those who relentlessly bore the murdered body of the human victim an offering to their cruel idols. The upper terrace within the area was spacious, and much better finished than the lower ones. It was paved with various flat smooth stones, brought from a considerable distance. At the south end was a kind of inner court, which might be called the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, where the principal idol used to stand, surrounded by a number of images of inferior deities. In the centre of this inner court was the place where the anu was erected, which was a lofty frame of wickerwork, in shape something like an obelisk, hollow, and four or five feet square at the bottom. Within this the priest stood, as the organ of communication from the god, whenever the king came to inquire his will; for his principal god was also his oracle, and when it was to be consulted, the king, accompanied by two or three attendants, proceeded to the door of the inner temple, and standing immediately before the obelisk, inquired respecting the declaration of war, the conclusion of peace, or any other affair of importance. The answer was given by the priest in a distinct and audible voice, though, like that of other oracles, it was frequently very ambiguous. On the return of the king, the answer he had received was publicly proclaimed, and generally acted upon. On the outside, near the entrance to the inner court, was the place of the altar, on which human and other sacrifices were offered. The remains of one of the pillars that supported it were pointed out by the natives, and the pavement around was strewed with bones of men and animals, the moldering remains of those numerous offerings once presented there. About the centre of the terrace was the spot where the king’s sacred house stood, in which he resided during the season of strict taboo, and at the north end, the place occupied by the houses of priests, who, with the exception of the king, were the only persons permitted to dwell within the sacred enclosure. Holes were seen on the walls, all around this, as well as the lower terraces, where wooden idols of varied size and shape formerly stood, casting their hideous stare in every direction. Ku, or Kuka’ilimoku, a large wooden idol, crowned with a helmet, and covered with red feathers, the favorite war-god of Kamehameha, was the principal idol. To him the heiau was dedicated, and for his occasional residence it was built. On the day in which he was brought within its precincts, vast offerings of fruit, hogs, and dogs, were presented, and no less than eleven human victims immolated on its altars. And, although the huge pile now resembles a dismantled fortress, whose frown no longer strikes terror through the surrounding country, yet it is impossible to walk over such a Golgotha, or contemplate a spot which must often have resembled a pandemonium more than anything on earth, without a strong feeling of horror at the recollection of the bloody and infernal rites so frequently practiced within its walls. (Ellis) 

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 (These are excerpts from a book by William Ellis that has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired.)

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