It was a perfect day for a visit to a place of human sacrifice.
There were ominous clouds obscuring the mountain tops.
A lowering sky, brooding with dark, heavy clouds portended an approaching storm.
Today’s destination was the Pu’u o Mahuku heiau.
Visitors to Hawaii learn that the Hawaiian word heiau means an ancient Hawaiian temple or religious site.
Most do not realize that a heiau need not be a grand construction. They came in all sizes from tiny, family altars and personal shines to massive stone platforms. The general rule is: the bigger the heiau, the more powerful the ruler and priest – kahuna – in charge.
There were heiau for all purposes.
There were heiau built by folks who wanted more rain or wanted to catch more pigs.
There were heiau to entreat the gods for better health or more vigorous taro crops.
There were even heiau built on underwater ledges in the hope of attracting fish.
But then there were luakini heiau. These were unique. They were sacrificial temples, often dedicated to the Hawaii god of war, Kū. Luakini heiau were places of blood sacrifice of humans and animals.
Pu’u o Mahuka was a luakini heiau.
The temple, which literally translates as “Hill of Escape,” was also a place of refuge for those fleeing persecution and an astronomical observatory for ancient Hawaiians.
The rising of the Pleiades constellation as viewed from the heiau signaled the start of the annual makahiki season, a four-month time of peace and celebration.
Pu’u o Mahuka is the largest heiau on Oahu but it is not a well known visitor attraction. On this gloomy day we were the only people (and Malt) at the heiau, which is now a Hawaii State Monument.
The stone temple is 800 feet above sea level and overlooks the renowned North Shore big surf beach of Waimea Bay. Signal fires from this heiau were used to provide visual communications with another heiau at Wailua on the island of Kauai, nearly 100 miles away.
The site dates at least to the 1600’s and during the mid-1700s was very active during a period of tremendous internal struggles among Hawaii ali’i (rulers).
Pu’u O Mahuka had three distinct “sections” defined by rock walls ranging from three to six feet in height. Within the walls of the heiau existed wood and thatched structures, and the ground was paved with stone.
One of the gruesome aspects of a luakini heiau is that a human being, usually a freshly killed criminal, was placed at the bottom of the hole supporting each of the structural pillars.
Human sacrifices were done for many reasons.
Kauwa, the outcast or slave class, were often used as human sacrifices at the luakini heiau.
They are believed to have been war captives, or the descendants of war captives. They were not the only sacrifices; law-breakers of all castes or defeated political opponents were also acceptable as victims. Later this practice became known as “Washington-style politics” but I digress.
Times were obviously different and human sacrifice was a religious rite and cultural practice, not an act of barbarism.
As we walked around Pu’u o Mahuka, the AJF and I talked about what life was like back then and decided we liked modern days much better although she kept giving me the eye and mumbling how I might be a suitable offering to the shoe god, Nordstrom.
The actual sacrificial killings were done outside the heiau which was considered sacred. The victim was typically tied to a rock, bludgeoned and then stripped of flesh with his bones made into fish hooks.
So, how are those Cheerios tasting this morning?
If you want to know more details about this gory topic, first talk with a mental health professional because you may be scary crazy. If she says it’s OK, check out “Luakini, The Art of Sacrifice” by Stewart Waterhouse. It’s a very tough slog of a book but offers a very detailed discussion of techniques, practices, religious rites and what not.
The Pu’u o Mahuka heiau continued to play an active role in the religious, political and social life of Hawaiians through 1819 when King Kamehameha II abolished the traditional religion. Missionaries arrived in 1820, and most of the aliʻi converted to Christianity.
Over the following decade or so all heiau were officially abandoned; most were destroyed over the years.
Pu’u o Mahuka gradually fell apart and the area was converted to ranch and farm uses and later, Russians and Alaskan Aleuts based fishing and whaling activities out of the adjacent Waimea Valley.
Tourists are often told that it is traditional, when visiting a heiau, to make a small offering (called a ho’okupu) which might consist of a lei, flower, food item or a small rock wrapped on a ti leaf.
It’s a nice story but it’s pretty much baloney, or bologna if you are a traditionalist.
Why a Presbyterian from Indiana thinks it appropriate to offer a rock to an ancient Hawaiian god of war confuses me but, hey, we need the revenue so knock yourself out, and the stone walls around Pu’u o Mahuka are littered, quite literally, with misguided ho’okupu.
Max left his own version of a ho’okupu but fortunately we were the only ones there to witness his shameful, scrunched-over gifting.
The profane little animal would have been made into an entrée had that happened in 1795.
We wandered nearby trails for the better part of an hour.
We tried to clean the infamous North Shore red dirt off the white dog knowing that this was a hopeless task and that he would need a thorough bathing at home.
On the way home the clock chimed “beer time!” so we made a stop and partook, not of the “long pork” of Captain Cook’s time but rather a couple of burgers that we shared with Max.
Full disclosure: no Malts were sacrificed in the writing of this blog post.