Explore the Pu’uhonua

The concept of refuge was unique to Polynesian societies, and it was refined in Hawaii. Each of the five major districts had its own refuge. The place of refuge, or pu'uhonua, is separated from the royal grounds by a massive stone wall built around 1550. The pu'uhonua was a refuge for defeated warriors, noncombatants, women, children, and elderly In wartimes. It was also a safe haven for those who violated the sacred laws, or kapu.


Stop #1 – Hale o Keawe Temple

Hale o Keawe was built in honor of Chief Keawe-'i-kekahi-ali'i-o-ka-moku, the great grandfather of Kamehameha I. The structure was built to house the bones of Keawe-'i-kekahi-ali'i-o-ka-moku and other chiefs (ali'i) who became dieties when they died. Hale o Keawe replaced 'Ale'ale'a as the temple (heiau) of asylum at the pu'uhonua. As the years went on, the bones of other ali'i were placed inside the temple and by 1829, there were 23 sets of bones. Ki'i, wooden carved images, stand watch over the reconstructed temple. Offerings (ho'okupu) to the dieties were placed on the tower (lele).

Hale o Keawe

The Hale o Keawe temple housed the bones of Chief Keawe and 22 other diefied chiefs (ali'i). The temple was framed of kauila wood, and thatched with dried ti leaves. The leaves were carefully and artfully knotted and tied. In front of the temple and extending from each end was a surface of smooth lava rocks. The platform was surrounded by a fence of palm tree trunks. There were carved images (ki'i) all around the outside of the temple, and several more inside.

In 1819, the Hale o Keawe was no longer a heiau when Liholiho abolished the old religion. The house and its contents were undisturbed until 1825 when most of these images were removed and taken to England in the early nineteenth century. Several of them were placed in public and private collections, and are on display in museums today. The bones of the diefied ali'i were removed from the Hale o Keawe temple in 1829 and placed in a burial cave at Ka'awaloa.


Ki'i are wooden images that were carved by kahuna kalai. The word kahuna is derived from the word kahu, which means "caretaker." There was a kahuna for nearly every craft or profession - advisor to the chief, priest who performed sacrifices and invocations to the major dieties, experts in weather, astronomers, navigators, agricultural experts, canoe builders, and carving experts such as the kahunk kalai.

The kahuna would go to the temple and offer sacrifices and prayers to the patron spirit of his trade. It is said that when a kahuna carved an image, that he must be in a good state of mind. If he was fighting with anyone else, or had any guilt in his heart for something he had done, the ki'i would not be able to be completed. The kahuna would have to go and make peace with the person he had a conflict with, and then visit the temple before completing his work.

Two ki'i stand together watching over Keone'ele Cove. Only royalty were allowed to use the cove. Other carved images stand on the platform of Hale o Keawe.


Offerings(ho'okupu) were made at Hale o Keawe by kahuna and others. Many times these offerings were food, because it was believed that if a spirit was not fed, it would drift away. Hawaiian culture is alive today and is being revived. It is not entirely uncommon for an offering to be left inside the park on the tower (lele) at Hale o Keawe today.


Stop #2 – Inside the Pu'uhonua

Inside the pu'uhonua there was safety and asylum for anyone who could make it to the sacred grounds. The pu'uhonua was a refuge in war times, where women, children, and the elderly could safely wait for the fighting to end. It was also a sanctuary for defeated warriors of either side. Another function of the pu'uhonua was as a haven for those who had broken a law or kapu. This offense was punishable by death, because it was believed that the gods would take out their anger on the entire village. The lawbreaker could run or swim across Honaunau Bay to reach the pu'uhonua, he or she could be prayed for by a priest, a kahuna, and freed to return safely to his or her home.


Stop #3 – The Keoua Stone

This stone lies at the north face of the 'Alealea platform. This stone is quite large and probably had a very specific purpose, but we don't yet know what that was. There is a legend that the stone was carried to its place by a gigantic chief to be used as a lounge. The stone fits into a space between six ancient holes dug to stand posts in. These posts could easily have held up a canopy of coconut fronds to shade the stone where a chief could make a comfortable resting place. Later stories say that the stone was the favorite resting place of Chief Keoua, the father of Kamehameha. It is for this story that the stone was named. Click here to locate the Keoua Stone.


Stop #4 – 'Ale'ale'a

The remaining platform of the 'Ale'ale'a heiau is 127 feet long, 60 feet wide and an average of 8 feet high. 'Ale'ale'a was once the primary temple (heiau) for the pu'uhonua before the building of Hale o Keawe. While it served as the main heiau for the area, 'Ale'ale'a probably had thatched huts and several carved images (ki'i) around it. It was constructed in seven stages. One of the early stages had been dated, and it was discovered that 'Ale'ale'a is the oldest heiau site in the area.


Stop #5 – Ka'ahumanu Stone

This stone also received its name through Hawaiian legends. Queen Ka'ahumanu, for whom the stone is named, was the favorite wife of King Kamehameha I. The legend says that she once had a fight with her husband and she swam a great distance to the pu'uhonua. She hid under this stone from her husband for a long time. He came looking for her, and her dog barked, revealing her hiding place. The king and queen made peace after their fight, and went home together.


Stop #6 – Konane Papamu

This is an original gamestone (papamu) that was used in the game of Hawaiian checkers (konane). To create a papamu, one needed a large, flat block of lava. Shallow holes were carved out of the flat surface. Game pieces were made out of white coral and black lava for the opposing players. The object of the game was not to take all of the other players pieces like the common checkers game, but to be the player who could make the last move.


Stop #7 – Ancient Heiau Site

'Ale'ale'a is shown to the right in the image below, and the Great Wall is on the left. To the west of 'Ale'ale'a, there is another site where a heiau once stood in the pu'uhonua. Ravaged by millennia of ocean waves and wind, the ancient heiau site is not easily recognizable. Several stones are all that remain of a temple so old that its name has been lost with time.


Stop #8 – Springs

These natural ponds are fed by seawater and by fresh groundwater from below the pu'uhonua. Because of the variability of the freshwater springs, the ponds are found to have varying water levels and salt contents.




About the Park

Royal Grounds

Pu'uhonua (Current location)

1871 Trail


Views of the National Park