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The purpose of this page is to provide information on the different functions of Kukuipahu Heiau. We know of at least three possible functions for this heiau 1) agricultural, 2) navigational, 3) observational, based on various documents and my community interviews with caretakers of Kukuipahu, Aunty Lehua and Uncle Kanani Kaulukukui.

Overview of Functions

What is very interesting about this heiau is that it is a multifunctional structure. According to Uncle Kanani Kaulukukui,"Its multi-purpose, multi-functional. It is amazing!" There can not be one type of function such as a luakini, or sacrificial heiau, to be attached to Kukuipahu Heiau. However, there are a few possible functions that may have served this heiau at different points in time. Although further research is needed to confirm these functions.


According to Aunty Lehua Kaulukukui "It is the only major heiau within the Kukuipahu ahupuaʻa and within the entire Kohala field system". The Kohala field system is an extensive Native Hawaiian system of agriculture utilizing a multitude of traditional techniques to produce a maximum yield of crops. Being that this heiau is the only major heiau within the Leeward Kohala Field System, it may have been used as an agricultural heiau at one point in time. I was able to find a map of the heiau in relation to the Kohala Field System from the report by Kirch et al. (2019:29) found on the 'Maps and Photos' page. Also, Uncle Kanani mentioned Peter Vitousek, who has done extensive research on the Kohala Field System, stated that the Kohala Field System begins just north of the heiau complex and spans the distance between North Kohala and Waimea. 

Click on the PDF to Learn More About the Kohala Field System:


Another function could been an observational used to observe the heavens and predict future events. With the astronomical connections this heiau has with the sky, this could have been a possible function. When talking about an evening when they observed the stars at Kukuipahu Heiau, Aunty Lehua said "On Saturday, the Southern cross lay on its side, but. . . back in a summer solstice, that cross would have been straight up and down. The shape of the Milky Way that evening resembled the shape of the heiau and traveled directly above the heiau". Also, according to the study mentioned on the 'Kuleana' tab, "there is reason to think that the early phase at Kukuipahu Heiau was intentionally oriented to the east, in such a manner that it falls within 2°–3° of the equinoctial rising of “the great sun of Kāne” (Kirch et al. (2019:52))". 

Click PDF to View Full Report:


Another possible function is that it could have served as a navigational heiau. In the story of Kamapiʻikai, a priest famous for his voyages, received a dream from his god, perhaps Kānenuiākea, telling him the exact distance and location of Tahiti. Being that he was priest of a "temple in Kohala dedicated to Kāne" (Ellis 1833:287), Kamapiʻikai could have been a former priest of Kukuipahu Heiau. If this is true, perhaps Kukuipahu could have been the place where he received his instructions as a heiau is a place where kahuna of could connect with and recieve messages from the gods.



Click PDF to View Full Document:

Healing - He Hale Ola, A House of Life

Family oral history tells us that Kūpapaulau was a piko for the art of healing and for the re-generation of life.  The makai village of Lapakahi was connected to the heiau as healing practices were performed in both locations.  Aunty Darlene clearly remembers a birthing stone that was contained within the heiau walls that, unfortunately, is no longer there.  



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