After uniting the Hawaiian kingdom, King Kamehameha the Great returned from Oʻahu to Historic Kailua Village in 1812 to rule from his compound at Kamakahonu.
Here, he could see the vast upslope crops known as the Kona Field System as well as the strategic positioning of Kailua Bay.
Reconstructed by King Kamehameha the Great between 1812 – 1813, the Ahuʻena Heiau (“red-hot heap” “burning altar”) is on the register of National Historic Landmarks as one of the most important of Hawaii’s historic sites.
This was the center of political power in the Hawaiian kingdom during Kamehameha’s golden years and his highest advisors gathered at Ahuʻena Heiau nightly.
Many descriptions and illustrations of the impressive Ahuʻena Heiau, the religious temple that served Kamehameha, were done by early voyagers. The distinctive anuʻu (oracle tower) indicated a heiau of ruling chiefs.
As Kamehameha rose to power, Ahuʻena was deemed among the most powerful heiau of the island of Hawaiʻi.
Ahuʻena Heiau served his seat of government as he ruled the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.
It was a luakini or a temple where human sacrifice was conducted. Upon this temple was the Lana Nuʻu Mamao (Oracle Tower) a feature not a part of every heiau of that period.
As the King returned to Kailua in 1812, Kona was suffering from famine. Kamehameha directed his attention towards food production and care of the land.
He dedicated Ahuʻena Heiau to Lono, god of healing and prosperity of the land.
Ahuʻena became a heiau māpele, a thatched temple for the worship of Lono and the increase of food, concerned with success of crops. It was also used for the training of Liholiho as a future heir and for many political purposes.
Three momentous events occurred here that established Ahuʻena Heiau as the most historically significant site in Hawaii:
• In the early morning hours of May 8, 1819 King Kamehameha I died here.
• A few months after the death of his father, in a time of political consternation and threat of civil war, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) broke the ancient kapu system, a highly defined regime of taboos that provided the framework of the traditional Hawaiian government.
• The first Christian missionaries from New England were granted permission to come ashore here on April 4, 1820.
In August of 1823 when the Reverend William Ellis visited the area he observed that Ahu`ena had been converted into a fort:
“Adjacent to the governor’s house stand the ruins of Ahuena, an ancient heiau, where the war-god was often kept, and human sacrifices offered.”
“Since the abolition of idolatry, the governor has converted it into a fort, has widened the stone wall next the sea, and placed upon it a number of cannon.”
“The idols are all destroyed, excepting three, which are planted on the wall, one at each end, and the other in the centre, where they stand like sentinels amidst the guns, as if designed, by their frightful appearance, to terrify an enemy.”
The present Ahuʻena was rebuilt in the 1970s as an accurate 2/3-scale model replica and continues to be restored and maintained.
The current restored Ahuʻena Heiau is more properly a restoration of Ahuʻena House, a personal/residential heiau built by Kamehameha sometime around 1813.
Today, beside the Heiau and the Hale Lua, the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel holds their nightly lūʻau and Polynesian entertainment. Ahuʻena Heiau Inc., formed in 1993 to permanently guide the restoration and maintenance of the property.