Here was where the spirits of the dead could be reunited with their ancestors. The path of the spirits of dead kinsmen always led westward; so as to return to the land of their ancestors.
On every island there existed a prominent bluff pointing westward, bearing the name: “leap of the spirit” (leina-a-ka-uhane). The name marked the jumping-off place where the soul of the dead was believed to depart beyond the land of the living.
Kaʻena or Kaʻena Point (‘the heat’) is the westernmost tip of land on the island of Oʻahu. The point can be reached on foot from both the East (via Oʻahu’s North Shore / Mokuleʻia) and Southeast (via Waiʻanae Coast;) you cannot drive around the point.
When an individual lay on the deathbed, his soul left the body and wandered about; if all earthly obligations had been fulfilled, the soul continued wandering, otherwise it was returned to the body. In its continued wandering it then approached Leina a Kaʻuhane. (DLNR)
“I send you with this a sketch of the west end of the Island of Oahu, showing the position of the Leina-Kauhane as related to that portion of the island. From this you will see that it is on the land near the shore line, about three-quarters of a mile from the western end of the Island of Oahu, known as Ka Lae-o-Kaena, or Kaena Point.”
“The Leina-Kauhane is a large rock on a level plain, overlooking the sea with its sandy shore. On passing it the other day in the steam-cars, I was surprised to see a couple of little straw huts leaning against it.”
“I presume they must have been erected by Japanese fisherman, for it is difficult to believe that any native Hawaiian would think of spending a night there where the spirits are supposed to pass. JE Emerson” (Journal of the Polynesian Society, 1902)
The volcano that created the Waiʻanae Mountain Range last erupted over 3-million years ago. On the narrow western point, the hard volcanic rock shows the mark of millennia of pounding waves – the carved sea cliﬀs of Mokuleʻia that rise above Kaʻena.
Dunes such as these were once found on most of the main Hawaiian Islands, and on them developed ecosystems unique in the world. The intense sunlight, low rainfall, strong winds and salt spray created a challenging environment at Kaʻena. It is the site of one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands.
Unfortunately, these dunes and the native species that live on them have almost entirely been lost to 1000-years of change (since the humans first came to the Islands.)
The Kaʻena ahupuaʻa was probably the poorest ahupuaʻa in terms of arable land resources on Oʻahu. It is likely that Kaʻena was devoted exclusively to sweet potato, except for about 20 taro patches, terraced with rock facings, on the slopes below Uluhulu Gulch (irrigated from a spring on the hillside west of the gulch.) (Handy, DLNR)
Although very poor in terms of land, Kaʻena faced out onto very rich deep sea fishing grounds. Family groups fished along the shore for sustenance, and Chamberlain, in his journals written between 1822-1849, noted one such group, “… we passed Nenelea, a settlement of fishermen and a convenient place for hauling up their canoes …” (DLNR)
The abundance of fishing koʻa attests to the rich fishing off the coastline: Ponuahua, “a fishing shrine near the point, though it is not known which group of rocks was so designated” and Alauiki fishing shrine, “a group of stones near the edge of the water”. (DLNR)
In modern times (1983,) the State of Hawaiʻi designated Kaʻena Point as a Natural Area Reserve to protect nesting Laysan Albatrosses and wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Hawaiian monk seals and the fragile native strand vegetation that has been restored there.
The reserve provides refuge and a nesting area for the Laysan albatross, and is a potential nesting site for the green sea turtle and Hawaiian monk seal. During the winter breeding season, humpback whales will frequent the waters surrounding the point.
Nearly six feet of sand were lost due to vehicular erosion in less than ﬁve years. In response, motor-vehicles are now prohibited within the Reserve to help the dune ecosystem recover.
Because dogs and rats have killed nesting seabirds, a nearly ½-mile long, 6½-foot high predator-proof fence was constructed following an existing roadbed and encloses the tip of the Kaʻena Point peninsula, a total of 59-acres. Three unlocked double-door gates allow access by people.
After the fence was constructed, project personnel began to remove predatory animals from the reserve by using traps for larger animals and a combination of bait boxes and traps for rodents.
One of the last few remaining and easily-accessible wilderness areas on Oʻahu, Kaʻena Point is also part of the State Park system.
As part of the State Park, the Kaʻena Point Trail follows an old railroad bed and former dirt road that ran around the point. The trail leads to Kaʻena Point Natural Area Reserve.
From the Waiʻanae side, the trailhead is at the end of the paved road in the Keawaʻula Section of Kaʻena Point State Park and follows the dirt roadway for 2.4 miles to Kaʻena Point Natural Area Reserve. From the Mokuleʻia side, the trailhead is at the end of the paved road and follows the dirt roadway for 2.5 miles.