In Hawaiian culture, the natural and cultural resources are one and the same. Native traditions describe the birth of the islands and the life that exists on them in terms of genealogical accounts.
All natural forms of the environment are believed to be embodiments of gods and deities. From godly forces the Hawaiian Islands are born of Wākea (the expanse of the sky‐father) and Papahānaumoku (Papa who gave birth to the islands).
Wākea and Papa are credited for being the parents of the first man, Hāloa, the ancestor of all people. Commoners and ali‘i were all descended from the same ancestors, Wākea (sky father) and Papa (earth mother.)
It is from this genealogical thread that Hawaiians address their environment and it forms the basis of the Hawaiian system of land use.
Hawaiians had many forms of worship and places where they practiced; invoking peace, war, health or successful fishing and farming, etc. Formalized worship, offerings and/or sacrifice by chiefs took place in heiau (temples.)
There are many types and forms of heiau, which served as temples and ceremonial sites. Some were used for state worship -where only the paramount ruler of the island and priests were allowed to enter; others had specialized purposes.
One such specialized heiau was the Hale O Papa (House of Papa) – which were designated specifically to women; kapu (forbidden) to men.
The Hale O Papa were associated with the great Kū heiau (luakini), which demanded human sacrifice and were usually in areas of greater population. Without a luakini, there would be no Hale O Papa, according to Samuel Kamakau.
Luakini heiau served as the “seat of government” for the ruling Chiefs. The luakini heiau was the core of the “Royal Center,” which included the kauhale (group of houses) of the Chief and supporters and was surrounded by a large and densely-populated population.
The luakini heiau in Hālawa valley in the district of Ewa is most likely where Kumuhonua established his Royal Center, while Moikeha established his domain from the mouth of the Wailua river on Kaua‘i and Olopana did the same in Waipi‘o Valley on the island of Hawai‘i; while maintaining their political positions at the political marae of Taputapuatea, on the island of Raiatea. (Yardley)
Malo describes the ceremonies and rites in dedicating the luakini heiau: “(A)ll the female chiefs, relations of the king, came to the temple bringing a malo of great length as their present to the idol.”
“All the people assembled at the house of Papa to receive the women of the court. One end of the malo was borne into the heiau (being held by the priests), while the women chiefs kept hold of the other end; the priest meantime reciting the service of the malo, which is termed kaioloa.” (Malo)
“All the people being seated in rows, the kahuna who was to conduct the service (nana e papa ka pule) stood forth; and when he uttered the solemn word elieli (completed), the people responded with noa.”
“The kahuna said, “Ia e! O Ia!” and the people responded with noa honua (freedom to the ground). The consecration of the temple was now accomplished, and the tabu was removed from it, it was noa loa.” (Malo)
“With such rites and ceremonies as these was a luakini built and dedicated. The ceremonies and service of the luakini were very rigorous and strict. There was a proverb which said the work of the luakini is like hauling ohia timber, of all labor the most arduous.” (Malo)
Hale O Papa have been identified at Kaho‘olawe, Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau (Hawai‘i Island,) Hālawa Valley (O‘ahu,) Waimea Valley (O‘ahu,) Moku‘ula (Maui) and Honua‘ula (Maui.)
“The archaeological findings suggest that these activities included cooking, construction of structures supported by posts, and manufacture and use of stone tools. Distinct sleeping and storage areas, as well as a possible family shrine, are also present. Occupation of this site began as early as the fourteenth century.”
Kamakau notes that such heiau belonged to the high chiefesses (pi‘o and ni‘aupi‘o) and “were for the good of the women and the children borne for the benefit of the land. … Only the sacred chiefesses, whose tabu equalled that of a god, went into the Hale – o – Papa and ate of the dedicated foods of the heiau.”
The nearby luakini, could be built only by an ali‘i nui, or paramount chief. Luakini were built in times of war and other crises and allowed for human sacrifice to plead for the blessing of the gods.
Hale O Papa, or Heiau No Na Wahine, was used by royal women who were not permitted to worship the gods of the men, or to touch or eat foods which were acceptable offerings to the male gods.
There are different interpretations regarding how this feature was used, but generally described as a women’s heiau for worship, menstruation, pregnancy or as a place of seclusion for chiefly women.
This way of life began disappearing with Cook’s arrival in 1778 and was eliminated when Liholiho abolished the kapu system in 1819.