The Kūkaniloko Birthstones site is one of the most significant cultural sites on O‘ahu. This significance was recognized in the listing of the site on the National and Hawai’i Registers of Historic Places.
Kūkaniloko means “to anchor the cry from within.”
The 5-acre site was acquired by the State of Hawaiʻi in 1992 and placed under the jurisdiction of State Parks to preserve and interpret this important historic site.
Kūkaniloko was one of two places in Hawai‘i specifically designated for the birth of high-ranking children; the other site was Holoholokū at Wailua on Kauai.
These royal birthing sites maintained the antiquity and purity of the chiefly lineages on O‘ahu and Kauai. It is said that chiefs from Hawai‘i Island and Maui often sought greater prestige by marrying those with these strong ancestral lineages.
The site is marked by 180 stones covering an area of about ½-acre. Many of these stones have surface depressions and fluted edges with a coating of red dirt. These surfaces are probably a combination of natural weathering and human craftsmanship over many generations.
Today, they appear as very smooth, round, “sit-spots” in the rocks, with no signs of tools or human workmanship; only their uniform symmetry and design would indicate human craftsmanship.
One can immediately visualize the use of these stone “sit-spots” in childbirth, for many of them have natural backrests behind the depressions, which would have given firm support to a straining mother-to-be. It is small wonder that these birthstones would have been revered and reserved for childbirth for chiefesses.
With assistance from her attendants, the chiefess would lean against the stone and follow the prescribed regulations for birthing (liloe kapu).
Beginning with the birth of Kapawa, Kūkaniloko became recognized as the royal birthsite on O’ahu. Based on genealogical records, the dates of Kapawa’s birth range from A.D. 1100 to A.D. 1400, but the date could be earlier.
A child born in the presence of the chiefs was called “he ali‘i” (a chief), “he akua” (a god), “he wela” (a blaze of heat). The births of at least 4 renown chiefs of O‘ahu are recorded at Kūkaniloko – La‘a (ca. 1420,) Mā‘ilikūkahi (ca. 1520,) Kalanimanuia (ca. 1600) and Kākuhihewa (ca. 1640).
The reign of these chiefs was marked by good deeds, peace and prosperity.
This place was so highly viewed that, even in later times, Kamehameha I, in 1797, previous to the birth of his son and successor, Liholiho (Kamehameha II,) made arrangements to have his birth take place at Kūkaniloko; but the illness of Queen Keōpūolani prevented that (Liholiho was born in Hilo.)
Major trails crossed the island and intersected near Kūkaniloko. The Waialua Trail ran from Waialua through Wahiawā to ‘Ewa. The Kolekole Trail from Wai‘anae crossed the Wai‘anae Range and joined the Waialua Trail near Kūkaniloko.
To the south of the birthstones is the Wai‘anae Mountain Range with prominent peaks such as Kaʻala and a dip known as Kolekole. According to oral tradition, these features create an image of a pregnant woman known as “wahine hāpai.”
From Kūkaniloko, the setting of the sun at peaks (pu‘u) along the Waiʻanae Range could be observed and used as a calendar. Some of the stones at Kūkaniloko may have been used as reference points to observe the sun setting behind, Mt. Ka‘ala at the equinox.
Likewise, it is believed that alignments and marking on the stones illustrate navigational directions. (Today, September 22, 2012) is the Autumnal Equinox; from Kūkaniloko, the setting sun is aligned with Mt. Kaʻala.)
Wahiawā is translated as place of rumbling. It is said that Wahiawā is where thunderstorms, the voices of the ancestral gods, welcomed an offspring of divine rank. Being the center of O‘ahu, Kūkaniloko is also symbolic of the piko (navel, as well as center) and thus, birth.
The site is managed and maintained through a partnership between DLNR-State Parks, the Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā and the Friends of Kūkaniloko. Additional support for interpretive efforts at the site has been provided by the Wahiawā Hospital Association and the Wahiawā Community and Business Association.
The Kūkaniloko birthstones are located next to a dusty (or muddy) plantation road and are partially surrounded by former pineapple fields. The turn-off from Kamehameha Highway just north of the town of Wahiawā, at the Whitmore Village intersection.