According to legends, the Menehune built a fort and a temple at the top of the hill ‘Ulumalu. They were driven away from their fort by the high chief Kuali‘i during his reign (sometime in the 1700s). Kuali‘i rebuilt it after his seizure of the fort. (Cultural Surveys)
This heiau was the center piece of a string of heiaus that strung across the Kona district. The existence of such an important heiau at the mouth of the valley could be taken as an indication of the early importance of Mānoa.
Because the plain that Honolulu proper is situated on tends to be a hot, dry environment, the Alii or Hawaiian Royalty of the early 1800s were known to use Mānoa as a retreat to get away from the hustle and bustle of the town’s dusty streets. (DeLeon)
Another legend says that the menehune were driven from their fort and temple by the owls, who became their bitter enemies.
The legends say that the fairy people, the Menehunes, built a temple and a fort a little farther up the valley above Pu‘u-pueo, at a place called Kukaoo.
Some people say that the owl-god and the fairies became enemies and waged bitter war against each other. At last the owl-god beat the drum of the owl clan and called the owl-gods from Kauai to give him aid.
With the aid of the Kaua‘i owls, there was a great battle and the “fort and temple” were captured; the menehune were driven out of the valley. (Cultural Surveys)
“(O)n a vast rock pile, still stands a walled enclosure known as the heiau of Kūka‘ō‘ō, now overgrown with lantana and night blooming cereus. This … temple dates back many hundred years. Its erection is credited to the Menehune’s … but was rebuilt during the reign of Kuali‘i, who wrested it from them after a hard fought battle.”
“The Menehune’s fort was on the rocky hill, Ulumalu, on the opposite side of the road, just above Kukaoo. Previous to the battle, they had control of all upper Manoa.”
“After Kūali‘i obtained possession, he made it the principal temple fort of a system of heiaus, extending from Mauoki, Puahia luna and lalo, Kumuohia, Kaualaa, Wailele, and one or two other points between Kaualaa and Kukaoo.”
“There were also several Muas in the system they controlled — sacred picketed trench enclosures, and altogether, the scene must have been one of priest-ridden despotism.”
“Kūka‘ō‘ō heiau and hill is connected also, in legend, with that of Punahou Spring, as the place where the twin brother and sister Kauawaahila and Kauakuahine obtained temporary shelter from the persecutions of a cruel step-mother, as shown in the following extract.”
“The children went to the head of Mānoa valley, but were driven away and told to return to Ka‘ala, but they ran and hid themselves in a small cave on the side of the hill of Kūka‘ō‘ō, whose top is crowned by the temple of the Menehunes.”
“Here they lived some time and cultivated a patch of potatoes, their food meanwhile being grass-hoppers and greens. The latter were the tender shoots of the popolo, aheahea, pakai, laulele and potato vines, cooked by rolling hot stones around among them in a covered gourd.”
“When the potatoes were fit to be eaten, the brother made a double imu, or oven, having a kapu, or sacred, side for his food and a noa, or free, side for his sister.”
“The little cave was also divided in two, a sacred and a free part for brother and sister. The cave, with its wall of stone dividing it in two was still intact a few years ago, and the double imu was also to be seen.” (Thrum)
The heiau is mentioned in Land Commission records as “LCA 3906 to K. Neki, Heiau of Kūkaō‘ō, fence; house in”. “I, Neki hereby state my claims /at/ the land fence, mauka in Manoa, at the heiau of Kukaoo on the side below the heiau.”
“These two fences of which I tell you were from my makuas – they expended a great deal of revenue in making these fences, and I also did, and they are mine at this time – no one else has a right to them. That is my explanation to you. I am, with thanks. Neki” (Cultural Surveys)
The heiau has been restored and is part of the Mānoa Heritage Center, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote stewardship of the natural and cultural heritage of Hawai‘i. The site consists of Kūka‘ō‘ō Heiau, a Native Hawaiian garden and Kūali‘i, a Tudor-style house, built in 1911.
Currently, Kūka‘ō‘ō Heiau and garden tours are available, guided by volunteer docents ($7 per adult.) Reservations are needed with two-week advance notice preferred. It was created through the efforts of Sam and Mary Cooke.