Waimea, “The Valley of the Priests,” gained its title around 1090, when the ruler of Oʻahu, Kamapuaʻa (who would later be elevated in legend to demigod status as the familiar pig deity) awarded the land to the high priest Lono-a-wohi.
From that time until Western contact and the overturn of the indigenous Hawaiian religion, the land belonged to the kahuna nui (high priests) of the Pāʻao line. (Kennedy, OHA)
The valley is surrounded by three Heiau. Pu‘u o Mahuka (“hill of escape”) is located on the north side of the valley; it is the largest heiau on Oʻahu (covering almost 2 acres.)
On the opposite side of the valley near the beach is Kupopolo Heiau. In the valley is Hale O Lono, a heiau dedicated to the god Lono. Religious ceremonies to Lono were held during the annual Makahiki season to promote fertility of the resources.
Puʻu O Mahuka Heiau may have been constructed in the 1600s. Built as a series of 3 walled enclosures, the stacked rock walls ranged from 3 to 6-feet in height and the interior surface was paved with stone. Within the walls were wood and thatch structures.
Archaeological research has indicated several changes in the heiau structure over time. Initially, the heiau consisted of the upper, mauka enclosure with a paved floor of basalt and coral boulders. At a later time, a paving of smaller stones known as ʻiliʻili was laid over the boulders. (DLNR)
A story of its origin notes, in 1773, a leadership change was decided on Oʻahu where Kahahana would replace Kumahana; this was the second chief to be elected (rather than conquest or heredity) to succeed to the leadership of Oʻahu, the first being Maʻilikukahi who was his ancestor. Kaʻopulupulu was Waimea’s presiding kahuna (priest) and served Kahahana.
A story says Kahahana asked Kaʻopulupulu to determine whether the gods approved of him, and whether the island of Kauai would surrender if he invaded its shores. Kaʻopulupulu requested that a temple be built where he could “speak to the great chief Kekaulike (of Kauai) through the thoughts of the great akua Mahuka.”
At first, Heiau Kupopolo was built on the beach of Waimea Bay; however, when Kaʻopulupulu used it, he received no answer from Kaua‘i. It was thought the temple was in the wrong location.
Off shore of this area is Wananapaoa, a small group of islets. Several believe they were so named (Wananapaoa literally translates to “unsuccessful prophecy”) because Kupopolo heiau there did not live up to its intended function.
Because the kahuna believed that “thoughts are little gods, or kupua, that travel in space, above the earth … they fly freely as soaring birds,” he had another heiau, Puʻu O Mahuka built high on the cliffs. From there, Kaʻopulupulu sent out thought waves, and the answer quickly returned – Kauai wished for peace. (Johnson; OHA)
Puʻu O Mahuka included a Hale O Papa, a specialized heiau 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. (Kamakau)
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, 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.
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.”
After Captain Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay in 1779, Captain Charles Clerke took command of his ships, Resolution and Discovery. Searching to restock their water supply, they anchored off Waimea Bay in 1779. This was the first known contact of the white man on the island of Oʻahu.
Cook’s lieutenant, James King, who captained the Resolution, commented that the setting “… was as beautiful as any Island we have seen, and appear’d very well Cultivated and Popular.” (HJH)
King noted that the vista on this side of Oʻahu, “was by far the most beautiful country of any in the Group … the Valleys look’d exceedingly pleasant … charmed with the narrow border full of villages, & the Moderate hills that rose behind them.” (HJH)
Clerke wrote in his journal: “On landing I was reciev’d with every token of respect and friendship by a great number of the Natives who were collected upon the occasion; they every one of them prostrated themselves around me which is the first mark of respect at these Isles.” (Kennedy, OHA)
Clerke further noted, “I stood into a Bay to the W(est)ward of this point the Eastern Shore of which was far the most beautifull Country we have yet seen among these Isles, here was a fine expanse of Low Land bounteously cloath’d with Verdure, on which were situate many large Villages and extensive plantations; at the Water side it terminated in a fine sloping, sand Beach.” (HJH)
Waimea was a large settlement, though the actual number of inhabitants is unknown. With an almost constant water source and abundant fishing grounds, in addition to cultivation of traditional foods, Waimea was a classic example of the Polynesian managing natural resources. (pupukeawaimea)
Kamehameha took the island of O‘ahu in 1795, and he gave Waimea Valley to Hewahewa, his Kahuna Nui. He was the last Kahuna to preside over the heiau (temples) in the valley.”
“Hewahewa died in 1837 and is buried in Waimea Valley. Waimea Valley has a total land area of approximately 1,875-acres and was originally part of the larger moku (district) of Koʻolauloa, but was added to the district of Waialua in the 1800s. (pupukeawaimea)
In 1826, Hiram Bingham, accompanied by Queen Kaʻahumanu, visited Waimea to preach the gospel and noted, “Saturday (we) reached Waimea … the residence of Hewahewa, the old high priest of Hawaiian superstition, by whom we were welcomed ….”
“The inhabitants of the place assembled with representatives of almost every district of this island, to hear of the great salvation, and to bow before Jehovah, the God of heaven.”
“There were now seen the queen of the group and her sister, and teachers, kindly recommending to her people the duties of Christianity, attention to schools, and a quiet submission, as good subjects, to the laws of the land.” (Bingham)