Kualoa is an ancient Hawaiian land division (ahupua’a) at the north end of Kaneohe Bay, windward, O‘ahu. The ahupua’a extends from the coast to the top of the nearly vertical mountain behind.
The entire ahupua‘a of Kualoa was placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1973; it is considered one of the two most sacred places on the island of O’ahu (along with Kūkaniloko).
Kualoa is also prominent in Hawaiian folklore and mythology including traditions of Papa and Wākea, Hāloa, Pele, Hi‘iaka, Kamapua‘a and mo‘o (lizard dragons).
Kualoa is important as a symbol of sovereignty and independence for O’ahu, its role as a place of refuge, its role as a place where sacrificial victims for religious rituals were drowned, and its history as a sacred residence of chiefs.
This is most clearly seen in the oral history tradition about the succession of Kahahana to the O‘ahu throne (1770s,) and the attempt by King Kahekili of Maui to con him out of Kualoa and the “palaoa-pae” (washed up whalebone and ivory along the O‘ahu coastline):
“Shortly after his installation, Kahahana called a great council of the Oahu chiefs and the high-priest Kaopulupuli and laid before them the demands of Kahekili regarding the land of Kualoa and the ‘Palaoa-pae.’”
“At first the council was divided, and some thought it was but a fair return for the kindness and protection shown Kahahana from his youth by Kahekili; but the high-priest was strongly opposed to such a measure, and argued that it was a virtual surrender of the sovereignty and independence of O‘ahu.”
“Kualoa being one of the most sacred places on the island, where stood the sacred drums of Kapahuula and Kaahuulapunawai, and also the sacred hill of Kauakahi-a-Kahoowaha; and the surrender of the ‘Palaoa-pae’ would be a disrespect to the gods; in fact, if Kahekili’s demands were complied with, the power of war and of sacrifice would rest with the Maui king and not with Kahahana.”
“He represented strongly, moreover, that if Kahahana had obtained the kingdom by conquest, he might do as he liked, but having been chosen by the O‘ahu chiefs, it would be wrong in him to cede to another the national emblems of sovereignty and independence.”
“Kahahana and all the chiefs admitted the force of Kaopulupulu’s argument, and submitted to this advice not to comply with the demands of Kahekili. ” (Fornander)
Numerous other writers have also reflected the feeling of sacredness for Kualoa. Raphaelson says that Kualoa has always been sacred soil, to which the newborn children of the chiefs were brought to live and be trained in warfare and the ancient traditions of the Hawaiian chiefs.
Kamakau referred to Kualoa as being a very sacred place of refuge (pu‘uhonua) in ancient times where people fled for protection if they had broken a tabu.
Many authors say that all canoes passing seaward of Kualoa lowered their sails in acknowledgement of the nature of Kualoa as a sacred residence of chiefs.
Kualoa is also significant in Hawaiian folklore and mythology. Reportedly, it was considered to be the sacred land of Hāloa, the son of Wākea and Papa, the progenitors of the Hawaiian people. One of the most important chiefly genealogies links through Hāloa and shows the importance of Hāloa, and therefore, of Kualoa.
Kualoa figures in the famous legends of Pele, the Volcano Goddess and her sister, Hi‘iaka, as well as in the legends of Kamapua‘a, the half-man, half-pig of O‘ahu.
Here, Pele’s sister, Hi‘iaka, killed a huge mo‘o, or dragon, and the small island, Mokoli‘i, lying offshore, but part of Kualoa, is his tail. His body became the foothills below the steep Kualoa cliffs.
Kamapua‘a hid from Pele in a hollow at Kualoa, and later made the holes in the Kualoa mountains.
A shark god story exists about the area at Kualoa Point where the son of the shark god was fed by the people of Kualoa until a stingy chief stopped the feeding and claimed the fish that were usually fed him.
The shark god father of the starving son was enraged and created a tidal wave that killed the chief, but the people of Kualoa were saved.
In the 19th Century, an early Western family owned Kualoa and built a major sugar mill there. A few remains of this sugar mill still exist next to the Kamehameha Highway, remnants of this early industry of O‘ahu which attained so much importance in later times. During WWII an airfield was used at Kualoa.
Few physical remains still exist at Kualoa, in the past however, there were village areas, tapa manufacturing areas, religious, structures and ceremonial centers for hula.
Kualoa remains significant, even without physical remains of ancient sites, because of its central place in O‘ahu traditions and the feeling of the sacredness of the land.
Today, Kualoa is owned and cared for by the Morgan Family who operate a ranch and visitor activity center. In addition, the property has been the site of many television shows and Hollywood films such as Jurassic Park, Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor, Godzilla, Tears of the Sun and 50 First Dates. TV shows including the old and new Hawaii Five-O, Magnum PI and LOST.
They have demonstrated responsible stewardship of the land – and have worked to preserve and protect it from development.