The Wailuku area was a major gathering place and royal center of the Maui high chiefs and those of rank. The area from Waiheʻe to Wailuku was the largest continuous area of wet taro cultivation in the Hawaiian Islands.
Royal Centers were where the aliʻi resided; aliʻi often moved between several residences throughout the year. The Royal Centers were selected for their abundance of resources and recreation opportunities.
To the southeast of ʻIao Stream, below Pihana Heiau, was Kauahea where warriors lived and were trained in war skills. This was a boxing site in the time of Kahekili. (Naone)
The Wailuku spring was located below Pihana Heiau and the taro grown in this area was for the use of the aliʻi (nobility class) only. Much of the evidence for this agricultural system was destroyed by the 1916 flood and by historic cultivation for sugarcane and pineapple.
When Kekaulike, father of Kahekili and Kamehameha Nui, heard that Alapaʻi (the ruling chief of Hawaiʻi) was at Kohala on his way to war against Maui, he was afraid and fled to Wailuku in his double war canoe.
Others with him went by canoe and some overland; the chiefs prepared a litter for Kekaulike and bore him upland to Halekiʻi. There, in March 1736, Kekaulike died.
Fearing the arrival of Alapaʻi, bent on war, the chiefs cut the flesh from the bones of Kekaulike in order to lighten the load in carrying the body to ʻIao for burial. (Kamakau)
The body of Kamehameha Nui (an uncle of Kamehameha I,) who ruled Maui before his brother Kahekili succeeded him, was laid here before being taken to a final resting place on Molokai. Kahekili himself lived here at times (ca. 1765.)
It was at Pihana, in about 1778 or 1780, that Keōpūolani was born (daughter to Kiwalaʻo and Keku‘iapoiwa Liliha.) After Kamehameha defeated Kekaulike’s grandson, Kalanikupule, at ʻIao in 1790, he followed Keōpūolani and her grandmother, Kalola, to Molokai – later taking her as a wife.
In 1797, she gave birth to a son, Liholiho (later known as Kamehameha II,) was born in Hilo; Kauikeaouli, her second son (later Kamehameha III,) was born in Keauhou, North Kona.
Liholiho, after he had been established as heir to Kamehameha’s kingdom, recited the prayer rededicating Pihana Heiau to the gods of his father.
Halekiʻi and Pihana Heiau are the most accessible of the remaining pre-contact Hawaiian structures of religious and historical importance in the Wailuku-Kahului area.
Located about ¼-mile inland along the west side of ‘Iao Stream, they overlook ‘Iao Stream, Kahului Bay and the Wailuku Plain.
Traditional history credits the menehune with the construction of both heiau in a single night, using rock from Paukukalo Beach.
Other accounts credit Kihapiʻilani with building Halekiʻi, and Kiʻihewa with building Pihana during the time of Kakaʻe, the aliʻi of West Maui. Some say that they were built under the rule of Kahekili.
Halekiʻi or ‘house of images’ is thought to be a chiefly compound with thatched hale (houses) built atop the stone platform of the heiau and guarded by the kiʻi (images) placed on the terraces around the sides of the platform.
Pihana was the major heiau of the Wailuku area, historical references suggest, and it is reported to be a luakini, where human sacrifices were offered.
The full name of Pihana is Pihanakalani or ‘gathering place of the aliʻi.’ Others have recorded the name of the heiau as Piʻihana. (Naone)
The two heiau are constructed of stacked waterworn basalt boulders collected from ʻIao Stream. The sides of the heiau were stepped or terraced and an ili-ili (waterworn basalt pebbles) paved platform existed on the top of the heiau.
Constructed upon the terrace and platform surfaces were a number of features, including depressions, pits, walls, and small enclosures. Kenneth Emory of Bishop Museum was in charge of the reconstruction of portions of Halekiʻi in 1959.
The heiau were important for the ritual ceremonies prior to the battles that eventually resulted in the uniting of Maui with the other Hawaiian Islands under Kamehameha I
The site is also important for its association with Kahekili, a major figure in Maui’s history who is connected with Halekiʻi-Pihana from circa 1765-1790, and with Kamehameha I during his conquering of Maui (1792.) (Lots of information here is from NPS and Naone.)