Hawaiian oral tradition and early local informants suggest a heiau (temple,) Hale O Kapuni, existed underwater just offshore in Pelekane Bay near Kawaihae – below the Puʻu Koholā Heiau (“Hill of the Whale”) and Mailekini Heiau (below Puʻu Koholā Heiau halfway down the hill.)
Kamehameha I is said to have used this heiau, and sharks were fed here. Rocks from here may have been used to build Pu‘u-koholā heiau. (Lit., house of Kapuni (a high priest of the chief Keawe.)) (Maly)
Due to tidal actions, sediment that accumulated from runoff from the uplands and nearby construction of the Kawaihae Harbor, this submerged heiau has never been located or documented through underwater archaeology – however, folklore suggests it existed and was dedicated to the shark gods.
Theophilus Davies arrived off Kawaihae in 1859, passing in the water beneath a “sacred enclosure” about twenty yards square and formed by a massive stone fence five feet high (probably Mailekini Heiau).
A large stone formed its altar, he said, and here the bleeding victims were placed before the gods until they became offensive, when they were carried to a heap of stones in the ocean (a little to seaward of our boat) and devoured by the sharks, the supposed deities. (NPS)
The presence of Hale-o-Kapuni is well known to local inhabitants: “When the tide was real low, big boulders use [sic] to come out, and it’s all build [sic] up of big boulders see, so you know it’s man made.”
“And around the side area is all deep and it’s anywhere’s [sic] from low water mark 5 feet. About 8, 9 feet when high water mark. … It was built under water purposely…. “ (Doi, NPS)
An informant pointed out to Marion Kelly the location of the heiau structure, now covered by silt washed off the coral stockpile area nearby.
Anthropologist Lloyd Soehren stated that, as children, older residents of the area remembered seeing the heiau rising about two feet above the water.
One person remembered a channel leading into a larger area within the temple where the bodies were placed for the sharks. (NPS)
Per Pukui, ʻaumākua are family or personal gods, deified ancestors who might assume the shape of the animal, plant or other feature they represent.
Here, at Hale O Kapuni, it is believed that the heiau was dedicated to sharks. “The shark was perhaps the most universally worshipped of all the aumakuas, and, strange to say, was regarded as peculiarly the friend and protector of all his faithful worshippers.” (Emerson)
“Each several locality along the coast of the islands had its special patron shark, whose name, history, place of abode, and appearance, were well known to all frequenters of that coast. Each of these sharks, too, had its kahu [keeper,] who was responsible for its care and worship”. (Emerson)
“Some of the chiefs under Kamehameha, such as Alapaʻi-malo-iki and Ka-uhi-wawae-ono, were murdering chiefs who did not keep the law against killing men, but went out with their men to catch people for shark bait.” (Kamakau)
Pōhaku o Alapaʻi ku palupalu mano, “the rock of the chief named Alapaʻi of the one who puts the human shark bait out,” originally stood in the shade of a large kiawe tree on the shore below Mailekini Heiau. (NPS)
One early account said that King Kamehameha sat there while his staff compiled the tally of the latest fishing expeditions, and that somewhere near the stone might have been the spot of Keōua’s death.
Apple states that although referred to as Kamehameha’s Chair, the rock is by local tradition more closely associated with one of Kamehameha’s staff chiefs named Alapaʻi Kupalupalu Mano who liked to use human flesh for shark bait and watched from this point as sharks entered Hale-o-Kapuni to devour the food offerings put out for them. (NPS)
Apple notes that catching sharks was a sport indulged in by high chiefs and conjectured that perhaps the animals were conditioned to rotten flesh in the offshore temple so that they could be enticed with it into the deeper water and easily noosed.
Today, this area is known to be frequented by sharks. In the early morning hours, you can usually see the sharks plying the waters just offshore, near where the heiau is believed to be located.
Click here for a link to a video on sharks in and around the area identified as where Hale O Kapuni in Pelekane Bay is located (Pacific Islands National Parks:)