O‘ahu Island consists of a volcanic mass of two primary formations, including the Ko‘olau Formation in the east (windward) and the Wai‘anae Formation in the west (leeward). These volcanic eruptions occurred approximately 1.8 to 2.6 million years ago.
The island of Oʻahu is divided into 6 moku (districts), consisting of: ‘Ewa, Kona, Koʻolauloa, Koʻolaupoko, Waialua and Waiʻanae. These moku were further divided into 86 ahupua‘a (land divisions within the moku.) Ko‘olauloa is divided into 23-ahupua‘a (traditional land division); Ko‘olaupoko is divided into 11-ahupua‘a.
Palikū is in Ko‘olaupoko where it joins Ko‘olauloa. This is now known as Kualoa. The generally narrow coastal area has been gradually accumulating since that time around the base of this volcanic core as a result of gradual erosion and weathering of the uplands.
The coastal beach, however, is a more recent formation. Sea level returned to its modern level sometime around 2,000 years ago, at least a 1,000 years before Polynesian colonists first set foot in Hawai‘i.
The earliest evidence of human occupation at Kualoa Beach is dated at about AD 1040 to 1280, in the most landward portion of the peninsula.
The early radiocarbon date is from charcoal recovered from a firepit that also contained a few discarded basalt flakes, the tip component of a two-piece bone fishhook, and dense shell and bone midden.
The calendar date range of AD 1040 to 1280 ranks among the earliest in secure archaeological context for windward O‘ahu, but it post-dates first settlement in the archipelago by up to a few centuries. The earliest human activities may have been in the more stable coastal plain landward of the Kualoa peninsula.
At the time of Polynesian settlement in the Hawaiian Islands, accretion of the Kualoa Peninsula probably was only in its beginning stage. The landscape at the time, therefore, must have been dominated by steep cliffs near the coast. (Carson and Athens)
This area had an older name Palikū that referred to the “vertical cliff” characterizing this land, and the newer name Kualoa refers to the “long back” of a mo‘o or moko (giant lizard) slain by Hi‘iaka.
The renaming possibly implies knowledge of the ancient landscape prior to coastal growth out into the ocean and substantial accretion, apparently concurrent with the earliest period of human settlement.
“Paliku (Erect cliff), the male, mated with Paliha‘i (Broken cliff), the female. Eight generations later appear Papaluna (Stratum above), the male, mating with Papailalo (Stratum below), the female. (Their counterparts Papa‘una and Papa‘a‘o appear in Marquesan genealogical creation.)”
“The Kumulipo recites 28 more generations (36 following Paliku) before there first appears the name Haumea, who is Mother Earth (sometimes called Papa), she ‘of myriad forms’ (of vegetation) who mated first with WVakea (Kanehoalani}.”
“There follows, as a narrative within the genealogical sequence, the account of the union of Haumea and Wakea, ‘dwelling in the House of Wakea’ (Ka hale ‘i‘o Wakes i noho ‘ai) and the birth of Haloa, the progenitor of mankind.”
When the land was known as Palikū, the goddess Haumea and her husband Wakea were the progenitors of the Hawaiian people, and they made their home at Palikū.
This place can be associated with the beginning of human life, the founding generations of certain Hawaiian genealogies, and the formation of traditional religious practices.
Handy and Handy noted that: “The land now called Kualoa was formerly Paliku (upright cliff), for its salient feature, the great cliff at its back. It was here that the primordial goddess Haumea battled alone against the warriors of Kumuhonua in legendary times preceding the great tidal wave that inundated all the coast from Kualoa south to He‘eia.”
“Here was built the high shrine to Lono … who saved Wakea and Haumea in the flood.”
Palikū is recognized as the place of the first heiau (traditional Hawaiian religious temple) during the time of Haumea and Wākea and associated with an ancient cultural context that later underwent significant evolution.
When a great tidal wave swept Haumea, Wākea, and all of their followers out to sea, Wākea was instructed, presumably by the god Lono, ‘to cup his hands together to represent a heiau, then he caught a humuhumu-nukunukuapua‘a fish [triggerfish with a pig-like snout] . . . and stuck it head first into the cupped hands to represent a pig’. (Handy and Handy).
The followers repeated Wākea’s actions, and then the sea washed all of them ashore.
In gratitude to Lono, a temple was constructed at Palikū, and an order of priests called Mo‘o-kuauhau-o-Lono (literally “genealogical line of Lono”) was responsible for religious proceedings at this temple. (Malo)
Handy and Handy reported that the priestly order known as Palikū formerly performed rituals at heiau (temples) called māpele.
Māpele is defined as ‘thatched heiau. (temple) for the worship of Lono and the increase of food’ (Lono was god of abundance as well as of rain and storm). (Handy and Handy)
The area was partly in Ko‘olaupoko and partly in Ko‘olauloa. The tax collectors of Ko‘olaupoko accompanying the symbol of Lono came only to the northern border of Kualoa at Paliku and turned back. Those of Ko‘olauloa came south to Ka‘a‘awa on the north side of Kanehoalani (the summit of the ridge at Kualoa) and turned back. (Handy and Handy)
“The fact that the land strip Kualoa, called formerly Paliku, with Kanehoalani towering at its back, was a land so sacred that no canoe could pass by at sea without lowering its sails …”
“… would seem to justify the conclusion that it was at the base of the cliff called Paliku that the ancient mapele shrine dedicated to Lono was located. This undoubtedly was the seat of the hierarchy of the priestly order of Lono”. (Malo)
Kualoa (formerly called Paliku, after its sacred cliff) has a broad lagoon inside a solid barrier reef, but hardly any beach. Having no streams, it was for the most part unsuitable for taro growing.
However, the late Albert F Judd, in whose family the ranch lands of Kualoa have long been included, recalled that his father, Dr. GP Judd, once said that the Kahola-Iele Pond was excavated from a long abandoned taro lo‘i.
This pond is in the flatland named ‘Apua near the boundary between Kualoa and Hakipu‘u. The land was anciently famous for the wauke (paper mulberry) grown there for the making of bark cloth (tapa).
North of Kanehoalani is the valley of Ka‘a‘awa (Turning passage). The name apparently refers to the ‘passage’ through the reef formed by the stream which empties through two channels some distance apart. There is a narrow beach and broad lagoon, not very well protected because the passage (awa) through the reef is so broad.
At Ka‘a‘awa there was a small stream that flowed only in rainy weather, but the flat and sloping habitable area of Ka‘a‘awa and Makaua must have been good only for sweet potatoes, and no doubt there were coconut trees along the shore. There is hardly any beach, but a high shore and a well-protected lagoon make this a good fishing locality. (Handy and Handy)