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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

February 2005

Part IV: Pā’ao

(In our December issue, we read in Part III of the mo’olelo of Hawaiian ali’i, of La’amaikahiki who was brought to Kaua’i by his brother Kila. It was he who introduced Lono and the first kumukanawai or kapu to safeguard the rank of an ali’i and protect the rights of the commoners. In this issue, we look at another voyager to Hawai’i who brought change to Hawaiian society.)

According to the mo’olelo, it was Pā’ao who introduced new elements to the existing religious systems when he arrived in Hawai’i . It is believed that it was he who introduced image worship and reformed the religious priesthood.

In a quarrel with his brother, Lonopele, Pā’ao’s son is accused of stealing from his uncle and was killed. Pā’ao takes revenge by sacrificing his nephew. Pā’ao, banished as an evil man by his brother, sailed from Kahiki with his followers including Pilika’aiea, a high chief. They made landfall in the district of Puna on Hawai’i island where Pā’ao establishes himself as the kahuna nui or high priest and builds a heiau (temple) for his god. The heiau, built in a quadrangular or parallelogram form, characterized all the heiau that were later built by Pā’ao.

It was believed that this heiau had several names. According to one source, Aha’ula was one name that signified a sacred prayer of red or (high) order and Hala’ula, another name, was used in reference to the red hala (pandanus) that grew in abundance in the area. But it is believed that in a split into two factions of the kahuna (priest), the defeated group, in defiance, gave the name Waha’ula (red mouth) that referred to the painted red mouths of the temple images.

The heiau had such sacred eminence that the smoke rising from its altars of sacrifice carried a strict kapu (sacredness) on land or sea. As the smoke swept over the land, it was death to anyone passing under its shadow nor could any canoe go out on the water in its vicinity while the wind carried the smoke out to sea without severe penalty.

After some time, Pā’ao permanently settled on a land called Pu’uepa in the district of Kohala. It is here that Mo’okini heiau, built by Pā’ao, remains. It was a national luakini or sacrificial heiau. This walled heiau, one of the largest, was shaped in an irregular parallelogram with walls more than twenty feet in height and fully eight feet wide at the top; its longest sides are two hundred and eighty-six feet and two hundred and twenty-six feet. The shorter sides one hundred and thirty-six feet and one hundred and eighteen feet. The stones to build the heiau were said to come from Niuli’i, nine miles from Pu’uepa.

In the mo’olelo of Pā’ao, it is believed that he instituted images within the heiau and new gods and major changes in the priesthood establishing a line of priests that included Hewahewa, Kamehameha’s kahuna nui. Pā’ao was also known to have introduced the pūlo’ulo’u balls covered with kapa that were used as kapu markers before heiau and houses of priests and high chiefs or carried before an ali’i as insignia of kapu. In addition, human sacrifice was known to have increased in scale during the time of Pā’ao. However, the accounts do not specify how strict the religion was after his arrival or on what scale human sacrificed occurred. We do know that traditions show Pā’ao founded a new religion with a new line of kahuna and gods in Kohala.

Ua ‘Ike Anei ‘Oe (Did you know…)

  • that according to genealogical chants Mo’okini hieau was built in 480 A.D. and dedicated to Kū, god of war.
  • that Kamehameha I was born near Mo’okini heiau.
  • that the Waha’ula heiau was destroyed by lava flow in 1997.

Back to Hawaiian History

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