Wahi Pana: Kūkaniloko Birthing Stones

#93 in the Moʻolelo series

Kūkaniloko birthing stones in Wahiawā (but actually in the Waiʻanae moku) were the most prestigious place for aliʻi to be born on Oʻahu. Probably the most famous of these aliʻi was Maʻilikūkahi. The stones and the area around them are protected by law and cared for by the Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā. As I mentioned in the post Wahi Pana: Waiʻanae, I wondered why the Waiʻanae moku had a strange, thin extension that reaches over the mountains encompassing Kūkaniloko, but also reaching all the way to the top of the Koʻolau range:

I had the opportunity to ask Tom Lenchanko, of the [Wahiawā] Hawaiian Civic Club that cares for Kukaniloko, why this strange extension of the Waiʻanae moku exists. He said that it was essentially a trail that led to the path to Kualoa, a source of whale bone!


But Kūkaniloko was also a navigation school. Lenchanko shared mind-boggling information about how markings on the stones align with peaks, mainly in the Koʻolau range, that teach students about the various solstices and more generally how to read the skies. It’s ironic that they taught ocean navigation in the very piko of the island!

The Wahiawā Hawaiian Civic Club notes:

Circa 400 A.D. to 992 A.D., Kūkaniloko was set apart for the birth of hoālion O‘ahu island. To be born at Kūkaniloko assured a status of divine descent and those privileges which came with such status.  Birthright maintained the purity of divine lineage and established the ali‘i as gods with the privilege to manage our sacred lands, its precious natural resources and our beloved people.

Birth of hoālii at Kūkaniloko was ‘ike maka, eye-witnessed, by 36 ali‘i, one of whom was the father. Upon presentation at kuapu‘u kūkaniloko, hoālii were taken to waihau heiau,Ho‘olonopahu where recitation of the continued genealogy, the purification ceremonies and the splitting of the bamboo knife (between the teeth to create a sharp edge to sever the umbilical cord) were overseen by 48 ali‘i kapu.  Sacred drums of the pahu heiau, Hāwea and ‘Ōpuku, were sounded to announce the arrival of the hoālii.  The reign of those ali‘i born at Kūkaniloko is marked by good deeds, peace, and prosperity.  These ali‘i did not participate in or practice human sacrifice.


One of the foremost experts of the archaeo-astronomy of Kūkaniloko is Martha Noyes, who explained the theoretical meaning of Kūkaniloko’s being the “piko” of the island:

​Kūkaniloko:  What It Means as the Piko of Oahu…

Te Kaharoa, structure of space and time –  and kā – and matters of gender relations, the importance of ao and , and other philosophical or metaphysical ideas were embedded in Kūkanilokoʻs astronomy.

The Pukui and Elbert dictionaryʻs definition-translation of piko includes navel, umbilical cord, figuratively blood relative, genitals; the summit of a hill or mountain; crest; crown of the head; tip of the ear; end of a rope; border of a land; center, as of a kōnane board; place where a stem is attached to a leaf; bottom round of a carrying net; thatch above a door.


A side note: this notion of wā and kā is reminiscent of Tongan scholar and professor Tevita Kaʻili’s notion of and , or space and time, which connects this Hawaiian archaeo-astronomy to ancient Polynesian ways of knowing.

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