The sacred stones
An effort is under way to
preserve for the future a piece
of the pastthe spot where
Oahu's alii once were born
Last public tour of the stones.By Pat Omandam
Kalama Makaneole straddles a large stone called Kukaniloko just outside Wahiawa, showing how ancient Hawaiians helped women in labor give birth to many of Oahu's highest-ranking "kapu" chiefs.
A few hundred yards from the bustle of Kamehameha Highway and shaded by eucalyptus trees, the little-noticed, quiet knoll is "the most important site in the state of Hawaii," said Makaneole, a member of the Wahiawa Hawaiian Civic Club. Its members are curators of the Kukaniloko Birthstone State Monument, a historic 5-acre site off Whitmore Avenue and Kamehameha Highway.
"The more people we educate about the site, the more awareness there is," he said last week.
Public interest in Kukaniloko, more commonly known as the "Wahiawa birthing stones," has increased this year as Wahiawa Town observes its centennial anniversary, said civic club member Tom Lenchanko.
"Most important is we're trying to preserve them for the future," Lenchanko said. "To make everybody aware what is here in Wahiawa, and how sacred this place is. From there, everybody can understand not to come here and draw on the stones, burn fires or throw litter, so it's a community awareness," he said.
Here is a translated excerpt from the Hawaiian name chant for Kapawa, believed to have been the first chief born at Kukaniloko:
A chant for Kapawa
Kapawa chief of Waialua
Was born at Kukaniloko
Wahiawa the site
At Lihue the placenta
At Kaala the navel cord
At Kapukapuakea the caul
Heiau of Kaiaka at Maeaea
Heleipawa was the son of Kapawa
A chief child of Waialua, Oahu
Source: Aloha the Friends of Kukaniloko and the Wahiawa Hawaiian Civic Club
The aptly named birthsite means: "To anchor the cry from within." Makaneole explained that a woman in labor would brace herself between two attendants as she squatted over the sacred stone. Once in that position, she would push until the child was born. Witnessing the birth would be 36 young Hawaiian chiefs, while 48 elder chiefs would be responsible for the ceremonial cutting of the umbilical cord.
Some of the stones were also used to map stars, while others marked seasonal changes, he added.
According to historians, Lenchanko said, Kukaniloko was established in the late 12th century by an Oahu chief named Nanakaoko and his wife, Kahihiokalani, for the birth of their son Kapawa.
For the next seven centuries, this outcrop of more than 80 rounded stones, worn smooth by weather and use over the centuries, became the hallowed ground for births of ali'i on Oahu.
In 1797, King Kamehameha the Great, who unified the Hawaiian Islands, wanted his highest-ranking wife, Queen Keopuolani, to give birth there but she was too ill to travel from the Big Island. That child, Liholiho, would succeed the king as Kamehameha II.
Despite its prominence in Hawaiian history, it wasn't until 1925 that Kukaniloko became the first ancient site on Oahu to be officially recognized, preserved and protected, under the stewardship of the Daughters of Hawaii.
The Wahiawa Hawaiian Civic Club will give the last of its public tours of Kukaniloko at 10 a.m. Saturday. The visits give the public an idea of the area's historic significance to Hawaiians as well as how other communities can protect their special places. Call Tom Lenchanko at 621-5184 for more information.
Last public tour
Lenchanko said the group cared for Kukaniloko until the 1950s, when the site, for several reasons, became too difficult to manage. In the early 1960s, the Wahiawa Hawaiian Civic Club stepped in and has cared for it since.
Kukaniloko was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places in 1994.
To ensure its existence, the state in January 1992 condemned five acres around the stones and paid landowner Galbraith Estate/Hawaiian Trust $249,500 for the property, along with a perpetual access of a dirt road to Kamehameha Highway. The land was transferred to the state Parks Division.
In 1993, the city cleared and graded the lot for access, while the state awarded curatorship to the civic club. That same year the estate, which owns 2,400 acres in Central Oahu, proposed development of 900 acres around the site for light industrial, residential and a proposed wastewater treatment plant -- all surrounded by an 18-hole golf course, said state Rep. Marcus R. Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore Village).
But strong community opposition forced the trust to pull back. Now, with the estate set to dissolve its holdings in 2007, Oshiro said the concern is the integrity of Kukaniloko from developers interested in the agriculture-zoned land, currently leased by Del Monte Corp. for pineapple production.
He said the best option is for the state to obtain the neighboring acreage through a land exchange or purchase. A recent state law allows such deals. Oshiro hopes one can be negotiated, but there are no plans as yet.