Mānoa Heritage Center



What’s the connection between Kūkaʻōʻō and Chief Kūaliʻi?

In an article entitled “Mānoa Valley” from the 1892 Hawaiian Annual, Thomas Thrum refers to the Oʻahu chief Kūaliʻi, in connection with Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau:

This old heathen temple dates back many hundred years. Its erection is credited to the Menehune-or class of pigmies-but was rebuilt during the reign of Kualii, who wrested it from them after a hard-fought battle. The Menehune fort was on the rocky hill, Ulumalu, on the opposite side of the road, just above Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau. Previous to the battle, they had control of all upper Manoa. After Kualii obtained possession, he made it the principal temple fort of a system of heiau extending from Mauoki, Puahia luna and lalo, Kumuohia, Kaualaa, Wailele, and one or two other points between Kaualaa and Kūkaʻōʻō.

This is the only reference we have connecting the chief Kūali‘i with Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau. Kūaliʻi was an Oʻahu chief and descended from the great chief Kākukihewa. Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau gives him a death date of 1730 but also gives his birth date as 1555.  Historian Abraham Fornander cites the middle to the close of the seventeenth century as “the time when Kūaliʻi flourished.” Kūaliʻi was born on the windward side of Oʻahu and succeeded his father as the Moʻī, the ruling chief of Oʻahu. In the nineteenth century, Fornander recorded a history of Kūaliʻi which includes a long and remarkable chant that recounts the heroic and sometimes fantastical exploits of this chief. Fornander even conjectures, through passages in this chant, that Kūali‘i may have visited the coast of Mexico. It is most likely that because of Thrum’s reference to the chief Kūaliʻi, Charles Montague Cooke Jr. decided to adopt this name for his home and estate.

It is possible that this Oʻahu chief restored and rededicated this heiau during his lifetime, but until we have more information about this event, it is hard to interpret what effect this may have had on the use of the heiau. Kūaliʻi is mainly associated with the windward side of the island, and we have little knowledge of anything he may have done in this district or ahupuaʻa. The connection between Kūaliʻi and Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau is still unclear.