Mānoa Heritage Center



The Owls and Menehune of Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau

as told in “The History and Legends of Manoa Valley,” Pan-Pacific, vol V, no. 1, April-June 1941.

The menehune are said to have built a small heiau and further up the valley from Puʻu Pueo, in a place called Kūkaʻōʻō. While all versions of this legend credit the menehune with the construction of the heiau, there are conflicting accounts of the battle of Kūkaʻōʻō. One states that Kualiʻi, a noted Oʻahu chief in the early 1700s, wrested the heiau from the menehune and rebuilt it; another version says that the owl-god, Pueo aliʻi, angry with the menehune, fought a bitter battle over the temple. 

In the battle of Kūkaʻōʻō, Pueo-aliʻi sought to gain control of Kūkaʻōʻō and rid the valley of menehune. Both parties fought valiantly, using their supernatural powers to overcome the other. After many bloody encounters, Pueo-aliʻi realized he could not conquer the menehune alone. He beat on the owl-clan drum to summon the owl-gods from Kauaʻi. Together, the owls overpowered the menehune and chased them from the valley.

Pueo-aliʻi is said to have governed Mānoa Valley at one time from his residence on Puʻu Pueo. He is remembered for his wisdom and justice as a ruler. One legend tells of a subject of Pueo-aliʻi who displeases him and is sentenced to death. The condemned man turns to the owl-god and pleads that he ought to be permitted to explain himself before he is killed. Pueo-aliʻi agrees to this request and established a law that a man must be proven guilty before he can be punished for his alleged crime.