Haunted Pu’u o Mahuka Temple
On the streets of Honolulu, it’s not uncommon to witness a Hawaiian medicine man blessing a building or structure. The medicine men, known as Kahunas, will also scatter wide green ti leaves for an added layer of protection from evil spirits. Despite the best efforts of the Kahunas, the islands remain the most frequented by visitors from the other side. Hawaii is infested with ghosts, from the beaches of Waikiki to the volcanic Diamond Head crater, providing the Kahunas with almost more work than they can manage. In particular, the Pu’u o Mahuka Temple on the island of Oahu is rumored to be crawling with spirits. Think you’re brave enough to find out what the haunted Pu’u o Mahuka temple has in store? Read on, if you dare.
History and Background
The Pu’u o Mahuka temple is the largest heiau, or Hawaiian temple, on the island of Oahu. Heiaus are usually built from stone, and each serves a unique function. Pu’u o Mahuka translates to “hill of escape,” and legend holds that its function was to serve as a stepping stone for the volcano goddess, Pele, on her way from Ohau to the neighboring island, Moloka’i. The structure stretches across two acres, situated on a hilltop overlooking the Waimea Bay and Waimea Valley below. Its formidable height allowed sentries to scan the north shoreline of the island for signs of danger, as well as to detect signal fires sent by their allies.
Modern anthropologists date the tallest of Pu’u o Mahuka’s walls to sometime during the 17th century and estimate the two lower enclosures were most likely added in the 18th century. Aside from functioning as a look-out point and occasional stepping stone, the temple also served a final, darker purpose: human sacrifice. Pu’u o Mahuka reportedly operated as a luakini heiau, or sacrificial temple, during times of war. Hawaiian warriors believed that sacrificial offerings would bring about success in battle, and so offerings of human bodies were made to appease the gods.
In the late 1700s, a high priest by the name of Ka’opulupulu oversaw the temple. In 1792, a ship captained by George Vancouver known as the HMS Daedalus anchored at Waimea Bay. A group of men roared ashore to collect water but instead received a not-so-warm welcome from the Native Hawaiians. A bitter battle ensued, resulting in the death of three of Vancouver’s men. After what remained of his men turned tail and ran for the shore, the bodies of their comrades were taken to the top of the Pu’u o Mahuka temple and used as human sacrifices. After the ceremonial offering, the men’s flesh was removed from their bones with stones.
By the end of the decade, Kamehameha I had conquered the island of Oahu. The priests who had performed the sacrifices were ousted by Kamehameha’s high priest Hewahewa, who led religious ceremonies at the temple free of human sacrifice. The temple remained in use for religious purposes until 1819, when the traditional Hawaiian code of conduct known as the kapu system was abolished, dismantling all forms of Hawaiian worship involving temples.
Although no longer used for religious ends, sacrificial or otherwise, the Pu’u o Mahuka temple remains an important historic, cultural, and religious landmark to the people of Hawaii, as well as a lesser-known tourist attraction. To this day, Hawaiians leave offerings of flowers and fruit at Pu’u o Mahuka. In 1962, the temple achieved recognition as a National Historic Landmark, along with its own state park spanning the four acres around it. The park features lush green landscapes, hiking trails, and scenic views of the Waimea Bay below. In 1966, both temple and park were added to the National Register of Historic Places, cementing their well-deserved place in Hawaiian history.
One of the best things about hiking in Pu’u o Mahuka state park is that not many people know about it. The vast expanse of grass and trees, the aged stone temple, and the stunning view of the bay are all likely to be uninterrupted by the chatter of other visitors. Human visitors, that is. While you may have the park all to yourself as far as obnoxious tourists go, don’t be surprised if a spirit or two decides to drop by during your hike.
A group of tourists eager to sightsee in the area was unfortunately unaware of this fact. The group dined in a local cafe one morning and treated the staff exceptionally rudely. Rather than kick them out, the owner decided to play a little trick on them. When they had finished their meal, he approached them and asked if they had any plans for the rest of the day. One of the men replied that no, not particularly, they just knew they wanted to go on a hike. The owner’s face lit up at this.
“Perfect,” he said, “I know just the hike.” He told them all about Pu’u o Mahuka state park, with its beautiful scenery and magnificent views. If that weren’t enough to convince them, the owner also mentioned that the area was fairly unknown, and regularly empty of other tourists. To top it all off, the park was easy to get to, located just off Pupukea Homestead Road. With directions in hand, the noisy group exited the restaurant, not bothering to thank the owner for his recommendation. Little did they know, they were in for the fright of their lives.
An hour later, the group pulled their rented cars into the almost empty parking lot. After hiking down trails clogged with people all week, the group couldn’t wait to take a peaceful, relaxing hike unburdened by the noise of others, and maybe even snap a photo without another tourist in it. The group hoped out of their cars, gathered their hiking gear, and set off.
As they entered the park, they were blown away by the natural beauty of the park and the profound stillness in the air. The only noise they could hear was the distant trilling of tropical birds. Everything felt peaceful and quiet. The group continued walking through the tall grass until they reached the massive stone temple. For a moment, they stood in awe of its beauty. But rather than admire the stone encampments from afar, the group decided to climb up the walls and enter the temple’s center. This, of course, is expressly forbidden, as it can cause damage to the walls and fragile stone paving. Unbeknownst to the tourists, overstepping the temple bounds has also been known to wake the restless spirits sleeping there.
The group ran along the stone walls of the fortress, jumping and climbing wherever they pleased. They were having such a ball that they failed to hear the distant sound of drums beating in the distance. Gradually, the drums began to grow louder. One member of the group looked up, confused.
“Did you guys hear that?” he asked his friends. But they ignored him and continued playing in the temple. The sound of the drums began to build and build until it could no longer be ignored. The members of the group exchanged terrified glances. The sound was followed by an inexplicable chill that swept through the warm tropical air, sending shivers up their spines.
All of the sudden, the pale, skeletal apparitions of three men rose up from the stone floor of the temple. The men wore strange, old-fashioned clothing, a haunted expression in their grey eyes, and oddly enough, no feet! Instead of standing, they merely hovered. But even more alarming was their apparent lack of skin. It seemed as though their flesh had been separated from their bones, leaving the inner workings of blood, tissue, muscle, and bones exposed. All four members of the group stared in horror, clinging to one another as the strange, skinless, footless ghosts emerged from the temple.
One of the figures suddenly raised its ghostly hand in the air, then pointed with its bony finger at the visitors.
“You’re…next…” it rasped, as the drumbeats intensified all around them. The beating of the drums was followed by loud chanting before the spectral outlines of Hawaiian warriors materialized all around them. Terrified, the tourists took off running, never to return to Pu’u o Mahuka temple ever again.
The Pu’u o Mahuka temple is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful destinations in all of Honolulu, as well as one of the most historic. Its impressive stone encampments, breathtaking views, and exotic wildlife designate it as a must-see, as long as you remember to stay safely outside the temple bounds.