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Where Royals Were Born: The 1,000-Year-Old Kukaniloko Birthing Site of Hawaii

Where Royals Were Born: The 1,000-Year-Old Kukaniloko Birthing Site of Hawaii

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The Kukaniloko Birthing Site is an important cultural and historical site located in Central Oahu, Hawaii that is sacred to the native Hawaiians, as it was the place where many Ali’i (Hawaiian royalty) came to give birth to their children. The main reason for the choice of this site was the belief that there is an immense amount of spiritual energy (mana) in that area, which meant that the royal children born there would be blessed in their lives ahead, and would have prosperous reigns.

Kukaniloko means ‘to anchor the cry from within’, and the site originally consisted of two rows of 18 stones, which were meant to represent the 36 chiefs of Oahu who witnessed the births, and a stone backrest where a royal woman would give birth. The Kukaniloko Birthing Site was constructed during the 12 th century A.D. by an Oahu chief. His son, Kapawa, was the first person to be born at the site. This spot was in use up until the 17 th century A.D.

Whilst only royals were allowed to enter this sacred site, not all royals were allowed to give birth at the Kukaniloko Birthing Site. Only those who had not engaged in human sacrifices, and had unblemished genealogy were allowed to have their children at this birthing site. This rule seems to have been strictly enforced, as it is believed that Keopualani, the wife of King Kamehameha (the founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii), was not allowed to give birth at Kukaniloko, as the king practised human sacrifice.    

Entrance to Kukaniloko State Park

Entrance to Kukaniloko State Park (public domain)

Women who had their children at the Kukaniloko Birthing Site are said to have been able to give birth with ease and without experiencing any pain. Prior to giving birth, the would-be mother was required to follow a strict diet and exercise regime as prescribed by the kahuna (priests). In addition, various plants were ingested to make the process of giving birth painless. Furthermore, during the process of giving birth, the mother would be made to drink a sap mixed with water for the same purpose.

When a royal was to be born, the mother would be brought to the Kukaniloko Birthing Site. There, up to 48 chiefs would be present to witness the birth and accompanying rituals, and were used as oral reference. Several retainers and kahuna were also present to aid the birth, after which, certain rituals would be carried out. One of these, for instance, was the ‘splitting of the bamboo ceremony’. During this ceremony, a kahuna would split a piece of bamboo between his teeth, which would then be used to sever the newborn’s umbilical cord. After this, two pahu (drums) were sounded, which informed the commoners of the birth, and the sound from these instruments was capable of travelling a great distance.   

Corrugated stone at Kukaniloko State Park, on National Register of Historic Places

Corrugated stone at Kukaniloko State Park, on National Register of Historic Places (public domain)

It was believed that the Kukaniloko Birthing Site possessed a great amount of spiritual energy. This in turn meant that the children born there would be recognised by the gods, and that they were certain to attain high status in life, as well as experience a prosperous reign. It has been pointed out that the reigns of four rulers who were born at the Kukaniloko Birthing Site, La'a (ca. 1420), Ma'ilikukahi (ca. 1520), Kalanumanuia (ca. 1600), and Kakuhihewa (ca. 1640), were marked by peace and prosperity.

It was reported that the site, despite its importance, was threatened by modern development. In 2007, for example, a proposal for the construction of an 18-hole golf course and 3100 houses at the site and its surrounding area was made. Fortunately, the site was saved when the heirs of the Galbraith parcel (a parcel of land surrounding the site, and was once a pineapple farm), in co-operation with the Hawaii director of the Trust for Public Land, agreed to sell that land for conversion into many small farms. This ensured that the site retained its natural environment.

Lei at Kukaniloko Birthing Stones

Lei at Kukaniloko Birthing Stones (Loren Javier / Flickr)

Featured image: The Kukaniloko Birthing stones (Karen in Honolulu)

By Wu Mingren


Beal, S., 2009. Kukaniloko Hawaiian Birthing Stones On Oahu. [Online]
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Mililani High School, 2001. Kukaniloko: Cultural Significance. [Online]
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Only in Hawaii, 2016. Kukaniloko Birth Site - One of Oahu's Most Important Cultural Sites. [Online]
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Quinn, J., 2016. Kukaniloko: The Birthing Place of Kings!. [Online]
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Sacred Sites International, 2016. Kukaniloko Royal Birthing Stones. [Online]
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SamanthaLowen, 2016. Kukaniloko Birthing Site. [Online]
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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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