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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 28, 2010

Palehua housed Wai'anae's ancient guardians

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Pālehua heiau, on a ridge above Nānākuli, was used to train students of lua, a traditional fighting style.

Photo by Shad Kane

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I have shared often over the years how much of our ancient history was lost, especially in 'Ewa.

Kumu John Kaimikaua played a major part in unraveling the mysteries of a place anciently known as Pālehua, a large stone enclosure that sits atop all of Makakilo, anciently known as Hanalei. This enclosure is the largest enclosure of its type at this elevation on the entire island of O'ahu.

Pā in Hawaiian is any stone enclosure. Most of us today think of "Lehua" as a female name; however, anciently it was a male name. Its male association symbolically comes from the hardness of the 'ōhi'a lehua tree; it was also the wood of choice for the crafting of weapons because of its hardness and abundance.

Consequently, the name Pālehua translates to "enclosure of the warrior." It is referred to as a place of nakoa or warrior training in the traditional fighting skills of lua. Pālehua was a schoolhouse.

The Pālehua heiau is a rectangular enclosure as described by Hawaiian historian Henry Kekahuna. There is a central location within the pā lua where the 'ōlohe (lua instructor) would observe the haumana or lua students in training.

The significance of the Pālehua heiau serving as a place of nakoa training is supported by many of the oral traditions associated with its location. The oral traditions associated with 'Ewa and Wai'anae make reference to 'ōlohe serving as guardians to the eastern and western gate to Wai'anae.

On some of the small ridges opposite Honokai Hale are small, c-shaped enclosures that may have been used to conceal an 'ōlohe. There are also similar stories of 'ōlohe at the western gate to Wai'anae.

The Pālehua heiau is situated only a short distance from the ridge overlooking Nānākuli and all of Wai'anae. One can see as far away as Mākaha. The heiau itself has a clear and unobstructed view of seas to the east of Wai'anae and would have had a clear view of any intruders approaching either by sea or land. It would be a simple task to run down from Pālehua to confront the intruders or signal all of Wai'anae at night by light from the ridge above Nānākuli.

One thing is absolutely clear to everyone who has had an opportunity to visit the Pālehua heiau: There is a powerful sense of presence.

It is important that these sacred places be cared for and shared so that future generations of children yet unborn will know their ancestors.