The Birth Stone

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The Birthing Stone
Kukaniloko was one of two sites set aside for the birth of royalty in Hawaii. The Ali’i were the managers of people and the land, and were thought of as gods. The Ali’i gave birth here because the mana, the spiritual entity, accorded the royal child. The child was normally born in the month of August, when Kukaniloko was a flux of mana, and the gods would recognize the child born here.

Before the Birth
Kukaniloko means, “To anchor the cry from within.” It was believed that those who gave birth here would do so with ease and no pain. In order to achieve this, the mother needed to follow a strict diet and exercise regime recommended by the Kahuna. Many various Hawaiian plants were ingested also to prepare the mother for a painless birth.

The Birth
Thirty-six stones guard the entrance: 18 on the left, 18 on the right. These stones are NOT part of the originals, but were placed here by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. These stones represent the 36 chiefs who witnessed the birth. A total of 48 chiefs witnessed the birth and rituals. These chiefs were used for oral references, as nothing in the past was written down. These chiefs pledged to support the newborn ali’i.

Front View
Front view of the birthing stone

The mother would be transported to the Kukaniloko birthing stone on a finely woven mat. The mother would not actually touch the rock; it was a gravity-type birth. The mother would drink a sap mixed with water so the birthing process would be painless. There are indentations in the stone where the retainers would place their legs for leverage to hold the mother. Two more retainers stood at the foot of the rock. The mother would place her feet on their hipbones for support. Another Kahuna would stand behind the mother and she would push down on the retainers’ shoulders. One last Kahuna would receive the baby.

After the Birth

Back View
Back view of the birthing stone

The Kahuna, after receiving the baby, would proceed to Hoolonopahu Heiau, located a short distance away. Ten minutes later, the splitting of the bamboo ceremony would commence. A Kahuna would proceed to split a piece of bamboo between his teeth, this bamboo would be used in the severing of the umbilical cord, separating the mother from the child. At the completion of the birth process, two drums, or “Pahu” were sounded. These drums could be heard from miles away, and this is how the commoners were informed of the birth of a new Ali’i. The new Ali’i would be brought up by the Kahunas. The Ali’i would have special Kapus placed on him throughout his entire life.

Cultural Background
A requirement thought necessary in order to give birth at Kukaniloko was the avoidance of human sacrifice and an unblemished genealogy. It is thought that King Kamehameha’s wife Keopualani did not make it to Kukaniloko to give birth because he practiced human sacrifice.

Danny Au from the Wahiawa Hawaiian Civic Club demonstrates one of the positions the Kahuna would be in to assist the pregnant mother

The first to be born at Kukaniloko was Kapawa. It was his parents who moved the birth site to Wahiawa. The Ali’i class who gave birth here were known as the Lo Ali’i. These people attained their Ali’i status when another Ali’i died. Ali’i born at Kukaniloko were deemed fitting rulers to govern their people. Such a story occurred in the past on the island of Oahu. Oahu was in a depression and starvation ran rampant on the island. The people were unhappy and turned to the fit leader born at Kukaniloko. This new leader encouraged farming crops and unified the island by training first born of each family in an area known today as Mililani Technology Park. People from the entire island sent support and their young and everyone there. The Hilo brothers were jealous of the prosperity and waged war with the ruler of Oahu. The war that followed left 4000 slaughtered in the area known as Kipapa Gulch. “Kipapa” means to be paved, and the area was indeed paved with the bodies. The two Hilo brothers were eventually captured and decapitated. Their skulls were left to warn what would happen to anyone who challenged the Oahu stronghold.

Cultural Importance
Kukaniloko is one of the most sacred places in Hawaii. The Ali’i wanted their children born here just for its spiritual power. Only Ali’i were allowed to set foot upon this ground. Special markers were set out on the boundaries. Multiple barriers were set up to protect this land, to ensure that if one got past the first boundary, one would not get past the second. The Hawaiians believed that the gods recognized a child born here.

An artist's depiction of the birthing process
An artist’s depiction of the birthing process
 

Kukaniloko Birthing Stones

This ancient sacred site (view panorama) is located in the center of Oahu near Wahiawa. It was here where royal women were taken to give birth in the old Hawaii. Kukaniloko, which means “to anchor the cry from within,” was built in the 12th century by an Oahu chief whose son Kapawa was the first birth here.

The ali’i (royals) gave birth here because it assured them high-ranking status. It was also believed that women who gave birth here suffered no pain during childbirth. They had to follow a strict diet and exercises in the weeks prior to giving birth that was recommended by the kahuna (priests).

Kukaniloko Birthing Stones Overview

  • One of the most significant historical sites on Oahu
  • Listed on the National and Hawaii Register of Historic Places
  • Royal women gave birth here in the old Hawaii
  • Note: this is a sacred site. Do not move or remove anything from this site and do not climb on the rocks.
Location:
Kamehameha Hwy, Wahiawa HI 96786

Directions: Located at the intersection of Kamehameha Highway (Hwy 99) and Whitmore Avenue, just north of Wahiawa. Turn onto the dirt road. The sacred site is located straight ahead.