Mookini Heiau was the First Temple Ever Built in the Hawaiian Islands

By Karen Rose

Mookini Heiau, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: Tom Benedict.

Hidden along the serene and isolated Kohala coast sits Moʻokini heiau (sacred temple), a gem among archaeological sites. Moʻokini was built around 480 A.D. and is the first temple ever built in the Hawaiian Islands. Shrouded in an eerie and dark past, this luakini heiau was the site of many human sacrifices. Dedicated to Ku, the god of war, this site demanded these sacrifices be performed. Today the sacred temple draws visitors who are fascinated with its treacherous history.

Kapu System Introduced by Paao of Tahiti

Mookini Heiau, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: CHeitz.

Legend says a priest named Paʻao arrived to Hawaiʻi Island from Tahiti and brought a new system of worship with him. This system of kapu (taboo items and behaviors) required regular human sacrifice. Modern anthropologists and historians question the existence of Paʻao, however all agree thousands of people were ritually killed at Moʻokini as a result of the kapu system of governance.

Foundations of Stone


According to oral tradition and family chants, tens of thousands of workers built the heiau by passing stones hand-by-hand from Pololū Valley, several miles away.

Notes of Interest for History Buffs

Mookini Heiau, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: newyorkannie.

Outside the heiau lies a large boulder with ancient indentations. It is believed this stone is where people were killed and skinned. Their bones were then used to make fish hooks and various tools. History buffs and ghost hunters visit Moʻokini heiau regularly to ruminate on the intense level of violence once inflicted within this archeological site.

Driving Directions to Mookini Heiau

Mookini Heiau, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: Reuben Bedingfield.

To visit Moʻokini heiau, take Highway 270 toward the little town of Hāwī. Look for the Upolu Airport sign near mile marker 20. Turn onto this road and follow it toward the airport. Once near the airport, turn left onto a dirt road. Drive until the road becomes too bumpy to continue. Park (and lock) your car and hike along the road until you reach the coast and another road indicating the location of the heiau. Feel free to walk around the site, but do not enter the heiau.

National Historic Landmark

Mookini Heiau, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: newyorkannie.

Moʻokini is considered one of the most historically significant sites in Hawaiʻi. In 1963, the site was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark. It is open every day from 9am to 8pm except for Wednesdays. Admission is free.

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