The Legends and Myths Surrounding Hawaii’s Heiaus

Discover the legends and myths of Hawaii’s ancient heiaus, sacred temples rich in spiritual heritage, and connect with the fascinating tales of Menehune and Nightmarchers.

The Legends and Myths Surrounding Hawaii's Heiaus
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Ancient Hawaiians built sacred temples known as heiaus, which served as places of worship and ceremonies. These structures hold a special place in Hawaiian culture, reflecting the spiritual beliefs and customs of the indigenous people. This article explores the fascinating legends and myths surrounding Hawaii’s heiaus, providing travelers with a deeper understanding of the state’s spiritual heritage.

What is a Heiau?

A heiau is a sacred temple constructed by ancient Hawaiians for religious and social purposes. They come in various forms, from simple stone platforms to elaborate structures with multiple enclosures. Heiaus played a vital role in ancient Hawaiian society, serving as sites for worship, rituals, and ceremonies. They were dedicated to various gods and goddesses, reflecting the diverse pantheon of Hawaiian deities.

Legend of the Menehune

The Menehune are a mythical race of small people believed to have inhabited the Hawaiian Islands before the arrival of Polynesians. According to legend, the Menehune were skilled builders and craftsmen, capable of constructing heiaus in a single night. Stories abound of their incredible feats, including the construction of the Alekoko Fishpond and the Kīkīaola aqueduct. While there is no concrete evidence of their existence, the Menehune remain an enduring part of Hawaiian folklore and are often associated with the construction of heiaus.

Myth of the Nightmarchers

The Nightmarchers are the spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors who, according to legend, roam the islands to protect sacred sites, including heiaus. These ghostly figures are said to march in procession, carrying torches and chanting ancient battle cries. Encountering a Nightmarcher is considered a terrifying and potentially deadly experience, as they are fiercely protective of their sacred grounds. The myth of the Nightmarchers highlights the deep connection between heiaus and the spiritual world in Hawaiian culture.

Heiaus and Ancient Hawaiian Gods

Heiaus were dedicated to various gods and goddesses in ancient Hawaiian religion. Deities such as Kū, the god of war; Lono, the god of agriculture and rainfall; and Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, were honored and worshipped at heiaus through rituals and ceremonies. These events often involved offerings of food, chants, and hula dances, connecting the people to their deities and seeking their favor and protection.

Notable Heiaus and Their Legends

Some of the most famous heiaus in Hawaii include Pu’ukoholā Heiau, Hale O Pi’ilani Heiau, and Mo’okini Heiau. Pu’ukoholā Heiau, located on the Big Island, was built by King Kamehameha I in the late 18th century as a tribute to the war god Kū. Hale O Pi’ilani Heiau, on Maui, is one of the largest heiaus in the state and is associated with the powerful Pi’ilani dynasty. Mo’okini Heiau, also on the Big Island, is said to be one of the oldest heiaus in Hawaii and is connected to the legendary arrival of the first Polynesians in the islands. Each of these sacred sites has unique legends and myths that enrich their historical significance.

Visiting Heiaus: Respect and Preservation

When visiting heiaus, it is essential to approach these sacred sites with respect and reverence. Travelers should observe proper etiquette, such as not climbing on the structures, not removing any stones or artifacts, and maintaining a quiet and respectful demeanor. By doing so, visitors can help preserve the cultural and historical significance of these ancient temples and ensure that future generations can appreciate their beauty and importance.


The legends and myths surrounding Hawaii’s heiaus offer a glimpse into the rich spiritual heritage of the state. As travelers explore these sacred sites, they can deepen their understanding and connection to the Hawaiian Islands, appreciating the ancient wisdom and beliefs that continue to shape the culture today.


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