Updated: Jun 15
Photo: Aerial view of Wahaʻula Heiau, June 1989 (USGS/J.D. Griggs)
"The Ghost of Wahaula Temple"
in the book: Westervelt, W. D., Hawaiian Legends of Ghosts and Ghost-Gods
Publisher Boston, Press of Geo. H. Ellis co.
Many ages ago a young chief whom we shall know by the name Kahele
determined to take an especial journey around the island visiting all the noted and
sacred places and becoming aquainted with the alii, or chiefs, of the other
He passed from place to place, taking part with the chiefs who entertained him
sometimes in the use of the papa-hee, or surf-board, riding the white-capped surf
as it majestically swept shore ward - sometimes spending night after night in the
innumerable gambling contests which passed under the name pili waiwai - and
sometimes riding the narrow sled, or holua, with which Hawaiian chiefs raced
down the steep grassed lanes. Then again, with a deep sense of the solemnity of
sacred things, he visited the most noted of the heiaus and made contributions to
the offerings before the gods. Thus the days passed, and the slow journey was
very pleasant to Kahele.
In time he came to Puna, the district in which was located the temple Wahaula.
But alas! In the midst of the many stories of the past which he had heard, and the
many pleasures he had enjoyed while on his journey, Kahele forgot the particular
power of the tabu of the smoke of Wahaula. The fierce winds of the south were
blowing and changing from point to point.The young man saw the sacred grove
in the edge of which the temple walls could be discerned. Thin wreaths of
smoke were tossed here and there from the temple fires.
Kahele hastened toward the temple. The Mu was watching his coming and
joyfully marking him as a victim. The altars of the gods were desolate, and if but
a particle of smoke fell upon the young man no one could keep him from the
hands of the executioner.
The perlious moment came. The warm breath of one of the fires touched the
young chief’s cheek. Soon a blow from the club of the Mu laid him senseless on
the rough stones of the outer court of the temple. The smoke of the wrath of the
gods had fallen upon him, and it was well that he should lie as a sacrifice upon
Soon the body with the life still in it was thrown across the sacrificial stone.
Sharp knives made from the strong wood of the bamboo let his life-blood flow
down the depressions across the face of the stone. Quickly the body was
dismembered and offered as a sacrifice.
For some reason the priests, after the flesh had decayed, set apart the bones for
some special purpose. The legends imply that the bones were to be treated
dishonorably. It may have been that the bones were folded together and known
as unihipili, bones, folded and laid away for purposes of incantation. Such
bundles of bones were put through a process of prayers and charms until at last it
was thought a new spirit was created which dwelt in that bundle and gave the
possessor a particular power in deeds of witchcraft.
The spirit of Kahele rebelled against this disposition of all that remained of his
body. He wanted to be back in his native district, that he might enjoy the
pleasures of the Under-world with his own chosen companions. Restlessly the
spirit haunted the dark corners of the temple, watching the priests as they handled
Helplessly the ghost fumed and fretted against its condition. It did all that a
disembodied spirit could do to attract the attention of the priests.
At last the spirit fled by night from this place of torment to the home which he
had so joyfully left a short time before.
Kahele’s father was a high chief of Kau. Surrounded by retainers, he passed his
days in quietness and peace waiting for the return of his son.
One night a strange dream came to him. He heard a voice calling from the
mysterious confines of the spirit-land. As he listened, a spirit form stood by his
side. The ghost was that of his son Kahele.
By means of the dream the ghost revealed to the father that he had been put to
death and that his bones were in great danger of dishonorable treatment.
The father awoke numbed with fear, realizing that his son was calling upon
him for immediate help. At once he left his people and journeyed from place to
place secretly, not knowing where or when Kahele had died, but fully sure that
the spirit of his vision was that of his son. It was not difficult to trace the young
man. He had left his footprints openly all along the way. There was nothing of
shame or dishonor – and the father’s heart filled with pride as he hastened on.
From time to time, however, he heard the spirit voice calling him to save the
bones of the body of his dead son. At last he felt that his journey was nearly
done. He had followed the footsteps of Kahele almost entirely around the island,
and had come to Puna – the last district before his own land of Kau would
welcome his return.
The spirit voice could be heard now in the dream which nightly came to him.
Warnings and directions were frequently given.
Then the chief came to the lava fields of Wahaula and lay down to rest. The
ghost came to him again in a dream, telling him that great personal danger was
near at hand. The chief was a very strong man, excelling in athletic and brave
deeds, but in obedience to the spirit voice he rose early in the morning, secured
oily nuts from a kukui-tree, beat out the oil, and anointed himself thoroughly.
Walking along carelessly as if to avoid suspicion, he drew near to the lands of the
temple Wahaula. Soon a man came out to meet him. This man was an Olohe, a
beardless man belonging to a lawless robber clan which infested the district,
possibly assisting the man-hunters of the temple in securing victims for the
temple altars. This Olohe was very strong and self confident, and thought he
would have but little difficulty in destroying this stranger who journeyed alone
Almost all day the battle raged between the two men. Back and forth they forced
each other over the lava beds. The chief’s well-oiled body was very difficult for
the Olohe to grasp. Bruised and bleeding from repeated falls on the rough lava,
both of the combatants were becoming very weary. Then the chief made a new
attack, forcing the Olohe into a narrow place from which there was no escape,
and at last seizing him, breaking his bones, and then killing him.
As the shadows of the night rested over the temple and its sacred grave the chief
crept closer to the dreaded tabu walls. Concealing himself he waited for the ghost
to reveal to him the best plan for action. The ghost came, but was compelled to
bid the father wait patiently for a fit time when the secret place in which the
bones were hidden could be safely visited.
For several days and nights the chief hid himself near the temple. He secretly
uttered the prayers and incantations needed to secure the protection of his family
One night the darkness was very great, and the priests and watchmen of the
temple felt sure that no one would attempt to enter the sacred precincts. Deep
sleep rested upon all the temple-dwellers.
Then the ghost of Kahele hastened to the place where the father was sleeping and
aroused him for the dangerous task before him.
As the father arose he saw this ghost outlined in the darkness, beckoning him to
follow. Step by step he felt his way cautiously over the rough path and along the
temple walls until he saw the ghost standing near a great rock pointing at a part
of the wall.
The father seized a stone which seemed to be the one most directly in the line of
the ghost’s pointing. To his surprise it was removed very easily from the wall.
Back of it was a hollow place in which lay a bundle of folded bones.
The ghost urged the chief to take these bones and depart quickly.
The father obeyed, and followed the spirit guide until safely away from the
temple of the burning wrath of the gods. He carried the bones to Kau and placed
them in his own secret family burial cave.
The ghost of Wahaula went down to the spirit world in great joy. Death had
come. The life of the young chief had been taken for temple service and yet
there had at last been nothing dishonorable connected with the destruction of the
body and the passing away of the spirit.