Uēkahuna

Building sitting on top of the edge of a large crater at dawn
NPS Photo/J. Wei
Uēkahuna (formerly spelled Uwēkahuna) is the celebrated wahi pana (legendary place) at the highest point on the rim of Kaluapele, the caldera of Kīlauea. At an elevation of 4,000+ feet, Uēkahuna is an important site for Native Hawaiian ritual and cultural practice, and presents visitors, both kamaʻāina and malihini, with spectacular vistas of Kaluapele, Maunaloa, and surrounding areas.

Of the location, "Place Names of Hawaiʻi" informs us that "A house stood over a pit here; when curious persons entered, the priest pulled ropes making the floor collapse, and they fell to their deaths in the pit. Ka-miki, a hero, set the house on fire and the priest wept." The name Uēkahuna was also "one of Kaha-wali's priests who challenged Pele after Kaha-wali's defeat in hōlua sledding."

Pele and Kahawali

In the 1996 reprint of “Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes” by Westervelt, we learn about “Pele and Kahawali”, wherein Kahawali and Pele competed in hōlua (sledding) at a site in Puna makai, not far from Kumukahi and Kapoho. Kahawali lost that contest.

The story often ends with the statement that Kaha-wali joined his father on the island of Oahu and there remained. Other legends say he went to Kauai and there gathered a company of the most powerful priests to return to Hawaii for the destruction of Pele and her volcanic fires.

Six of these priests, according to Mrs. Rufus Lyman, who owned the land of this adventure and whose descendants still hold the same, came to Hawaii with the defeated Kaha-wali. These were Hale-mau-mau, Ka-au-ea, Uwe-kahuna, Ka-ua-nohu-nohu, Ka-lani-ua-ula, and Ka-pu-e-uli.

They took their positions near Kilauea and challenged Pele, crying out: “Where is that strange and wonderful woman?” Ka-au-ea (The fiery current) and Uwe-kahuna (priest weeping) and Hale-mau-mau (House of ferns) were kahunas, or priests of wonderful power. They were the only ones who left their names to localities in the neighborhood of Kilauea.

Hale-mau-mau had his house of ferns for a long time upon a precipice, back of the present Volcano House. From there the name has been changed both in meaning and location to the lava pit, the pit of Pele, in the living lake of fire, where it is called Hale-mau-mau (the-enduring-house). Ka-au-ea was the name given to a precipice in the walls of the crater. Uwe-kahuna was a high hill on the northwestern side of the crater, overlooking the fire-pit and the region around Kilauea. These priests who were also of the rank of chiefs were all killed by Pele except Kaha-wali, who escaped to Oahu.

Recent History

Permanent structures were built at Uēkahuna beginning in 1927, and variously housed both the National Park Service and the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Current buildings and facilities, including the modern Jaggar Museum, were completed in 1986. Kīlauea experienced a hulihia (catastrophic overturning) during summer of 2018 including the startling collapse of Halemaʻumaʻu and portions of the floor of Kaluapele. This event seriously damaged the buildings at Uēkahuna.
 
Silhouettes of human figures in front of a glowing volcanic crater
View of the summit eruption in 2018 from Jaggar Museum at Uēkahuna

What Does The Future Hold?

The General Management Plan (GMP) (pdf- 82.7 MB) for Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, completed in 2016, states that if the Jaggar Museum and USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory facilities were to be destroyed or significantly damaged, the NPS would consider three options, among them removing all facilities from the edge of Kīlauea Caldera, specifically at the culturally sensitive Uēkahuna.

 
 

Last updated: June 9, 2021

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