Kamakahonu, HI

Beach with buildings and palm trees in background.
The restored Ahu'ena Heiau, personal temple of Kamehameha I, at Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Photo by y W Nowicki, CC BY 3.0

Quick Facts
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
National Historic Landmark

Kamakahonu, the residence of Kamehameha I, is located at the north end of Kailua Bay in Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawai'i. At one time the residential compound included 'Ahu'ena Heiau, the personal heiau (place of worship) of Kamehameha I, thatched houses for ali'i(chiefs) and women, an enclosing wall, Hale Nana Mahina'ai (the personal retreat of Kamehameha I) work sheds, storehouses, and other buildings. After Kamehameha's death, a hale poki (mortuary house) was built next to the heiau to hold his bones. While the original buildings are now gone, the site has several reconstructed structures and is important as not only the last residence of Kamehameha I, who united all of the Hawaiian Islands, but also as the capital of the Kingdom of Hawai'i and the site were the Hawaiian system of kapu was ended and the first Christian missionaries landed on the islands.

In 1813, Kamehameha I moved his capital and residence from Honolulu on the Island of Oahu to Kona on the western side of the Island of Hawai'i. The ali'i who owned the land at Kamakahonu gave it to Kamehameha I as a gift and a residence, thatched houses for ali'i, and a royal compound were built along the shore. In addition, Kamehameha I had the existing heiau, 'Ahu'ena, restored and held secret council meetings with his highest advisors and his son and heir, Liholiho, in the heiau. There was a famine in Kona at the time of Kamehameha I's return and because of this Ahu-ena Heiau was rededicated to Lono, god of agriculture and prosperity.

Kamehameha I died on May 8, 1819. After his death, his heir, Liholiho, followed custom and moved away from Kamakahonu while the site was purified. During this traditional period of mourning, kapu was set aside. Kapu, the Hawaiian system of religious, political, and social laws that governed every aspect of daily life, was particularly restrictive and breaking kapu was a capital offence punishable by death. The only time kapu could be set aside was during the mourning period for an aliʻi ‘ai moku (paramount chief) such as Kamehameha I. During this time, acts such as looking directly at a chief, women eating with men, or women eating foods forbidden to them such as pork, bananas, coconuts, or taro, were allowed. When the period of mourning was over and a new ali'i 'ai moku came to power, kapu was reinstated.


Six months after his father's death, Liholiho was named ali'i 'ai moku and returned to Kamakahonu. He attempted to reinstate kapu, but was opposed by his mother, Keopuolani, and his co-regent Queen Ka'ahumanu. He took refuge with some of his followers in his canoe and sailed around for two days off the west coast of the island before returning to Kamakahonu. A feast had been prepared and he sat down at the women's table and ate with them, an act strictly forbidden under kapu. Messengers were then sent to the other islands announcing that the kapu system was at an end. This event, called 'Ai Noa (free eating), shook Hawaiian culture to its foundations, leading to several battles, the destruction of most heiau on the islands, the relaxing of prohibitions surrounding the ali'i, and the ending of much of the Hawaiian religious system.

Within a year of Kamehameha I's death and only a few months after the 'Ai Noa, the first Christian missionaries in the islands came ashore at Kamakahonu. Several missionary families stayed in Kailua to establish a mission station, while the rest traveled to the other islands. Missionaries continued to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands through the mid-19th century and became a dominant force in Hawaiian social, economic, political, and religious life, heavily influencing changes in Hawaiian society, education, and government.

After Liholiho abolished kapu, Kamakahonu went through several changes. The wall around the compound was enlarged and built up, 'Ahu'ena Heiau was changed from a place of worship to a fort, and the sea wall was widened. In 1820, Liholiho moved the Kingdom's capital from the Island of Hawai'i to Lahaina on the Island of Maui. He appointed Kuakini, who was Queen Ka'ahumanu's brother, governor of the Island of Hawai'i, and Kamakahonu continued to be the capital for the island. Kuakini built a two-story wood frame house and a school for the ali'i in the compound. Kamehameha I's bones were quietly removed from the hale poki in the 1820s and hidden and the hale poki fell into disrepair. In 1837, Kuakini moved to Hulihee House further east along Kailua Bay and Kamakahonu was used for government offices and ceremonies.


In 1855, Ruth Ke'elikolani, the widow of Kuakini's heir, was appointed governor of the Island of Hawai'i. She moved the island's capital from Kamakahonu to Hilo and Kamakahonu was left mostly abandoned. By the late 1880s, a large part of the enclosing walls and all of the thatch houses had been demolished. In 1914, H. Hackfield & Company, one of the largest sugar companies in the islands, purchased Kamakahonu. The company used the two remaining stone houses as store and warehouses.

In the 1950s, American Factors Limited (previously H. Hackfield & Company) used Kamakahonu as a lumberyard and built an open-sided, metal roofed warehouse on the site. In 1960, the King Kamehameha Hotel was constructed at Kamakahonu. The hotel and its entertainment platform, imu (roasting pit), luau dining area, as well as the nearby Kailua wharf, greatly altered the Kamakahonu area. A reconstruction of the 'Ahu'ena Heiau and adjacent building was begun in the early 1960s. From 1975 to 1977, American Factors Limited funded a more accurate reconstruction of the heiau as well as the Hale Nana Mahina'ai under the direction of the Bishop Museum's Department of Anthropology. Today, the Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark is maintained by Ahu'ena Heiau Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on the preservation and maintenance of ancient Hawaiian structures, foundations, and burial sites and the appreciation of Hawaiian history.

Kamakahonu, a National Historic Landmark,  is located on the Island of Hawai'i at the northwest edge of Kailua Bay, in Kailua-Kona, HI.

Last updated: August 16, 2019