- Island: Oahu
Hauwahine, the mo'o or guardian spirit, protects the people of Kawai Nui and assures an abundance of fish. The legendary association of Ulupo Heiau with the menehune suggests the antiquity of this site. The massiveness and quantity of rock carried many miles hint at its cultural importance. Tradition records Kualoa, more than 10 miles away, as one source of these stones.
It is likely that the function of this heiau changed over time. It probably began as a mapele or agricultural heiau with ceremonies and rites conducted to insure the fertility of the crops grown in Kawai Nui. In later times, it may have become a heiau luakini dedicated to success in war with structures erected atop this massive stone platform, including an altar, an oracle tower or anu'u, thatched hale, and notches in the terraces to hold the ki'i or wooden images. The spring off the corner of the heiau was another important feature related to the ceremonial traditions of the site.
Ulupo Heiau measures 140 by 180 feet with walls up to 30 feet in height. The construction of this massive terraced platform required a large work force under the direction of a powerful ali'i. Several O'ahu chiefs lived at Kailua and probably participated in ceremonies at Ulupo Heiau, including Kakuhihewa in the 1400s and Kuali'i in the late 1600s. Kuali'i fought many battles and he may have rededicated Ulupo Heiau as a heiau luakini. Maui chief Kahekili came to O'ahu in the 1780s and lived in Kailua after defeating O'ahu high chief Kahahana for control of the island. Kamehameha I worked at Kawai Nui fishpond and is said to have eaten the edible mud (lepo ai ia) of Kawai Nui when there was a shortage of kalo. But by 1795 when Kamehameha I conquered O'ahu, it is believed that Ulupo Heiau was already abandoned.
Ulupo Heiau was transferred from the Territorial Board of Agriculture and Forestry to Territorial Parks in 1954. In the early 1960s, through a joint effort of State Parks and Kaneohe Ranch, the stone walkway was placed atop the heiau and the stone paving was laid around the springs. The bronze plaque was installed in 1962 by the Commission on Historical Sites. Ulupo Heiau is listed on the National and Hawaii Registers of Historic Places. At Ulupo Heiau, State Parks seeks to promote preservation of the heiau and heighten public awareness about the cultural history of Kawai Nui.