More on Kupopolo Heiau, 1905.


A Committee From the Historical Society Views the Ruins Under the Escort of the Promotion Committee.


Did it ever fall to your lot to go on a personally conducted excursion in quest of an old Hawaiian Heiau, or temple of worship? That has fallen to my lot—and it was a most pleasantly conducted excursion. It was conducted by Mr. E. M. Boyd, Secretary of the Promotion Committee, and Mr. Fred. C. Smith, General Passenger Agent of the Oahu Railway Company, and two more efficient conductors are seldom sent out in charge of one small party. The excursion, which took place yesterday, came  about in this way: A little time ago, Mr. Thomas G. Thrum, antiquarian and historian, came upon the ruins of an old Hawaiian heathen temple at a point about four miles beyond the Haleiwa Hotel, and within plain sight from the railway and the public road. This was, in many ways, a most remarkable find. It is perhaps the closest heiau to Honolulu, since the destruction of the one at Moiliili, and the wonder is that it had been lost to knowledge so long. In fact, it would not, perhaps, save for the fact that it has been taken all these years for a cattle pen. Indeed, from the line of the railway and from the public road, too, it does look precisely like a cattle pen lying back against the steep slope of the hill.


But, when Mr. Thrum made known the facts of his find, of course the interest of all concerned with Hawaiian antiquities was aroused. The Historical Society members talked of the matter, and the Promotion Committee took the thing up. A heathen temple of the old days, a genuine antique, was worth while as a tourist asset. And out of this various interest in the matter grew the personally conducted excursion of yesterday over the Oahu railway.

For if the heiau was to be preserved, it was essential that experts should be consulted upon its preservation. No experts could be so well advised as to the proper steps to take as those of the Historical Society. Nobody had a more legitimate interest in bringing these experts to view the heiau than the Promotion Committee. Therefore, Mr. Fred Smith was called into the consultation, and Mr. Boyd sent out his invitations for the personally conducted excursion.


All those who had been invited could not go, unfortunately, but the gathering was representative. In the party were Dr. Sereno E. Bishop, Dr. N. B. Emerson, Thomas G. Thrum, Prof. William Alason Bryan, assistant curator at Bishop’s Museum, President Griffith of Oahu College, E. S. Dodge of the Bishop Estate and W. W. Hall, Treasurer of the Historical Society. The party gathered at the Oahu Railway Station, and was whirled away down the road, in a private car and a drizzle of rain. The car was most comfortable, having an observation platform and cosy chairs and all the comforts that go with modern railway travel. The drizzle of rain was not at all uncomfortable, serving to cool the air of what might otherwise have been a hot day, but it did not give promise for a successful excursion for purposes of observation. Which only goes to show that the weather is uncertain, even in Hawaii, for while the sun shone at not time during the day, the rain presently went away mauka, and the day became perfect for the purposes of the expedition. If it had been made to order, it could not have been better.


Away and away through the rice fields and the kiawe thickets that lie on this side of Pearl City, the special train sped fast, riding as smoothly as it might hav done on one of the big mainland railroads. You may not have noticed that the Oahu road is perfectly ballasted, and in fine order, and that its trains run with little jar at high speed. But that is the fact. Past the wide cane fields of Ewa and Oahu, and the sisal plantation, the train rushed onward, and around the mountains that come down close to the line at Waianae. They are rugged hills, opening back into a succession of beautiful valleys at the far heads of which tower cliffs serried with waterways dropping straight down, it seems for thousands of feet. And on the other hand, is the blue sea. It was a still sea, yesterday, until Kaena Point was passed. Then the rollers came dashing in upon the rocks.


Still on and on sped the train, and presently the cliffs fell back for the land of Waialua and, with a sugar mill in the background, there appeared the little white targets that mark the holes of the Haleiwa golf course. The train rushed by the depot at Waialua, to the amazed wonder of a lot of little Japs and Chinese and native children, and the evident amusement of a couple of very bright looking small haole boys, who waved their hands and smiled at us, on the observation platform of the special.

“Some of your caddies?” I said to Mr. Boyd.

“Not at all. One of those boys plays a very good game of golf,” replied the Secretary of the Promotion Committee in a tone of grave respect.

I don’t know that anybody has ever said that in the love of a sport the grown up and the little chap meet on a common level, but it is true.


Past the Haleiwa, too, our train rushed, and in a few minutes we saw the Heiau of Kupopolo over against the precipitous hill on the left of the track, looking exactly like a cattle pen in the distance. But we went on past it. Mr. Fred Smith desired to show his guests the beautiful gorge through which Waimea steam breaks to the sea, and the train was run to the middle of the bridge across the river. It is a wonderful gorge, wild and beautiful, and the glimpse of the valley further up is one of the best scenic bits on this island of Oahu. The stream is beautiful, too, and yesterday it was especially fine, a tawny flood pouring into the ocean a mass of water that discolored the sea for several miles. Upon the high bluff, just across this stream, are the ruins of the temple of the priests, with which ruins are associated that old tale of the massacre of the Daedelus men. You will read all about that in the histories.


The train was then run back to the Heiau that we had come to see, or that the antiquarians in the party had come to see that they might discuss its restoration intelligently, and the party left the car and made its way up the slope to the old temple.

It was a walk, perhaps, of a little less than an eighth of a mmile, climbing a gentle slope all the way. Truly those old Hawaiians chose sightly places to worship in. From the temple, the countryside sweeps away to the southward in a long stretch that would joy the soul of a painter. The sea is in front, and to the northward, where the mountain range runs down to the water, there is a variation of the prospect that is pleasing.

The Heiau, so far as any living person knows, is one of which there is no record in Hawaiian tradition. It had a local name, “Kupopolo,” but no special significance attaches to that. It is a large double structure, as shown in the diagram herewith prepared by Mr. Thrum. It lies as nearly as can be ascertained by a pocket compass, north and south in its greatest dimension, the peculiar entrance being on the northwestern corner. The temple faces west. The entrance—there is trace of but one—was a narrow way, apparently, between two walls of stone masonry.


In the interior, it is clear that an attempt was made to level the floor with loose stones, now lying in tumbled masses, and in the first apartment, if that space which is first entered may be so called, is a leveled place that seems to have been the foundation for a house. Perhaps this was the Holy of Holies. Perhaps it was a dressing room, or an undressing room, for the priests. I do not know. I am not an antiquarian.

In the second room, cut off from the first by a wall in which there is no trace of a break, there is the same apparent attempt to level up the floor with loose stones, and in this section, moreover, in the extreme southwestern corner, are three piles of stones that look as through they had been placed in something like their present position by design. This may be only an appearance. The whole place is filled up with loose stones, from which little can be told save that there was an attempt at some time or another to get the floor to a general level. And as the hill slope is steep, there are more stones against the front or seaward wall than toward the steep hill behind the temple.


In fact, back toward the hill in this second apartment are clearly the remains of a terrace, build apparently three feet above the floor of the main froom, and this terrace shows evidence that it was paved at one time. But whether this served as kind of stage fore the performance of religious rites is, of course, a thing for authorities upon such matters to decide.

The gentlemen of the party viewed the ruins from all sides, and discussed their probable age, and the advisability of attempts at restoration. It was agreed upon all hands that the ruins should not be permitted to go to any further decay, but beyond that point the discussion was entirely tentative. Prof. Bryan, who is the head of the Historical Buildings Committee of the Historical Society, was most conservative in his views, as indeed were all the gentlemen present.

“The difficulty,” said Dr. Emerson, for instance, “is in forming an ideal upon which to base any work of restoration. You do not know what you are working to, and there is no way to find out. I think you can put me down as a conservative on the restoration matter.”


And that was the general tone of the talk. The problem, indeed, is one that must be though out, and discussed by the whole Historical Society after the committee has a meeting upon it. The excursionists have been and seen. They can advise their fellows intelligently. And, when a decision is reached, whatever may be its scope, will be done. The Heiau is too valuable to be permitted to go to utter ruin. Chance visitors and tourists must not be allowed to take it away piecemeal. And if anything is done toard restoration it must be done so carefully that the ancient character of the place shall not be destroyed utterly. Whatever restoration is done—and it seems likely that it will be nothing further than an effort to keep the place from further damage at the hands of the elements—there must be no vandalism in the name of preservation. Hawaii will be spared a mistake of the kind made by that misguided Southern California town that tore off the old tiled roof and put redwood shingles on its Mission Church. Much damage is possible from stupid, so called restoration. Intelligent work will preserve the character of the Heiau, even if no more is done than to keep it as it is.



Front wall of Heiau 6 to 8 feet high, according to slope of land; height at back about 4 feet.

Rough plan of Heiau of Kupopolo, situate at Waialua, Oahu, near the western point of Waimea, on the upper side of the road. Scale, 1in. 40ft.

(Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 8/10/1905, p. 2)


The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Volume XLII, Number 7178, Page 2. August 10, 1905.

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