The term Kukaniloko means "to anchor the cry from within,'' which is an appropriate name for this five-acre historical site in the very heart of Oahu Island. The Royal Birthing Stones here are where women of the Hawaiian royal family would come to bring future generations of leaders into the world.
According to legend, an Oahu chieftain first chose this location for the birth of his son, Kapawa, sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries. Over the next 300~500 years, the outcrop and its more than 80 rounded stones became the sacred birth grounds for the ali'i, or chiefs of the island. Ma'ilikukahi and Kakuhihewa were both born here, two chiefs whose reigns were marked by peace and prosperity. The birthing ceremonies continued until well into the 17th century.
As part of the ritual, the pregnant royal would lay herself down on a finely woven mat atop the smooth lava stones. Retainers would surround the mother and hold her in place, using indentations in the stones as footholds for leverage. Gravity was expected to do most of the work, although a Kahuna (shaman) or two would also be on hand to assist.
Known as pohaku, the rocks, according to Hawaiian belief, contained the power to ease the labor pains of childbirth. The mother also had to follow a strict diet, ingesting various local plants - a sap mixed with water - to prepare her for "painless'' labor.
To bear official witness, 36 chiefs needed to be in attendance. Since no paper documentation was available then, only their testimony would serve as the record of birth. Then, when the baby was born, the words "he ali'i, he akua, he wela'' would be called out, announcing "a chief, a god, a blaze of heat.''
Next, the newborn would be taken to a nearby waihau heiau (round temple) called the Ho'olonopahu. This was where purification rites were conducted. The cutting of the umbilical cord would be overseen by 48 chiefs, and then sacred drums were beaten to broadcast the arrival of new royalty.
In 1925, Kukaniloko became the first ancient site on Oahu officially recognized and designated for long-term preservation. By then, the Ho'olonopahu had been destroyed and many of the actual Royal Birthing Stones had been rearranged to be used as celestial maps. They are said to mark the positions of stars, as well as shifts in the seasons.
Today, thirty-six stones guard the entrance at Kukaniloko, 18 on the left and 18 on the right. These stones are not originals, however; they were placed here by the Department of Land and Natural Resources to represent the 36 chiefs. The original stones are scattered about, but easily recognized by their bowl-like shapes; petroglyphs showing human forms and circles appear on some of the stones. Two display boards erected by the Wahiawa Hawaiian Civic Club provide visitor information.
Those who visit should keep in mind that this is one of the most important sites in Hawaii, sacred to the Hawaiian people, who often place flower leis upon the stones as sign of reverence for past traditions. Visitors should refrain from climbing or walking on the rock walls and platforms, and nothing at the site should be moved or removed.
To get to the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones, take to H1 West to the H2 North and get off at Exit 5 (Wahiwa). Kamehameha Avenue leads north through Wahiawa to Whitmore Avenue, where you will turn left onto a dirt road that seems to lead into a pineapple field. The stones can be found just a few yards down this road.