What is an Ahu?
This brief description is created to help people understand the cultural significance of ahu on our campus, their history and legacy tied to important historical events, and how they should be treated.
Ahu is a Hawaiian altar, shrine, or cairn utilized for spiritual and ceremonial purposes in both the past and the present. Usually small and of varied forms, these stone structures were constructed using Hawaiian dry stack stone masonry techniques. Ahu over 50 years old are considered historical properties and may be protected under state and federal historic preservation laws. These structures, whether intact or disturbed, represent a record of the past, and are still used by native Hawaiians today. Modern ahu are considered as authentic as the ancient structures, being part of a living Hawaiian culture that still continues today. Ahu are often the focal points of ceremonies honoring Hawaiian spirituality and ancestral spirits.
As sensitive cultural sites, all ahu must be handled with care, respect, and dignity. Protocols include:
- Identify the kahu (steward) of the site before engaging in any activities there. They can help to advise or facilitate appropriate cultural protocol and offerings.
- Treat the site with respect by maintaining positive attitudes, thoughts, and conservations. It is important to treat religious sites with a degree of reverence.
- Do not sit or walk on the sites. These actions are disrespectful and could damage the structures. Animals should be kept a safe distance.
- Do not take, move or disturb items on the ahu. The items placed on the ahu are usually offerings left there by people that have conducted cultural protocols. It’s the duty of the kahu to clean the site and maintain it, and decide what items should be removed and when.
- Avoid taking, moving, or disturbing items on the ahu. The items placed on the ahu are usually offerings left there by people that have conducted cultural protocol. It’s the duty of the kahu to clean the site and maintain it, and decide what items should be removed and when.
By Dr. Kekuewa Kikiloi, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge
The ahu can be found on the UHM Cultural Landscape map.
Ke Ahu ʻo Kamakaʻeha
Ke Ahu ʻo Kamakaʻeha is named for Queen Liliʻuokalani, was built on September 5, 2000, to celebrate the 162nd birthday of Hawaiʻi’s last ruling monarch and her commitment to her people, the loyal citizens who vowed to protect the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.
HRM Queen Lydia Liliʻuokalani Kamakaʻeha
Ahu on Wise Field
In spring 2015 hundreds of community members gathered to build this ahu (altar). Children and adults brought rocks to Ka Papa Lo‘i ‘O Kānewai and formed a human chain to transport the rocks here. At high noon, a ceremony sanctified this ahu, mirrored at the same time by ceremonies throughout the islands and across the world. The unified call was a request to ancestors and higher powers to protect Maunakea. Feel free to give a respectful offering at this ahu or otherwise please keep your distance as to not disturb this sacred space.
Ahu in Bachman Courtyard
This ahu sits in the courtyard of Bachman Hall to engage UH leadership in protocol, reminding the university to fulfill their kuleana to Kānaka Maoli, to protect Hāloa (kalo) from genetic modification, and to support the mission of sustainability. Hawaiian charter schools, community members, and students gathered rocks from across the islands, many from loʻi kalo. Each corner of the courtyard represents four major akua (gods) planted with mea kanu Hawaiʻi: niu – Kū, ʻuala – Lono, kalo – Kāne, and maiʻa – Kanaloa. Feel free to give a respectful offering at this ahu or otherwise please keep your distance so as to not disturb this sacred space.