Kamehameha III ruled the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1825 to 1854. During his reign, the pressure to “modernize” and thus protect Hawaii’s sovereignty from Pacific colonial powers was set against the need to keep the nation intact internally and ensure that this Western influence did not separate him from his chiefs and his people. Kaniakapupu was an important site for achieving the latter goal.
Completed in 1845, Kaniakapupu was built in the Nu’uanu Valley on O’ahu. The palace was situated on a parcel of crown lands called Luakaha, meaning roughly “place of relaxation.” The palace itself was a fairly straightforward structure in the traditional style, consisting of four stone walls enclosing one large room and surrounded by a porch on all sides. The grounds also included a stone perimeter wall, a detached kitchen house, a garden, and a Lono heiau (i.e., a temple or house dedicated to Lono, the Hawaiian god of agriculture, fertility, peace, and music) for which the palace was named Kaniakapupu, which means “the singing of the land shells.”
Built as a place where the king and his court could escape the summer heat, it was also a place where they could retreat from Western influence, shedding their Western clothing and discussing matters of politics and governance with Hawaiian chiefs, providing refreshment and entertainment to the Hawaiian people, and entertaining foreign dignitaries in Hawaiian style. A luau held in honor of Hawaiian Restoration Day at Kaniakapupu in 1847 reportedly had 10,000 people in attendance.
Update September, 2016: As the Kaniakapupu Ruins have recently suffered vandalism, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources has determined the site off-limits to public visitation. Visitors are no longer allowed to the site.
Know Before You Go
The Kaniakapupu Ruins are part of the Lulumahu Hiking Trail in Nu’uanu Valley. A small hike through bamboo is required to get to the palace and surrounding grounds.