Traditional Hawaiian lifestyle was suffused with a spirituality that touched all aspects of everyday life. Over centuries, the culture also evolved highly ritualized temple worship to honor the major akua, or gods.
Temples or shrines - heiau - took two forms: walled enclosures or raised platforms. These structures of stone marked off areas that included smaller wooden structures including houses for particular functions and an `anu`u or oracle tower. Different heiau were built for the two main types of services. The mapele heiau honored Lono and ceremonies invoked blessings for successful crops and other peacetime needs; pigs were a common sacrificial animal. The luakini heiau was a war temple honoring Ku and services included human sacrifice.
Large temple images carved of wood - similar to others found throughout Polynesia - are often figures standing with flexed knees, arms and hands with mouths open in a teeth-bared expression. Feather god images - found only in Hawai`i - were also made, their intricate featherwork attached to a basketry framework. Other smaller images, often of stone, adorned smaller local or family shrines such as ko`a (fishing shrines).
While worship of family or local gods was conducted by individuals, temple worship was performed by ali`i and priests, or kahuna. Kahuna were the highly trained caretakers of tradition and wisdom. They were often specialists in particular areas such as healing (kahuna lapa`au), divining the future (kahuna kilokilo), or in blessing practical undertakings like canoe building (kahuna kalai wa`a). Kahuna were also political advisors to the chiefs and held positions of great power within society.
Religious ceremonies honored important life events such as birth, conception, attaining adulthood and death as well as group undertakings like canoe building or the dedication of new homes. Luakini ceremonies sought the gods' blessing in warfare. Ceremonies during Makahiki honored Lono, the harvest bounty and the seasonal reign of peace.
Several archeological sites at Olowalu have been identified as having been used for religious purposes. Due to its size and location, the Kawaialoa (or Kawaloa) heiau was likely used for major religious ceremonies involving high chiefs. This suggests that Olowalu played a significant role in religious matters in the moku (district) of Lahaina. Hawaiians probably used another medium-sized heiau still remaining in Olowalu for local rituals. Smaller shrines still extant at Olowalu indicate use as fishing and agricultural shrines used by one or more families.