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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

April 2008

 


 After victory at Moku‘ohai, Kamehameha returned to Kohala and resided at Kawaihae to plan his next strategy toward control of Hawai‘i Island.

After the battle at Moku‘ohai, Kamehameha’s supporters urged that he consider going to battle against his uncle Keawemauhili who controlled the Hilo district and Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula, his cousin, the ali‘i of Ka‘ū in order to expand control of Hawai‘i Island. Because of the constant demands by his ali‘i, Kamehameha decided to send a declaration of war message to his uncle. He wrapped two stones, one black; one white, in a pa‘upa‘u kapa [overlaid kapa] and sent to his uncle by way of a messenger.

When the bundle was opened by Keawemauhili, he was overcome with emotions. He knew what the message meant. His nephew had sent a declaration of war and he had a decision to make: peace or war. If he returned the black stone wrapped in black kapa, it was a declaration of war. But, if he returned the white stone, it meant his good intentions of maintaining peace.

Keawemauhili chose to return the white stone. Kamehameha appeared to be satisfied with the response and could not determine a valid reason for a declaration of war. However, Ke‘eaumoku, still wanting war against Keawemauhili, reasoned with Kamehameha that the stone was not a good enough response. Kamehameha should send his messenger again and ask his uncle for a live fat ‘ānae (mullet) and awa (milkfish) from the loko ‘ia (fishpond) of Waiākea in Hilo. When the messenger arrived with the request, Keawemauhili quickly asked the konohiki of the loko ‘ia to fetch the fish that his nephew requested and wrap them in limu (seaweed) to keep them alive. In addition to the fish, Keawemauhili added a bundle of ki (ti) containing two white stones to let his nephew know that he really wanted peace and not war.

When the messenger arrived at Kawaihae where Kamehameha was living at the time, everyone saw that the fish wrapped in limu were still alive. To those in attendance, the symbol of the live fish and the two white stones dashed the hopes of war by some of the ali‘i who pressured for revenge against the ali‘i of Hilo.

This ala hele (trail) is part of the entire system of trails on Hawai`i island and located below the heiau Pu`ukoholā. It runs along the shoreline at Kawaihae.
Photo by Roy Alameida

At this point of the mo‘olelo (story), let us take a short detour to learn more about the runners or messengers of the ali‘i. Kukini or foot racing was a popular event in early Hawaiian society. According to Hawaiian historian David Malo, these swift runners were a class of men specifically trained to run at great speed:

The runner was first exercised in walking on his toes without touching the heel of the foot to the ground. Then he was sent running for a short distance and at a moderate pace. Finally he was made to run at full speed for great distances. While in training, he was denied poi and all soggy, heavy food, but was fed on rare done flesh of the fowl and roasted vegetables: taro, sweet potato, breadfruit, etc.

(Malo, D. (1951). Hawaiian Antiquities. Honolulu: Bishop Museum)

These runners were the line of communication between the moku (districts) of the island. Makoa was Kamehameha’s kukini who ran between Kawaihae and Hilo delivering the messages between Kamehameha and Keawemauhili, a distance of over 100 miles. He was not of humble status, but a descendant of the ali‘i class. He was described as having “a square head and a broad forehead and his limbs were very strong. His feet were very wide and different from the feet of other men.” (Malo, 1951).

Ka‘ohele, son of Kumukoa, ali‘i of Moloka‘i, was also a well-known kukini. It was said that he could run from Kalua‘aha to Halawa (roughly 10 miles roundtrip) and return before a fish placed on the fire at the time of his start had time to cook.

Although Keawemauhili had proposed peace with his nephew, Kamehameha’s supporters still insisted that war be declared. This mo‘olelo continues in the next issue of NWHT.

Ua ‘Ike Anei ‘Oe… (Did you know that…)

  • in spite of pressure from his ali‘i advisors to declare war, Kamehameha displayed the Hawaiian values of ho‘omanawanui (patience) and aloha before deciding his next strategic move; characteristics of a true leader.
  • the kukini or swift runners helped to establish the trail systems and foot paths around each of the island.
  • as a popular competitive sport, kukini races were associated with betting on the first runner to cross the finish line.

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