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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida


April 2005

Hākau and ‘Umi, sons of Līloa

In the March issue we ended the mo‘olelo of Līloa with his death and the building of a mausoleum by his son Hākau to care and protect the bones of Līloa. In this issue, we turn to his sons and the unification of Hawai‘i Island districts.

The mo‘olelo of ‘Umi a Līloa (‘Umi, son of Līloa) is an early example of a Mō‘ī redistributing political power among his heirs. Līloa was an ali‘i kapu nui, a sacred high chief, who was noted for his good deeds. His seat of government and residence was in Waipi‘o Valley. During his rule, he was able to maintain peace among his rivals and the people were contented and prosperous.

According to tradition, Līloa was required to leave the aupuni (government) to his highest born son, Hākau. But, he preferred ‘Umi. Unfortunately, ‘Umi was of low birth. His mother, Akahi-a-Kuleana, some would say, was a maka‘āinana, a commoner. ‘Umi was born after a clandestine meeting between Līloa and Akahi. Before leaving Akahi, Līloa said to her, “This is my command: when our child is born if it be a girl, name her for your side of the family; but if it be a boy, name him for mine. He shall be named ‘Umi. I am Līloa and these are the tokens for the child will need when he searches for me in Waipi‘o: an ahu‘ula (feather cape), a lei niho palaoa (whale’s tooth pendant), and a la‘au palau (wooden spear).” So, it was through Akahi that ‘Umi was called a lepolepo or low-born chief.

Because he loved his son ‘Umi dearly, Līloa instituted a new Hawai‘i island tradition by leaving his war god, Kū, which signified the right to make war, to ‘Umi and not to his son Hākau. This meant that in the event of war, Hākau would need ‘Umi to lead the battle. By doing this, Līloa divided the political power in two, the government and the military, to serve as a check and balance between the two. His hope was that the two brothers would work together rather than be rivals as they did as children. But, it was clear that ‘Umi would be the kanaka (servant) of his brother Hākau.

As it happened, Hākau was by nature cruel and jealous of ‘Umi who was kind and generous. Upon his accession as Mō‘ī, Hākau was extremely abusive to ‘Umi, giving him no land and making his life miserable. ‘Umi finally left and lived incognito among the maka‘āinana. Hākau’s disposition continued to worsen as time passed. His mistreatment of other Ali‘i, kahuna (priests), and maka‘āinana alike made his name synonymous with evil. For example, he would torture and kill anyone he felt was more physically attractive than he. Driven by his cruelty, supporters of ‘Umi slaughtered Hākau, his chiefs, personal attendants, and stewards. Thus, ‘Umi became the Mō‘ī of Hawai‘i island.

One of ‘Umi’s first acts as Mō‘ī was to offer up the body of Hākau and his supporters at the heiau as sacrifice to the war god Kū. According to the mo‘olelo, Kū’s tongue came down and consumed the sacrifices amidst thunder and lightening.

It is clear that ‘Umi was able to rapidly take control of the kingdom. He redistributed the ‘āina to his loyal supporters many of whom were of lesser rank but who helped him rise to power. Many of the ali‘i under Hākau’s rule who were not killed in battle supported a peaceful transition and continuity of power. Many of those chiefs were reappointed as district chiefs or their sons were appointed to replace them. It is also evident that ‘Umi attempted to counterbalance the low rank of his mother by marrying his ranking half-sister as one wife and taking Pi‘ikea, daughter of Pi‘ilani, the ali‘i of Maui, as another wife.

The remaining years of ‘Umi’s reign were peaceful. Although Waipi‘o was not his primary residence, ‘Umi helped to build large lo‘i (taro pondfields). He moved his court to the Kona district by first building the heiau, Ahu a ‘Umi. He built several other heiau or rebuilt existing ones, often with a unique architecture. He also helped with the farming of his lands in Kona.

With the move of his court to Kona, ‘Umi placed Kona as the center in Hawai‘i Island politics, a major departure from traditional Pili line practices. But, as a descendant of the Pili line of rulers who dominated island politics from the power base at Waipi‘o Valley, ‘Umi was able to maintain control and power from his court in Kona. Upon his death, one of ‘Umi’s faithful supporters is said to have properly prepared the body and buried it in an unknown spot at ‘Umi’s request.


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

  • That ‘Umi took the first census (A.D. 1500) by having residents place a stone representing their district on the ahu (heap of stones) on the plain at the 5,200 foot elevation of Hualalai.
  • That during ‘Umi’s reign the population rapidly increased in northern Kohala and Kona district.
  • That the Pili line of chiefs, including ‘Umi, set the precedent of political unification of island districts and eventually political unification of the islands.

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