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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

August 2006


The mo`olelo of ‘Umi, son of Līloa, is well-known in the annals of Hawaiian history. ‘Umi continued the process of unification and control of the islands under one ruler begun by his ancestors. ‘Umi is descendant from strong and powerful chiefs. Pili, an ancestor, was brought from Kahiki by the priest Pa‘ao in the 1300s to rule over Kohala on Hawai‘i island. Thus, began a strict political system with consolidated power and unification of the island under one ruler. A new religion with new priests and gods existed along side the governing of the island.

“This is my command…He shall be named ‘Umi. I am Liloa, and these are the tokens for the child when he grows up and seeks me in Waipi‘o: the feather cape [ahu‘ula], ivory pendant [lei niho palaoa], helmet [mahi‘ole] and kauila spear (laau palau ).” (Kamakau, Samuel. (1992). p. 3) During one of his travels to dedicate a heiau in Hāmākua, Līloa encountered this commoner woman, Akahiakuleana. She was a descendant of Maui, Moloka‘i, and O‘ahu chiefs although some of her ancestors concealed their chiefly identify and lived with commoners. Thus, began the life of ‘Umi.

After some time, ‘Umi asked his mother permission to search for his father. ‘Umi took with him the chiefly items that Līloa had left before he was born. He also took three of his closest companions to support him. By all accounts, ‘Umi should have been put to death because he violated many of the rules of etiquette reserved for the Ali‘i Nui. For example, instead of entering through the main gate of the royal residence, ‘Umi entered through the entrance reserved for the Ali‘i. And instead of using the main entrance to the hale (house), he entered through the door strictly identified for use by the Ali‘i. However, the rule of etiquette that ‘Umi violated was his bold action of sitting directly on the lap of Līloa and not following the kapu (rules) in paying respect to the high Ali‘i. According to the kapu, ‘Umi should have requested permission prior to entrance into the hale and once permission was granted then prostrate or lower himself before Līloa. However, Līloa had noticed the tokens that ‘Umi had with him and quickly recognized that this young man was his son, ‘Umi. Līloa then ordered the kahuna (priests) to prepare the heiau for the dedication and purification of his son ‘Umi to the gods. ‘Umi’s position was now established and soon became a favorite among the ali‘i in Līloa’s court.

‘Umi had a rival: his angry and jealous half-brother Hākau. The jealousy and ill-will intensified during the ensuing years as ‘Umi and his companions became skilled in warfare and the rituals reserved for the ali‘i. The mo‘olelo refer to constant humiliations given by Hākau to ‘Umi, partly through the influence of ‘Umi’s step-mother, Pinea. But, Līloa assured his son, Hākau, that he was the rightful heir to the kingdom. This was confirmed as Līloa was close to death. He called his sons together and publicly declared Hākau as heir and all chiefs would serve under him. But, Līloa gave the duties of taking care of the war god Kūka‘ilimoku and maintaining all the heiau and its sacred rituals to ‘Umi. This action by Līloa further increased the intense hatred of Hākau which would eventually cause his downfall as the ruling Ali‘i Nui.

As the ruling Ali‘i Nui of the island Kingdom, the mo‘olelo has no kind words for the rule of Hākau. He was known to be cruel and capricious. He dismissed all of the ali‘i in his father’s court and replaced them with his followers who were also characterized as cruel and treacherous as himself. He took every opportunity to publicly revile ‘Umi for his low birth because ‘Umi’s mother was a commoner. Unable to bear the taunts of Hākau, ‘Umi and his followers exiled themselves to Waipunalei near Laupahoehoe in the Hilo district.

In the next issue of Northwest Hawai`i Times, we follow the downfall of Hākau and the rise of ‘Umi as Ali‘i Nui of Hawai‘i Island.

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

  • Waipi’o Valley was chosen by Līloa as the seat of government because it is one of the largest and most impressive valleys on the island with steep valley walls dropping 1,000 feet down to the flat floor of the valley
  • the Waipi`o River splits into four tributary streams—the Waimā, Kaiawe, Alakahi and Kawainui.
  • Līloa built several heiau (temple) within the valley. The most well-known heiau is Paka‘alana. Its function was that of a luakini (sacrificial) and pu‘uhonua (place of refuge).

Waipi`o Valley on the island of Hawai`i
Photo by NWHIT


Kamakau, Samuel M. (1992). Ruling Chiefs. (rev. ed.). Honolulu : The Kamehameha Schools Press.

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