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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

August 2007


On January 1778, the worldly view of Hawaiians changed with the arrival of British Captain James Cook’s ships off the island of Kaua‘i. The exchanges between the two cultures would lead the way for other interactions that in time would result in the drastic depopulation of Hawaiians and the near extinction of the culture.

Since the arrival of Cook in 1778, Hawai‘i has been a place of change and conflict. The conflict between cultures afforded one the opportunity to take benefit from the host culture and the other to extend its hospitality beyond what is reasonable. That first encounter between Hawaiians and foreigners at Waimea, Kaua‘i was a scene of excitement and uncertainty as each group became more cautious of the actions of the other.

Samuel Kamakau, the Hawaiian historian, describes the scene:

A man named Moapu and his companions who were out fishing with heavy lines, saw this strange thing move by and saw the lights on board. Abandoning their fishing gear, no doubt through fright, they hurried ashore and hastened to tell Ka‘eo [kulani] and the other chiefs of Kauai of about this strange apparition…. Some were terrified and shrieked with fear…” What are those branching things?”…”They are trees moving about on the sea….a certain kahuna named Ku‘ohu declared, “That can be nothing else than the heiau [temple] of Lono [god of agriculture].

Cook’s arrival in January happens to coincide with the arrival of the god Lono to collect the annual taxes from the people. This was the time of Makahiki. War ceased and certain fish were declared kapu or off limits. It was a time of celebration for the fruits of their labor in the lo‘i (taro gardens) and the ocean in growing and gathering needed resources.

Kamakau continues, “The strangers asked where they could find water, pointing to water in their hands, and the people told them that there was abundant supply inland. The strangers…went ashore to draw water.”

In the meantime, Hawaiians recognized and saw how much iron there was alongside of the ships and on the rails as well. Kapu‘upu‘u, a warrior, helped himself to as much iron as he could handle and threw them into a canoe. He was shot and killed by one of Cook’s men. His companions quickly paddled to shore and described to the chief what happened.

“Some called the weapon a “water squirter” (waiki), because of its squirting out like water from a bamboo; others called it a “water gusher” ( waipahu).” “Let us kill these people for killing Kapu‘upu‘u,”shouted some of the chiefs. “That is not a good idea,”said the kahuna (priest) Ku‘ohu. “The fault was ours for plundering, for Kapu‘upu‘u went to plunder. I have told you that we live under a law; if any man rob or steal, his bones shall be stripped of flesh.”

When night fell, Cook and his crew “shot off guns and skyrockets, perhaps to express their joy in having discovered this first land of the group, Kauai. The people called the rockets “the fires of Lonimakua” and they named the flash of the gun “the lightening” and its report, “Kane in the thunder.”

In the morning, Cook and some of his men went ashore and with their guns ready met Ka‘eokulani and the chiefess, Kamakahelei. They were greeted warmly and given food of all types and kapa. Cook accepted the gifts and in turn presented gifts of “cloth, iron, a sword, knives, necklaces, and mirrors.” Ka‘eokulani also gave Cook his daughter and in exchange Cook provided other gifts. When the other women saw the chief’s daughter had slept with the foreigner, they also slept with foreigners in order to get “cloth, iron, and mirrors.”

In the next issue of NWHIT, we continue with the impact of Cook’s arrival on Hawai‘i.


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

  • Ka‘eokulani was the brother of Kahekili, ali‘i nui of Maui.
  • Kamakahelei was the mother of Kaumuali‘i of Kaua‘i who diplomatically offered the kingdom of Kaua‘i to Kamehameha in 1810.
  • People of Kaua‘i can boast that the island was not taken by force by Kamehameha.

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