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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

December 2004

Part III: La‘amaikahiki

(In our last issue, we read in Part II of the mo`olelo of Hawaiian ali‘i, how Kila won the contest to return to Kahiki to bring his older brother La`a back to Hawai‘i)

When La‘a’s canoe glided onto the sands of ‘Aliō beach at Wailua, Kaua‘i, father and son greeted and embraced each other warmly. La‘a is referred to in the mo‘olelo as La‘amaikahiki (La‘a from Kahiki) and according to traditions, he announced his arrival with the beating of the huge pahu or pahu kā‘eke. This pahu was a hollowed out coconut trunk covered with sharkskin over its open end. Each beat resounded with a deep voice. It was the first of its kind seen and heard in Hawai‘i. From then on the pahu was used to announce the births of chiefs on the birthing stones at Holoholokū heiau. The pahu was kept there until it was destroyed in 1819.

In addition to the pahu, La‘a brought new traditions and new ideas that transformed Hawaiian society at the time. First was Lonoika‘ouali‘i (Lono in the chiefly signs of the heavens), a new god, to join Kāne (god of creation) and Kū (god of war). This was Lono, god of agriculture, medicine, and Makahiki. The rituals connected with Lono were not as violent as those of Kū, since no human sacrifice was performed on the altar dedicated to Lono. The Lono heiau were of the māpele type, that is, the walls of the buildings within the heiau were thatched with ti and the heiau walls were built with lama, a hardwood.

La‘a’s second idea was the establishment of the first kumukānāwai or law. These laws or kapu were designed to safeguard the rank and position of an ali‘i, but there were kapu that also protected the rights of commoners. Each kapu carried a penalty which, at times, could result in death for anyone in violation. These laws defined the entire kapu system and exemplified the role of the kahuna or priest in the political and religious organization of Hawaiian society.

The mo‘olelo is silent concerning La‘a’s stay on Kaua‘i. What we do know is that he established a new lineage of ali‘i at Kualoa, O‘ahu. The kahuna knew that La‘a was a descendant of Paumakua, a voyager who settled on O‘ahu three generations earlier, and that the lineage was in danger of ending. With their insistence, La‘a agreed to ensure that his lineage would continue. He married three women of high rank. Many months later, each chiefess gave birth to a son on the same day. All three sons of La‘a left descendants. Thus, the genealogy of Paumakua and La‘amaikahiki continued.

After spending time at Kualoa as the ruling ali‘i, La‘a once again prepared his canoe for the voyage home to Ra‘iātea, the place where he grew up as a child. While on Ra‘iātea, La‘a hears about the death of Mo‘ikeha and returns to Kaua‘i to fulfill his promise. He gathered the bones of his foster father and immediately returned to Ra‘iātea to bury him at Kapaahu, a tall mountain overlooking the district once ruled by Mo‘ikeha.

(to be continued in the next issue…)


Ua ‘Ike Anei ‘Oe (Did you know…)

  • that Kualoa, O‘ahu was considered one of the most sacred places on the island.
  • that Kūkaniloko on O‘ahu was also a place with birthing stones for the ali‘i.
  • that one’s genealogy is the Hawaiian concept of time and place.
  • that October through February annually was a time dedicated to the god Lono with religious and sports activities and kapu on war.

Back to Hawaiian History

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