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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

February 2007


In this issue of NWHT, we continue the mo‘olelo of the political struggle between the two powerful families, the Mahi and ‘Ī of Hawai‘i island. The conflict between families was not uncommon in the political and social history of Hawai‘i.

The reign of Keakealaniwahine as ali‘i nui of Hawai‘i island was a challenging one. The family of ‘Ī independently ruled the Hilo district since the time of their ancestor Kumulae, the son of ‘Umi. The ali‘i of this family had grown wealthy, powerful, and stood alone amongst the other ruling ali‘i of the districts. There were long and bitter battles between the family of ‘Ī and Keakealaniwahine. During one of her traditional tours around the island conducting religious ceremonies at various heiau, the ali‘i ‘Ī and his son, Kua‘anaa‘Ī, accompanied her, when ‘Ī died during the tour. In order to prevent any defilement of his father’s remains, Kua‘anaa‘Ī left the traveling party to ensure the burial rituals for his father was preserved. Keakealaniwahine interpreted the leaving of Kua‘anaa‘Ī as an act of revolt. Although there were failed attempts to kill him, Kua‘anaa‘Ī and his supporters were able to take Keakealaniwahine hostage in Waipi‘o Valley and banished her to Moloka‘i for two years. Kua‘anaa‘Ī placed himself and his son Kuahu‘ia in control of Hawai‘i island. After two years, Keakealaniwahine returned and ruled over Ka‘ū, Kona, and Kohala districts.

The battles between the Mahi and ‘Ī families reflect examples of power and political struggles without separate kingdoms being established on Hawai‘i island. The ongoing disputes between these families eventually ended with the marriage of Keawe or Keawe‘ikekahiali‘iokamoku, son of Keakealaniwahine, to Lonoma‘aikanaka, a granddaughter of Ahu-a-‘Ī. According to the mo‘olelo, Keawe was able to maintain peace throughout the island not by force or conquest but through diplomatic means as seen by his marriage. Later, his son married Ahia, the granddaughter of Kua‘anaa‘Ī mentioned above. This seemed to further secure peace and bring the families together in unity.

As the ali‘i nui of Hawai‘i island, Keawe was known to have been an enterprising and energetic ali‘i. He traveled throughout the islands and apparently had a reputation of bravery. In addition, his land management style followed practical means while politically the districts were controlled by ali‘i appointed by him thus showing the strength of the Mahi family.

Keawe resided at several places; Hōnaunau in central Kona was his favorite. His home sat on the south end of the small bay among a coconut grove and surrounded by pools of brackish water. Besides other hale within the royal compound, there were several hōlua slides and a large walled enclosed pu‘uhonua with several heiau located within. In February 1793, Archibald Menzies, surgeon and explorer, spent a night at the residence and observed that as there was “a large marae [heiau] close to us, we now and then heard the hollow sounding drums of the priests who were up in the dead hour of the night performing their religious rites,” a ritual indicative of human sacrifice. Archaeological excavations also support Menzies early observations.

Keawe had at least 6 wives identified in the mo‘olelo: Lonoma‘aikanaka of the ‘Ī family, Kalanikauleleaiwi (his half-sister), Kāne‘alae (daughter of a powerful chief on Moloka‘i), Kauhiokaka (daughter of his wife Lonoma‘aikanaka and her husband Hulu), and two others whose name are unknown. His half-sister, Kalanikauleleaiwi also married several other ali‘i. It is apparent that her marriages were unions of political intent to solidify the power of her mother Keakealaniwahine and her husband Keawe.

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

  • Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau was once a safe haven for those violating the kapu (laws), defeated warriors, and wanderers.
  • the building of pu‘uhonua dates back to 1500 A.D. and is partially enclosed by a ten-foot high, seven-foot thick, one-thousand foot long lava rock wall built without the use of mortar.
  • in 1961, the 180 acres were donated to the federal government by Bishop Estate.
  • in 1978, it became a National Historic Park under the name Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau.

Hale (grass house) at Pu`uhonua o Hōnaunau, the ancient place of refuge
and now a national park in Kona.
Photo by Roy Alameida


Wall at Pu`uhonua o Hōnaunau on Hawai`i Island
Photo by Roy Alameida

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