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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

June 2007


We continue the mo‘olelo of the chiefly rivals between families and get closer to the appearance of Kamehameha, the warrior who unified the Hawaiian kingdom under a single ruler.

At this point in the mo‘olelo of our Ali‘i and the battles between families, let us digress for a short while and reflect on Kahekili, Ali‘i Nui of Maui. His name is mentioned in many battles especially those against Kalani‘ōpu‘u of Hawai‘i island. As mentioned in an earlier Northwest Hawai`i Times issue, Kahekili is believed to be the biological father of Kamehameha. Of course, this may only be speculation but given what we know of the reasons for marriage between family members, it is highly possible that he was the father. His full name was Kahekili‘ahumanu.

Kahekili was the youngest son of Kekaulike and Keku‘iapoiwanui of Maui. According to Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau, Kahekili was considered equal to a god because of the high-ranking status of his parents. He would have been trained to be a warrior as well as taught the proper religious ceremonial rites to perform on the heiau (temple). He enjoyed the sport of lele kawa or cliff-leaping into a pool of water. He was known to have leaped from a height of possibly 400 feet on Maui.

It was said by those who knew him well that he had a stern and determined character but was reserved and often preferred to be alone. In comparison to other ali‘i, Kahekili had only two wives and lived most of his life in private until he became the ruling ali‘i of Maui at age fifty. As an ali‘i, he was concerned for the welfare of his people, but would be agitated by boisterous actions among his followers. Although he was observed as having good work ethics, he was also viewed as cold and cruel. Kahekili was cautious and vigilant of those he believed spoke or plotted rebellion against him.

At a time when the practice of tattoo was apparently declining, Kahekili made himself conspicuous by having one side of his body from head to foot closely tattooed. This made the tattoo design appear to be almost black, while the other half remained the natural color of his skin. He also had his warriors tattooed in the same fashion which to the eyes of the enemy would be ominous on the battlefield.

After the death of his brother Kamehamehanui, Kahekili became the ruling chief of Maui. It was peaceful under his rule for several years until a domestic dispute led to a battle with neither side having the advantage of victory. Fierce fighting with Kalani‘ōpu‘u of Hawai‘i island lasted for several years until the death of Kalani‘ōpu‘u in 1782, at which point Kahekili turned his attention to Kahahana, his second cousin, who was appointed chief of O‘ahu by the Council of Chiefs. By conspiracy and political maneuvers among the Ali‘i, the conquest of O‘ahu took place in 1783. During a battle between Kahekili’s warriors and the O‘ahu forces led by Kahahana, the O‘ahu forces were no match and severely defeated. Displaying his fierceness, Kahekili and his warriors attacked and killed, without mercy, all who happened to be in sight.

While Kahekili was carrying on with the battles on O‘ahu, Kamehameha I fought and won the battle of Mokuohai on Hawai‘i island, in which his cousin Kiwalaō, son of Kalani‘ōpu‘u, was slain. As a result, Kamehameha took control of the districts of Kona, Kohala, and Hāmākua and continued to fight for control of Hilo and Ka‘ū districts.

In the next issue of Northwest Hawai`i Times, we continue with the mo‘olelo of our Ali‘i and the effect of change with the arrival of foreigners.


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

  • Kahekili had selected warriors tattooed black from head to toe and their eyelids turned inside out and held by props. Only their eyeballs and teeth were left in their natural state.
  • although Kahekili and Kalani‘ōpu‘u were brothers-in-law, they fought frequently to take control of the lands.
  • Kahekili also engaged in disputes with another brother-in-law, Ke‘eaumokupapaia.


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