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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

June 2008


In this issue of the NWHT, Kamehameha goes to war against the combined forces of Hilo and Puna.

It was not long after he returned to Kohala that news arrived that Kānekoa, the Ali‘i from Hāmākua was killed in battle against Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula of Ka‘ū. When Kamehameha was a child, Kānekoa was one of his kahu (guardian). The only wrong that Kānekoa had done was defect to support Kiwala‘ō during the battle at Moku‘ōhai. However, Kamehameha was able to overlook his uncle’s desertion and was overcome by emotions. After hearing more of what happened, Kamehameha began further preparation of his warriors for battle. When the warrior Ali‘i of Ka‘ū and Hilo learned the Kamehameha was preparing to battle against them, they joined their forces which strengthened their position.

Kamehameha launched a two-prong strategic approach. The three mano (4,000 per mano) of twelve thousand warriors on foot were led by Kekūhaupi‘o and Kamehameha while a fleet of eight hundred canoes with two mano or eight thousand warriors were led by Ke‘eaumoku, his uncle and father of Ka‘ahumanu. The forces included warriors skilled in hurtling spears and use of other weapons of war. Kamehameha’s warriors on foot soon reached a place called ‘Ohaikea in Ka‘ū while at a distance, the fleet of canoes at sea were able to communicate secretly with the land forces by the use of torches at night.

Late 18th century drawing of Hawaiian warriors wearing gourd helmets in double-hulled canoes.

Because of his foresight and in consultation with his warrior trainer Kekūhaupi‘o, Kamehameha understood the challenges and obstacles that lay on his path to battle. The combined forces of his foe exceeded his army of warriors. Thus, he decided to attack his uncle, Keawemauhili of Hilo, first and before Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula and his warriors arrived as reinforcements. Quickly he rearranged his forces and marched toward Pū‘āinakō about two miles above the settlement of Waiākea. According to the mo‘olelo the warriors of Keawemauhili known as Pi‘ipi‘i (kinky or curly) had curly hair and were experts in the use of weapons. Their strength and cleverness could be seen when they leaped into action. This battle near Hilo lasted three days and was fought over a large area.

Soon Keawemauhili’s forces were joined by warriors of Kahekili from Maui led by the fearless warrior Kahāhāwai. It was reported that the fighting was fierce and because the Maui warriors had just arrived, they were fresh and ready to fight. Thus, they were able to force Kamehameha and his warriors to retreat. As Kamehameha was quickly retreating, he was pursued by Kahū‘ena of Maui, another fearless warrior. Finding himself outnumbered, Kamehameha took a fighting stance with his spear and began to approach the Maui warriors ready to fight until help arrived or die. Observing Kamehameha’s position, Kahū‘ena quickly wound his ‘īkoi (tripping club) around his arm and waited for the right moment to disable his enemy. He did not want to kill Kamehameha, but secure him alive. As the ‘īkoi flew in the air toward Kamehameha, he thrust his spear so that the cord wrapped around the spear and quickly pulled Kahū‘ena toward him. Kahū‘ena was unable to release himself and fell on the ground directly in front of Kamehameha. As Kamehameha lifted his spear to punish this warrior with death, he was approached by Kauanoano, a kahu of Keawemauhili.

Kauanoano spoke quietly to Kamehameha saying that the man before him, Kahū‘ena, is dead and that this is not the battle that will help him gain control of the island. There will another battle that will show his bravery. Your warrior, Kekūhaupi‘o, is waiting at the shore near Kea‘au. Upon hearing this, Kamehameha lowered his spear. Kahū‘ena then told his men to turn back and join their fellow warriors. Kamehameha helped Kahū‘ena to stand saying, “We two shall drink the water of Īao.”

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

  • Kamehameha’s actions in battle displayed his leadership skills of listening and reasoning before completing any action as he did with Kahū‘ena.
  • the skilled warriors also possessed endurance and determination as they traveled long distances in preparation for battle.
  • in addition to the kahuna, the kahu or guardian were just as important because they also had the perception and wisdom to make good judgments.

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