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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

March 2008



The mo‘olelo continues with a review of the battle at Moku‘ōhai.

In the last issue of NWHT, we read about the battle of Moku‘ōhai and the result of that battle. Sadly, the thousands of well-trained warriors equipped with pololū (long wooden spears,) pohaku ‘alā o ka ma‘a (slingstones) and ‘īkoi (tripping club) were Hawaiians fighting Hawaiians, cousins fighting cousins, and women standing behind their husbands as a display of loyalty to their ali‘i. The strategy for a victorious battle was a scene of thrusting pololū spears and flying ‘īkoi. With wild voices of battle heard from both sides, men with strong arms seized and tore at each other breaking limbs and bones. Samuel Kamakau provides the account of Moa, an eyewitness:

The polulu spears and the ihe spears rained down like bath water; blood flowed like water and soaked into the dry earth of that hill. The spears were entangled (hihia ana) like a rainbow arched on both sides. 1

Today, Moku‘ōhai is a historic place and archaeological site. William Ellis from the London Missionary Society, who traveled around Hawai‘i Island in 1823, described the place as

The scene of this sanguinary engagement [Moku‘ōhai] was a large tract of rugged lava, the whole superficies of which had been broken up by an earthquake.

Since leaving Keei, we had seen several heaps of stones raised over the bones of the slain, but they now became mush more numerous.

As we passed along, our guide pointed out the place where Tairi, [Kūka‘ilimoku], Tamehameha’s war god, stood, surrounded by the priests, and, a little further on, he shewed us the place where Tamehameha himself, his sisters, and friends, fought during the early part of the eighth day.

A few minutes after we had left it, we reached a large heap of stones overgrown with moss, which marks the spot where Kauikeaouli [Kīwala‘ō] was slain.

The numerous piles of stone which we saw in every direction, convinced us that the number of those who fell on both sides must have been considerable. 2

The archaeological studies done on Ke‘ei have found some puoa or burial platforms but not as many according to the observed accounts, such as that from Ellis. Since his observation of the battlefield, the area has “become overgrown, with some of the platforms worn by time and cattle. But, in general, the place remains intact.” 3

As the mo‘olelo continues that although the battle appeared to favor Kīwala‘ō, the tide soon turned and brought victory to the side of Kekūhaupi‘o. It confirmed his knowledge and guidance on the battlefield, bringing victory to his foster son, Kamehameha.

After the battle, Hawai‘i Island was divided into three moku or districts, ruled by three Ali‘i ai moku (district chiefs); Kamehameha ruled Kona, Kohala, and a portion of Hāmākua; Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula, his cousin, ruled Ka‘ū and a portion of Puna; and Keawemauhili, hi uncle, ruled over the remaining portion of Puna, Hilo, and the remaining portion of Hāmākua.

Kamehameha, surrounded by his supporters and fearless warriors, prepared for further retaliation and land control.


1 Kamakau, S. M. (1992). Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Honolulu: HI: Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate.

2 Ellis, W. (1979). Journal of William Ellis. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company.

3 Cordy, R. (2000). Exalted sits the Chief. Honolulu, HI: Mutual Publishing.


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

  • Haui ka Lani was the oli that irritated and aroused jealousy in Keawemauhili, uncle of Kamehameha.
  • the oli, Haui ka Lani (Fallen is the Chief), composed before his birth foretold that Kamehameha would prevail over his cousin, Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula, for control of Hawai‘i Island.
  • Kīwala‘ō left behind a daughter, Keōpūolani, who was raised on Maui.

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