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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

November 2008

 


  We come to a point in the mo‘olelo of Kamehameha where we learn more about him as a caring Ali‘i in spite of the challenges he faced. An incident in the mo‘olelo when he was struck on the head by a paddle thatbecame a law, Māmalahoa Kānāwai (Law of the Splintered Paddle) showed his benevolence and care of his people.

After the battles at Laupāhoehoe, Kamehameha remained for some time, tending the lo‘i, fishing and rebuilding the heaiu, Papauleki‘i. But in order for the heiau to be complete, it required the sacrifice of a human. The mo‘olelo tells of Kamehameha’s secret desire to sail to Puna in search of an mōhai or sacrifice for the heiau. He decided to sail on this secret journey during a stormy night instead of during the calm which would have been less challenging. Gathering his skilled paddlers, he ordered them to head towards Puna. After passing the tall cliffs of Hilo, they arrived just outside of Leleiwi as the storm subsided and the early light of dawn appeared. As the canoe floated on the calm sea, Kamehameha ordered the canoe toward the landing place at Pāpa‘i in Kea‘au as he had seen some people near the shoreline mending their nets and women fishing nearby.

Upon seeing the canoe, the women alerted the others. As the men stood up, they looked directly at the canoe and realized that it could possibly be a spy canoe for Kamehameha. Fear quickly overcame these fishermen and they decided to run towards the hala groves of Puna. At the same time, Kamehameha called out for them not to run, but to stop as he wanted to talk to them. When the fishermen heard this, they ran faster. Kamehameha jumped off the canoe in pursuit of the men while continuing to call to them not to run. The fishermen soon realized that the weight of their nets would slow them down as the pursuer was closing the distance between them. They quickly devised a plan to run along the pāhoehoe where many crevices were covered by grass. They soon heard a thud. Looking back they saw the stranger had fallen into one of the crevices and could not free himself.

Seeing that the stranger was helpless, the men devised a plan that would cause him harm. In the meantime, Kamehameha tried to get his foot out of the crevice but it held fast. He soon saw a man approaching with a fishnet in one hand and a paddle in the other. The Puna fisherman planned to ensnare the stranger with the fishnet so that he would be able to strike him on the head with the paddle. Just as planned, the fisherman threw the net over Kamehameha’s head and entangling his arms. Upon realizing that he was ensnared in the net like the black crab seen in these crevices along the shore, Kamehameha began to tear the net with his strong hands. At that moment, he was struck on his forehead by the paddle.

After recovering from his dizziness from being struck by the paddle, he quickly tore the net apart, grabbed a piece of rock and threw it at the men. It missed them and struck a noni tree close by which fell over. When the fishermen realized the strength of the stranger, they were terrified and ran as fast as they could. Kamehameha’s steersman soon arrived and by gently turning the foot was able to free Kamehameha from the crevice.

It was from this incident that Māmalahoa Kānāwai was proclaimed by Kamehameha. The first word māmala refers to the splintering of the paddle when Kamehameha was hit on the head. In addition, it revealed that the people of Puna were spared from attack by those stronger. The law, to protect the weak from the strong, proclaimed “let the old men go and lie by the roadside, let the old women go and lie by the roadside, let the children go and lie by the roadside and no one shall harm them.”

 

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

  • Holo‘ae, Kamehameha’s kahuna or spiritual adviser, foresaw that Kamehameha would be hit on the head, but not in battle which would result in a law.
  • Pāpa‘i, the place where Kamehameha was struck on the head with a paddle, is now called King’s Landing.
  • Pāpa‘i, literally means the crab.

This photo is taken at Leleiwi on the southeast coast outside Hilo, looking toward Puna and Pāpa‘i,
also know as King's Landing.
Photo by Roy Alameida

 

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