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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida


October 2004


Hawai‘i’s history, preserved in chants and song, was formally recited in the high chief’s court or in an informal family gathering. This narrative historical chronology was ordered by the genealogy of the high chief, which went back to the time that the gods walked the earth. Their genealogies memorized and recited on significant occasions, such as a birth, proved their descent from Kāne, Kū, Lono and Kanaloa, the four great gods of Polynesia. What do we know about the chiefs of that time? What did they do? Who were Hawai’i ’s good chiefs? Who were the rebels? How many of us today can name these powerful chiefs (male and female)?

The fragments of Hawai‘i’s history that exist at all is due to the determination of certain individuals in the 19 th century to preserve a rapidly dying culture. In the 1830s a small group of students at Maui ’s Lahainaluna Seminary earnestly interviewed and collected from kūpuna (some reluctant to share their knowledge) the legends, genealogies, cultural traditions and historical memories of the times before the arrival of the haole or foreigner. The work of David Malo and Samuel Manaiākalani Kamakau and others are preserved in print so that generations following can learn the wisdom of the culture past.

In the last 30 years the interest in Hawaiian culture and history has increased especially with the events surrounding the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. In the following issues of the Northwest Hawai`i Times biographical sketches of Hawai‘i’s ali‘i will be published to perhaps help us understand the forces, events, and people who have shaped Hawai‘i. These sketches will in no way be all inclusive. There are many of the ali‘i whose name and knowledge of their place in Hawai‘i’s history have fallen without trace.

Although the chiefs are now gone, the history of Hawai‘i must not be forgotten. That Hawai‘i has changed from the first settlers to the spreading of the population, to the rise of multiple and complex political systems, to the clashes between chiefdoms, to the unification of the islands, we still know little of these times and the chiefs who ruled. However, in many ways, the ali‘i are still with us. In the mele (chants); in the mo‘olelo (stories); in the mo‘okūauhao (genealogy).

Papahānaumoku and Wākea

Although the oral traditions move from real persons to more mythical settings, events and persons, these oral histories are the most vital sources about the past. There are several genealogy lines, but the one perhaps most chanted was the genealogy of Kumuhonua and his wife Lalohonua that continued for thirty-six generations until the birth of Papahānaumoku, known as Earth Mother, the life-giving land; the progenitor of the Hawaiian people. And her husband, Wākea, Sky Father, all that belongs to the heavens. Papa, a chiefess of the highest rank, was a handsome woman noted for her skill in fishing for pāpa‘i (crab). Wākea, who inherited the kingdom, was the second son of Kahiko and Kūpūlanikehau. The legends remain silent as to how this couple met or where they lived, but they did produce a daughter, Ho‘ohōkūkalani, a lovely young lady, whose beauty was desired by her father.

Wākea’s relationship with his daughter produced a premature child named Hāloa-naka. He did not live long, and his body was buried in one corner of the house and from this burial place grew the first kalo; the staple food of the Hawaiian people. Hāloa, the second son born to Wākea and his daughter, is the first ali‘i nui and ancestor of all Hawaiians.

Ua ‘Ike Anei ‘Oe (did you know…)

  • That the Kumuhonua genealogy is the lineage of Papahānaumoku and covers over 925 years of history.
  • That Hāloa-naka, the kalo plant, is also the older brother of Hawaiians.

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