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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

October 2006


In the last issue, we followed events that led to the death of Hākau, brother of ‘Umialīloa. Because of the discontent and disgust by the ali‘i, kāhuna, and maka‘āinana with the tyrannical rule of Hākau, many were relieved and fully acknowledged ‘Umi as ali‘i nui as he toured the islands shortly after he came to power. In this issue, we look at the rule of ‘Umi.

As mentioned in the last issue of NWHT, one of the marked change that took place during the rule of ‘Umi was the location of his seat of government. Instead of remaining in Waipi‘o Valley, ‘Umi moved residence to the Kona district in the Kailua area. Why he decided to move from Waipi‘o, the mo‘olelo is silent. However, it was known that the move took place shortly after his marriage to Pi‘ikea, daughter of Pi‘ilani of Maui. Kihaapi‘ilani, brother of Pi‘ikea, asked her to help secure a place of refuge for him because there were attempts on his life by his rival brother, Lonoapi‘ilani and his warriors. Whether that was a reason on ‘Umi’s part to move his residence is unknown.

Eventually, Kihaapi‘ilani appealed to ‘Umi to help him be the ruling chief of Maui . After a year of preparation for an invasion of Maui, ‘Umi and his warriors left Hawai‘i island and landed on the shores of Hana, Maui. They faced the fierce and skilled warriors of Lonoapi‘ilani who held off the Hawai‘i island forces for some time. As the mo‘olelo continues, Ho‘olaemakua, the key leader of Lonoapi‘ilani’s forces was slain. Lonoapi‘ilani was also killed which then placed Kihaapi‘ilani on the throne as ali‘i nui of Maui.

Other than this assault on Maui, the remaining years of ‘Umi’s reign was a relatively peaceful time. He helped to build many large lo‘i in Waipi‘o and Kona. As was the custom for an ali‘i, ‘Umi, as the new ali‘i nui of the island, built several new heiau throughout the island. These heiau had a unique architecture or were rebuilt existing ones. As mentioned in the last issue, the heiau Ahua‘Umi was built on the cinder plain in the saddle between the mountains Mauna Loa and Hualalai at the 5,200 foot level. This particular heiau is above the forest line and far from the coast. The function of the heiau is unknown since its location was a distance from populated areas. However, the mo‘olelo does point out that this was perhaps part of ‘Umi’s residence and the heiau was used for astronomical purposes. Although used as ‘Umi’s residence, it may have been used for only a short while because of the cold elevation and the distance from food. The heiau may not have been used regularly, but it has survived with definite connections to ‘Umi.

Several other heiau scattered throughout the island are also associated with ‘Umi. The use of cut-stone blocks became a unique characteristic of his building technique. One example of this unique type of heiau was Pu‘u Kūki‘i; built atop a cinder cone. It is known that many of the stones were later removed by local residents and by Kalākaua which was used in the building foundations for Iolani Palace. Other heiau in the Kona area built with similar cut-stones were also removed and used in the building of Mokuaikaua, Kailua’s first Christian church.

Mokuaikaua, the first Christian church in Kailua, Kona,
was built in 1823 over a heiau, using the heiau stones.

It was known that during ‘Umi’s time, the population increased. The expansion of the Kona garden systems indicated that settlements grew in large numbers in the uplands while the coastal regions also showed an increase in settlements. All of this showed a period of expansion and prosperity and Kona as the key center of power for Hawai‘i island under ‘Umi. When ‘Umi died in 1620, the rule of Hawai‘i island went to his eldest son, Keali‘iokāloa. The mo‘olelo says little of him other than he was unpopular and the cause of his death was uncertain.

In the next issue of NWHT, we continue the mo‘olelo of ‘Umi’s descendants.

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

  • Pōhaku Hanalei, a heiau built by ‘Umi in Ka‘ū, was covered by lava flows in the 1800s.
  • the heiau was one method a new ali‘i used to establish political control.
  • a sign in population increase during ‘Umi’s time was the building of larger loko i‘a or fish ponds found at the mouth of Waipio Valley, Kaloko and Honokōhau in Kona.

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