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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

September 2007


In this issue of NWHT, we continue with the mo‘oleo of Cook’s arrival in Hawai‘i from the Kanaka Maoli point of view as described by Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau.

The mo‘olelo of the arrival of Cook on Kaua‘i began to spread to the other islands. Ka‘eokūlani, ali‘i of Kaua‘i, sent messengers to O‘ahu to share what had happened and to describe the appearance of foreigners. Their speech was described like the twittering of the ‘o‘o bird along with a long cooing and a high chirping sound. They were described as covered with cloth, with a triangular shape on their head and covering on their feet. There was also fire and smoke out of their mouths similar to Pele’s fire.

Kalani‘opu‘u, ali‘i of Hawai‘i Island, was on Maui fighting against Kahekili, ali‘i of Maui, when he heard about the foreigners on Kaua‘i. When he was told that the ships resembled a heiau with a tower built on it and sails shaped like a sting ray, Kalani‘opu‘u said “that was surely Lono [god of agriculture]. He has come back from Kahiki. Life is ours! The god of our ancestors has returned.”

After replenishing their food supplies and satisfying interactions with the Kanaka Maoli on Kaua‘i, Cook and his crew sailed to the northwest in search of the Northwest Passage. After sailing along the Alaskan coast and unable to locate the passage, Cook sailed along the Pacific Northwest coast before heading south toward the Hawaiian Islands. On the evening of November 19, 1779, the ships appeared off the northeast coast of Maui. When the Kanaka Maoli saw that its appearance fit the description given by the messengers from Kaua‘i a year earlier, there was no end to the excitement. “The tower of Lono! The god of our fathers,” they cried. “Lono has returned from Kahiki.” Canoes surrounded the ships with Kanaka Maoli wanting to visit the heiau of Lono.

Among the crowd was a young Hawaiian warrior who one day would change the course of the Hawaiian Kingdom. He was Kamehameha. Persuaded by his brother Kala‘imamahu to remain on board the ship, Kamehameha and his companions sailed away over night and by morning disappeared from sight. Kalani‘opu‘u, his uncle, thought that his nephew had gone to Kahiki. He was upset and ordered his men to find him and bring him back. When the canoe was sighted by Kamehameha, he pointed out the canoe to Cook and then pointed to Maui. Instead Cook pointed to the ship and then to Hawai‘i Island. Kamehameha repeated his request. Cook reluctantly turned the ship about and anchored at Wailua, located along the northeast coast between Hana and Keanae. Apparently, Kamehameha got off the ship and reunited with Kalani‘opu‘u.

According to Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau, it would be eleven days before Cook’s ship sailed the channel between Maui and Hawai‘i Island. Sailing close to the Kohala coast, Cook landed near Kukuipahu located near the ‘Awini, the birthplace of Kamehameha. Large numbers of onlookers were visible on the cliffs along the coastline. They came from ‘Awini to Kekaha and from the uplands of Waimea to see this heiau of Lono. Many of the Kanaka Maoli who boarded the ships were in awe of what they saw. The telescope used by one of the foreigners was described as “makaloa” or long-eyes and namaka‘ōka‘a or eyes that rove like the kilo hōkū or stargazers who observe the heavens at night.

After Cook bought hogs and other food items in exchange for pieces of iron, he sailed to the northeast past Hāmākua, Hilo, Puna, Ka‘ū and anchored at Ka‘awaloa in Kealakekua Bay on January 17, 1779.

We continue the mo‘olelo of Cook’s arrival at Kealakekua in the next issue of the NWHT.

Kealalekua Bay in 1778-79 when English Capt. James Cook arrived in the Islands.
Kealakekua Bay as it looks today. At the flat lava leaf across the bay is a plaque making the spot where Cook was killed, and only stones remains of the village of Ka`awaloa. Photo by NWHIT.


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

  • Cook’s arrival in Hawai‘i in 1779 was a cold winter because Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa were capped with snow, according to Kamakau.
  • Kamakau hints that warfare did take place during the time of Makahiki when supposedly battles were to cease.
  • Cook’s arrival played out the oral traditions of Lono’s arrival during Makahiki.

Source: Kamakau, S.M. (1992). Ruling Chiefs. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate.


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