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Updated: Mar 11

Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii

Samuel Kamakau


Revised Edition Copyright © 1992

Pgs 379-385

                                                          CHAPTER XXIX

                                                     Passing of the Chiefs

Kii: Peter Hurd, 1948. Courtesy of Mānoa Heritage Center.


    The famous events in the kingdom of Hawaii in the time when Ke-ka-ulu-ohi was premier, were told abroad. There had never been a time when there was so much trouble in the kingdom from the outside as in the time of Ke-ka-ulu-ohi. There was also some local trouble, but it melted away and the kingdom was entirely freed of it. She beheld the faces and the dead bodies of the messengers who were sent to gain the independence of the kingdom of her ruler. It was obtained, and her eyes saw it, but she did not partake of the fruits of that great blessing ere she died on the seventh of June, 1845.

    Let us turn back to scan the lives of other chiefs who died while she held the premiership of the kingdom. She held it for six years and two months. I am going to relate an account of certain famous high chiefs, that they may be remembered by the generations of the future.

    Ka-piʻo-lani died in Honolulu in the early part of the year 1841. She was born in Hilo during the reign of Ka-lani-ʻopuʻu, in 1781. Her mother Ke-kiki-paʻa was the daughter of Ka-meʻe-ia-moku and the sister of Ulu-meheihei Hoa-pili. Her father was Keawe-maʻu-hili, a high-ranking chief and a sacred one in the time of Ka-lani-ʻopuʻu. He was the only chief made tabu according to the royal tabu of Hawaii. He was the Keawe whose genealogy was doubled and multiplied [in the blood lines] of Hawaii according to those who are skilled in genealogies. He had the right to walk on the banks (kuauna) [of sacred patches], on the sacred platform (paepae) of Liloa, and to the nioi wood of Kahou-kapu that was streaked and darkened at Pakaʻalana. Because he was a great and high chief some of the chiefs of Kona were sorry when he was taken captive at Napoʻopoʻo at the battle of Mokuʻohai. Therefore he was secretly liberated by Kanuha, a chief who guarded him. As several other chiefs were agreeable to this freeing of Keawe-maʻu-hili by Kanuha, the latter went unpunished. Keawe was led by way of the mountain to Paʻauhau in Hamakua and later became the ruler of Hilo.

    When Kamehameha was at war with the chiefs of Hilo, Ka-piʻo-lani almost died when they fled to the forest. Those who were in charge of her (kahu malama) tossed her into a clump of ferns (ʻamaʻumaʻu) because her weight retarded them when danger was near. Another man, in walking through the forest, heard a child's cry and drew near to investigate. He discovered that the wailing voice belonged to his chiefess who had been cast aside. He picked her up and ran with sorrow for her in his heart. The name of the man was Hoʻomii. This we know, Ka-piʻo-lani might have died. If an enemy had found her, then she would have been killed. . . . The power of God cared for her and preserved her life. When Keawe-maʻu-hili died in a battle with Keoua Kuahu-ʻula, the chiefs of Hilo joined forces with Kamehameha. Ka-piʻo-lani and her brothers, the sons of Keawe-maʻu-hili, went to live with Kamehameha. Ke-kiki-paʻa was a cousin of Kamehameha, and Ka-meʻe-ia-moku and Ka-manawa were her fathers (makua kane). Therefore when Keawe-maʻu-hili was killed by Keoua Kuahu-ʻula at ʻAlae in Hilo-pali-ku [East Hilo], Ke-kiki-paʻa and her daughter Ka-piʻo-lani followed Kamehameha. Ka-piʻo-lani was reared with tabu at Kealia in South Kona. When she grew up several heiaus were erected for the gods of Ka-piʻo-lani, and she went to impose the tabu for them according to her royal rank. The very sacred part of the heiau was tabu to chiefesses, and no woman, royal or otherwise, escaped death when she drew near to it. Only the sacred chiefesses, whose tabu equalled that of a god, went into the Hale-o-Papa and ate of the dedicated foods of the heiaus. So was Ka-piʻo-lani's tabu in ancient times when she grew up. Chiefesses had various husbands, but when she was wedded to Haiha Na-ihe she remained with him up to the time when the chiefs departed for Oahu with the peleleu fleet. Ka-piʻo-lani was among those who accompanied Kamehameha to Oahu. While the chiefs were there an epidemic called ʻokuʻu arrived and many died of it, both chiefs and commoners, from Hawaii to Kauai. Ka-piʻo-lani caught the disease and her hair fell out. The sparing of her life was a blessing from God.

    When Kamehameha and the chiefs of Hawaii returned home on the royal journey called Niʻau-kani, she was among those returning to Hawaii, after which she made her home at Kaʻawaloa. When Kamehameha died at Kamakahonu, Kailua, she was one of the chiefs who, in their ignorance, mourned (kaʻa kumakena) for him with unseemly behavior. This shameless behavior was called an affectionate mourning (kumakena aloha aliʻi) for the chief.

    The battle of Kuamoʻo, which was fought over the free eating of the sexes, was won by those in favor of a free-eating government. While the question was being debated between those who favored the freeing and those who desired to retain tabu eating, Ka-piʻo-lani and her husband were in doubt over the free-eating. When it became widespread in Kailua Ka-piʻo-lani came to partake in the free eating while her husband adhered to the old ways. After the free-eating government became established all doubt and desire to remain in the old ways of the wooden images was removed.

    Only the royal tabu remained with Ka-piʻo-lani. She was a chiefess whose eyes bespoke her royal lineage, and those who were not well acquainted with her feared her. Her eyes reddened when she became angry and she did not associate with those of low rank (noanoa) and country people. None dared to stare at her in their desire to see her honored person or at seeing her for the first time. She liked amusements (leʻaleʻa) and intoxication, and spent much time in seeking fun as was customary with chiefs. Where her heart could find pleasure there went her mind and body, paying no heed to any advice. Advice only vexed her. Only a few of the chiefs heeded.

    When Liholiho, Kamehameha II, was on Oahu Ka-piʻo-lani learned to read and she joined Kameha-malu in seeking knowledge in reading and writing. She learned to do both and often attended the missionary school at Kawaiahaʻo. When the king, Liholiho, and the queen sailed to England the troubles in the kingdom had ceased. The chiefs were not drinking so much, the interest in hula, in sex-attracting games at night (ʻaha ʻume o ka po) and other defiling amusements had decreased.

    When the rulers departed for England, Ka-piʻo-lani still continued in pleasure seeking. Reading and writing were highly regarded but not the worshiping of God as one of the finest experiences to be had by a person. She had often heard the teachings of the missionaries and the sermons on the Sabbath. She was a bright person and wrote down the sermons of the ministers and preachers on the Sabbaths with her own hand and offered grace at table (pule ʻaina) and family prayers (pule ʻohana).

    After her return to Hawaii she settled on the land belonging to herself and her husband at Kaʻawaloa, and established the teaching of reading and writing to those of their household and to the commoners of their lands, Kaʻawaloa and Kealakekua. There were also meetings of encouragement and she selected two men already versed in the alphabet to instruct her people.

    Ka-piʻo-lani encouraged learning and converted her husband Na-ihe to righteousness, but the families [of their people] were unstable and frivolous (uwehewehe o kalua ʻapana). The two continued to strive in righteousness, and such prominent people as Kamakau, Ke-poʻo-kulou and others, and the lesser chiefs all joined with her. Her name became famous as belonging to a religious chiefess. She sailed to Kailua to meet with the ministers (kahuna pule) for the purpose of strengthening her faith and to repent of her sins. She became famed as a mother of righteousness, according to the word of God, and as a friend of missionaries.

  Here is another thing: her faith in the word of God, her trust in Him and her belief that the deified gods of her ancestors were worthless. She believed that the earth-consuming and volcanic fires were creations of Jehovah and were nothing to be feared.

    She was the first chiefess to go and see the volcano in 1823. Many were priests of Pele who came to her to warn her not to go down to the pit lest she perish. She replied, "Jehovah is the great God who made heaven and earth and it was He who made the volcano. I am going down to the pit to behold His wondrous work." Going to the crater was something that was fraught with fear and dread, and all travelers who passed on the trail near the crater did so with gifts, offerings, and prayer chants, without touching any of the foliage and fruit near it lest the cold rains (ʻawa) and storms (ʻino) come, and they perish. It was feared and dreaded in ancient times. Ka-piʻo-lani had no doubt that the power of the gods defied by men had fallen away. The God who held the power was the One who was not created by man and that was the Holy Trinity. When she upheld the name of Jehovah God, she triumphed over the priests of Pele who falsely prophesied her death. Therefore she became famous as the first chiefess to descend to the crater of Pele. From that time her faith was established that Jehovah was God and King eternal. Therefore she strived for and upheld the righteousness of the great God and the entering into Jesus' sheepfold. She was one of the first fruits in the church of Jesus here in Hawaii. She entered the sheepfold of Jesus Christ and was baptized in the church of the Lord to be a disciple of Jesus, in the month of October, 1825.


"In 1823 a delegation of missionaries went around the island Hawaii. They visited the volcano Kilauea and wrote the first really good description of the crater and its activity. The natives were astonished to see the perfect safety of the missionaries, although the worship and tabus of Pele were absolutely ignored. Ohelo[1] berries and strawberries growing on the brink of the crater were freely eaten and the lake of fire explored without even a thought of fear of the goddess.

In the course of their journey the missionaries met a priestess of Pele. The priestess, assuming a haughty air, said: "I am Pele, I shall never die. Those who follow me, if part of their bones are taken to Kilauea, will live in the bright fire there." A missionary said, "Are you Pele?" She said, "Yes, I am Pele," then proceeded to state her powers. A chief of low rank who had been a royal messenger under Kamehameha, and who was making the journey with the missionaries, interrupted the woman, saying: "Then it is true, you are Pele, and have destroyed the land, killed the people, and have spoiled the fishing-grounds. If I were the king I would throw you into the sea." The priestess was quick-witted and said that truly she had done some harm, but the rum of the foreigners was far more destructive.

All this prepared the way for Kapiolani to attempt to break down the worship of the fire-goddess. It must be remembered that Kapiolani had been under the influence of thoughtful civilization only about three years when she decided that she would attack the idolatry which, of all idol worship, was the most firmly entrenched in the hearts of her people because it was founded on the mysterious forces of nature. She accepted implicitly the word of the missionaries, that their God was the one god of nature. Therefore she had rejected the fire-goddess with all the other deities formerly worshipped in Hawaii. She was, however, practically alone in her determination to strike a blow against the worship of Pele.

Priests of Pele were numerous on the island Hawaii. Women were among those of highest rank in that priesthood. Many of the personal followers of Kapiolani were worshippers. Even Na-ihe, her husband, had not been able to free himself from superstitious fears. When Kapiolani said that she was going to prove the falsity of the worship of Pele, there was a storm of heartfelt opposition. The priests and worshippers of Pele honestly believed that divine punishment would fall on her. Those who were Christians were afraid that some awful explosion might overwhelm the company, as a large body of warriors had been destroyed thirty-four years before.

Na-ihe, still strongly under the influence of superstition, urged her not to go. All this opposition arose from her warm friends. When her determination was seen to be immovable, some of the priests of Pele became bitterly angry and in their rage prophesied most awful results.

When Kapiolani left her home in Kona her people, with great wailing, again attempted to persuade her to stay with them. The grief, stimulated by fear of things supernatural, was uncontrollable. The people followed their chiefess some distance with prayers and tears.

For more than a hundred miles she journeyed, usually walking, sometimes having a smooth path, but again having to cross miles of the roughest, most rugged and sharp-edged lava on the island Hawaii. At last the party came to the vicinity of the volcano. This was not by the present road, but along the smoother, better way, used for centuries on the south side of the crater toward the ocean.

Toward the close of the day they crossed steaming cracks and chasms and drew nearer

to the foul-smelling, gaseous clouds of smoke which blew toward them from the great crater. Here a priestess of Pele of the highest rank came to meet the party and turn them away from the dominions of the fire-goddess unless they would offer appropriate sacrifices. She knew Kapiolani's purpose, and determined to frustrate it.

Formerly there had been a temple near the brink of the crater on the southeast side. This, according to Ellis, bore the name Oala-laua. He says, "It was a temple of Pele, of which Ka-maka-a-ke-akua (The-eye-of-God), a distinguished soothsayer who died in the reign of Kamehameha, was many years priest." The temple was apparently deserted at the time of the overthrow of the tabu in 1819, and the priests had gone to the lower and better cultivated lands of Puna, where they had their headquarters. However, they still worshipped Pele and sacrificed to her.

This priestess who faced Kapiolani was very haughty and bold. She forbade her to approach any nearer to the volcano on pain of death at the hands of the furious goddess Pele.

"Who are you?" asked Kapiolani.

"I am one in whom the God dwells."

"If God dwells in you, then you are wise and can teach me. Come and sit down."

The priestess had seen printed pages or heard about them, so she drew out a piece of kapa, or paper made from the bark of trees,[1] and saying that this was a letter from Pele began to read or rather mumble an awful curse.

The people with Kapiolani were hushed into a terrified silence, but she listened quietly until the priestess, carried beyond her depth, read a confused mass of jumbled words, and unintelligible noises, which she called "The dialect of the ancient Pele."

Then Kapiolani took her spelling-book, and a little book of a few printed hymns, and said: "You have pretended to deliver a message from your god, but we have not understood it. Now I will read you a message which you can understand, for I, too, have a letter." Then she read clearly the Biblical sentences printed in the spelling-book and some of the hymns. The priestess was silenced.

Meanwhile, the missionaries at Hilo, a hundred and fifty miles from Kona, heard that Kapiolani had started on this strenuous undertaking. They felt that some one of the Christian teachers should be with her. Mr. Ruggles had been without shoes for several months and could not go. Mr. Goodrich, the other missionary stationed at Hilo, was almost as badly off, but was more accustomed to travelling barefoot. So he went up through the tangled masses of sharp-edged lava, grass, strong-leaved ferns, and thick woods to meet the chiefess as she came to the crater.

Kapiolani passed the priestess, went on to the crater, met Mr. Goodrich, and was much affected by the effort he had made to aid her in her attempt to break down the worship of Pele. It was now evening, and a hut was built to shelter her until the next day came, when she could have the opportunity of descending into the crater.

Mr. Richards, a missionary, later wrote as follows: "Along the way to the volcano she was accosted by multitudes and entreated not to proceed. She answered, 'If I am destroyed, then you may all believe in Pele, but if I am not, you must all turn to the true writings.'"

The great crater at that time had a black ledge or shelf, below which the active lakes and fountains of fire, in many places, broke through and kept turbulent a continually changing mass over five miles in circumference. Here in the large cones built up by leaping lava, the natives said, were the homes of the family of Pele. Here the deities amused themselves in games. The roaring of the furnaces and crackling of flames was the music of drums beaten for the accompaniment of the household dances. The red flaming surge was the surf wherein they played.

As the morning light brought a wonderful view of the Lua Pele (The-pit-of-Pele) with its great masses of steam and smoke rising from the immense field of volcanic activity below, and as the rush of mighty waves of lava broke again and again against the black ledge with a roar exceeding that of a storm-driven surf beating upon rocky shores, and as fierce explosions of gases bursting from the underworld in a continual cannonade, deafened the ears of the company, Kapiolani prepared to go down to defy Pele.

This must have been one of the few grand scenes of history. There was the strong, brave convert to Christianity standing above the open lake of fire, the red glowing lava rolling in waves below, with rough blocks of hardened lava on every side, the locks (Pele's hair) of the fire-goddess, torn out and whirling around in the air, the timid fearful faces of the people and their attitude of terror and anxiety showing the half-hope that the tabu might be broken and the half-dread lest the evil spirit might breathe fire upon them and destroy them at once.

Mr. Richards says: "A man whose duty it was to feed Pele, by throwing berries and the like into the volcano, entreated her to go no farther. 'And what,' said she, 'will be the harm?' The man replied, 'You will die by Pele.' Kapiolani answered, 'I shall not die by your god. That fire was kindled by my God.' The man was silent and she went onward, descending several hundred feet, and there joined in a prayer to Jehovah. She also ate the berries consecrated to Pele, and threw stones into the volcano."

Bingham in his "Sandwich Islands" says: "Then with the terrific bellowing and whizzing of the volcanic gases they mingled their voices in a solemn hymn of praise to the true God, and at the instance of the chiefess, Alapai, one of Kapiolani's attendants, led them in prayer."

The party returned to the brink of the crater, and journeyed down to Hilo.

Alexander in the "History of the Hawaiian People" says, "This has justly been called one of the greatest acts of moral courage ever performed."

Richards states that the leader of Kapiolani's party said to him: "All the people of the district saw that she was not injured and have pronounced Pele to be powerless."

Kapi'olani preceded Ka-ʻahu-manu and others but followed Puaʻa-iki Batimea that same year.

    Ka-piʻo-lani became known as a religious chiefess who lowered her royal prestige and became as a mother to the lowly commoners and the poor. She associated with everyone, talked with all, discussed their troubles, and prayed with the humble. She visited the sick, those in trouble, and aided the poor who were in poor health. The causes that had made her feared were all gone. Old men and women and the religious had no fear of standing in her presence for she was their friend. Ka-piʻo-lani's table was ready to share a feast with them in love, but the wrongdoers were fearful of her and dared not approach her presence. On the lands belonging to herself and her husband at Kaʻawaloa and Kealake-kua she placed a strict law against drinking intoxicants. Anyone caught drinking was fined five pigs a fathom in length; so it was with adultery, prostitution, idolatry and other sins committed on their lands.

    Ka-piʻo-lani was like the foreigners, and the duties of a foreign (haole) woman were those that she undertook. She and the girls of her household were adept in mixing bread dough, in baking bread, cake making, making rolls, soups, frying, and the preparation of all kinds of foods. Her table was laden with the food of the foreigners.

    Her household was well kept. The attire of the women was neat and tidy and resembled that of the foreigners. Those who waited on the table, wore dresses (pukiki). She constantly wore dresses as well as linen holoku of all kinds. She was comparable to a foreign woman. A sewing basket was always near her left hand and she took her work along with her wherever she went, even to the homes of the missionaries. Ka-piʻo-lani was known as a woman who wasted no time. While at home she frequently sewed or sought other pursuits of the missionary women. When she rode on horseback at Kailua or in the upland of Kuapehu where the missionaries lived, she used only the sidesaddle with her sewing basket on her left arm. Whether she rode on Maui or Oahu this was still her custom. The chiefs and commoners called her the white (haole) chiefess. When she travelled on the Sabbath her basket contained a Bible, a writing tablet and a lead pencil; and whatever sermon the preacher gave was jotted down as well as comments on the sermon.

    When there was a lack of the Word of God, before it was translated into the Hawaiian language, it was in the sermons of the preachers on the Sabbath and on Wednesdays that one heard the verses from the Holy Scriptures. Many were the verses written down by Ka-piʻo-lani in her writing tablets, and her knowledge was great. When the Bible was printed hers became her sleeping companion. She divided the time of day into periods for work, for eating, for praying, for reading and teaching the Bible to relatives and members of her household, for a women's gathering, and to meet with the missionary teachers. The home of Ka-piʻo-lani and Na-ihe was close to that of their missionary teachers at Kaʻawaloa.*†

    When Mr. Samuel Ely (Eli), the missionary teacher who lived with Ka-piʻo-lani at Kaʻawaloa in West Kona and was made pastor of the congregation there, saw how ill Ka-piʻo-lani was, and Mrs. Ely spoke to her of their affection for her Ka-piʻo-lani said, "I will obey God's will. If God wills it I will go to live with God and be freed from sin. Before I was afraid to die, but that is ended through Christ." This was in July, 1824. In August she went to Oahu and there met Mr. Richards and they talked together. She said, "Among the chiefs I hear nothing but talk about dress, lands, money, buying and selling, the kingdom, and things of that sort. I desire to hear about Jehovah, Christ, and the holy kingdom of heaven. . . . There I shall have joy, and my pain will be relieved." Mr. Ely asked her about her joy in the house of God. She said, "I have joy in my heart when I listen to the words of Christ. When I learned of God my heart yearned toward him. When I learned of heaven my heart climbed to heaven. That is the way it is with me. It seems as if I had two hearts, one that loves Christ and the word of God, the other that does not desire to pray and go to the Sabbath service and the meetings." ... In November, 1926, Mr. Ely wrote of her, "Perhaps there is not another woman in this group of islands who recognizes more clearly the meaning of true faith in God."

    Ka-piʻo-lani's home at Kuapehu in Kaʻawaloa impressed the visitor with its beauty, order, and absence of drunkenness. It was thanks to her skill, good management, wisdom, and care that the house was so beautiful and even grand with a nice yard planted with beautiful and rare flowers such as were not to be seen anywhere on these islands, not even in the king's court, save at Kuapehu alone. Nor was its mistress to be found sleeping on the mat, playing cards, or amusing herself in improper ways. Nothing improper was ever done in her presence. There might be a meeting going on, a Bible reading, or if not that she might be teaching her women companions to sew tight dresses, shirts, trousers, coats, vests, to make quilts out of tiny pieces, clean house, and to live with dignity. She used to receive strangers and the missionaries with kindness and send her horses freely for the use of strangers who were sightseeing at Kailua, since in those days only the chiefs and the richer foreigners kept horses. If visitors wished to visit the volcano she sent them by canoe to Ka-ʻu, and she would furnish them with provisions for the journey and order her men to take nothing for their services. She would also help the poor. Some four months before she died she made the circuit of Ka-ʻu, called at the homes of the poor, and saw their distress; she gave them her own clothes and mats and wept and prayed over them. At Hilo she was overjoyed to meet the missionary teachers and she did much good there, going into the high school and encouraging the pupils. One of them named Hoa-ʻai has told me how she wept as she was praying, urged the pupils to become educated in order to help the government, and said that true education was the fear of God.

    But Ka-piʻo-lani had a disease of the breast, and the foreigners urged her returning to Kona and putting herself under Dr. Andrew's treatment. He sent her to Honolulu, the doctors advised her to have the breast removed, and she consented. They cut away the greater part and she did not move or groan or cry out. When Dr. Judd asked her if she suffered she said, "It is painful, but I think of Christ who suffered on the cross for me and I am able to bear it." After some days she was better and met some of the chiefs and the young king. Hearing that she was one of the chiefs appointed to legislate for the land, she prepared to sail to Lahaina; but going about so much in the heat of the sun to see her friends she was overcome with a fever, and she died in Honolulu on May 5, 1841, the same day of the year as her birth.

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