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The Death of Kalani‘ōpu‘u and a Power Struggle

Updated: Nov 21, 2022


Originally published in

Ka Hoku o Hawaii

Kamehameha and his warrior Kekūhaupi‘o

Written in Hawaiian by Reverend Stephen L. Desha

Translated by Frances N. Frazier

Produced with the assistance of the State of Hawai‘i Historic Preservation Division, DLNR

Kamehameha Schools Press Honolulu • 2000 Kamehameha and his warrior Kekūhaupiʻo pg 113-122


“Tomorrow we shall go to see the corpse of the king, our makua ali‘i.” Kīwala‘ō approved of these words, and after they bade each other farewell, he returned to Hōnaunau.

On the next day Kamehameha and his chiefs, whose names have been previously mentioned, went to see the corpse of King Kalani‘ōpu‘u and to hear of the new division of lands by this new ruler of the island of Hawai‘i.


On the arrival of Kamehameha and his people at Haleokeawe at Hōnaunau, the wails of mourning resounded, as this was the first time Kamehameha had seen the bodily remains of his uncle. When the chiefs’ wailing ended, young King Kīwala‘ō stood forth to make an announcement before the chiefs of the land. It was the custom amongst the chiefs of this land that when a ruler died, his land divisions also “died,” and the right to portion out land was inherited by the ruler who took his place. Therefore, the grants of land by Kalani‘ōpu‘u to his chiefs who had helped him in his wars became void, and the new king had the power to announce his new apportionments of land. If Kīwala‘ō had been just, and he had announced the continuation of his father’s land apportionments, then perhaps there would have been no reason for a fight between him and his kinsman, Kamehameha. Here are Kīwala‘ō’s words before the chiefs gathered there on that day:

‘Auhea ‘oukou, O chiefs and commoners gathered here: Two of us were given bequests by the dead: myself and my kaikaina [younger kinsman], Kamehameha. The bequest to my kaikaina was our god, Kūkā‘ilimoku, and the land previously given him by our makua kāne is his. I have no right to take this land, it is his. My bequest was the kingdom. I am the ruler over the entire kingdom. I cannot take the portion of land granted by our makua kāne, nor has he the right to take all the lands of the kingdom, all these lands are under my authority. That was the firm bequest of the deceased while he was alive, and you, O chiefs, heard these words by my father whose body lies before you today.


When the Kona chiefs heard these words by King Kīwala‘ō, which did not disclose his thoughts of new land apportionments, they grumbled amongst themselves and said:

How strange! How remarkable that our ruler has no word concerning occupancy in the future. He is taking the entire land for himself. He is not dividing the six land divisions equally between the two of them, three of the land divisions on the east for himself and his chiefs, and also three on the west for his kaikaina and his chiefs. All these districts are for him and his chiefs of the east side, and we shall all be impoverished under our new king, for it is clear who his favorites are in his court. There is only one thing that shall secure benefits for us, and that is a land war, and to the victor shall belong the land.

Kamehameha did not at all entertain thoughts of opposing his royal “brother” in war, but the chiefs under him demanded that, if they were to be impoverished as a consequence of having no land, it would be better for Kona’s high chiefs to fight and regain possession of the land. We shall see in the future, O reader, the bitter result of King Kīwala‘ō’s announcement.

Some days after this, Keawemauhili demanded that King Kīwala‘ō divide the land for the chiefs, and the persons who were in control of the kingdom.

Kīwala‘ō assented to Keawemauhili’s desire for land for himself and the chiefs who joined with him in those days, and at this same time, however, Kīwala‘ō said to Keawemauhili, being heard by the other chiefs in his presence: “I desired that the lands be divided and that some lands be granted to my kaikaina, Kamehameha.” This was a really good idea, but when Keawemauhili heard it he was irritated for he had been resentful of Kamehameha since his birth and had uttered those words about pinching off the young shoot of the mulberry. Keawemauhili spoke words which denied Kamehameha the land but the trouble was that Kīwala‘ō only listened to these malicious words without refuting them:

Perhaps that was not the commandment of your father. The right presented to your kaikaina was the bequest of the god, the heiau, and his land, also, from ancient times. Perhaps you have no right to redivide the land for him and to oppose the command of your father who is laid in the Haleokeawe.


These words of opposition by Keawemauhili caused Kīwala‘ō to hesitate, the result being that he agreed to Keawemauhili’s opposition of Kamehameha. Thus Kamehameha was not given a portion of land, excepting only the Kohala land, his birthplace, given him of old by Kalani‘ōpu‘u. As Kamehameha lacked for a land apportionment, the following high chiefs who supported him also lacked for land: the sacred twins of Kekaulike, Kamanawa and Kame‘eiamoku, and Keaweaheulu, and Ke‘eaumoku, the father of Ka‘ahumanu, and some other chiefs under these ali‘i ‘ai kalana of Hawai‘i Nei.

Kīwala‘ō did indeed cut up these various lands, and what was seen was that all the valuable lands went to Chief Keawemauhili of Hilo, followed by the chiefs of Hāmākua and Puna. The chiefs of the west were without lands so that they were unable to restrain their thoughts of war with Kīwala‘ō and the land-grabbing chiefs of East Hawai‘i.

Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula Denied Lands


Kīwala‘ō, in his granting of land, forgot his own brothers, Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula Kand Keōuape‘e‘ale. When this news reached these chiefs they made haste to the presence of Kīwala‘ō on the day after, to speak with him about land and for some new portions as well, since Ka‘ū had already been granted them. Ka Hoku readers must remember that at the time of the ‘awa ceremony, when Kekūhaupi‘o struck away the ‘awa cup, these two chiefs had left the court and gone to stay at a place close to the boundary of Ka‘ū and the Kona districts, but had left some men to listen to the goings-on at the court.\


When the announcement of the land division by Kīwala‘ō was made, word went quickly to these Ka‘ū chiefs, and they hastened to the court, followed by their warriors. By evening, Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula appeared before his royal brother and spoke his mind:

E ke ali‘i ē! I have heard that you have divided the land for your favorites, therefore I and my brother have come to ask you for land, and also some other districts of land that we46 may enjoy for the sake of our father who has died: those lands of Ka‘ū and Kea‘au for you and me to enjoy.

Kīwala‘ō responded: “‘Auhea ‘oe, we shall not have these lands for they have already been granted.” “Not what has been conveyed, for it has been taken, but what about the lands of Waiākea and Pōnahawai, what about these districts for us to enjoy?” Kīwala‘ō responded “These lands you asked for are conveyed, we have no land there.” Again, Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula asked, “Yes, perhaps those districts are conveyed, then we can enjoy the lands of Waipi‘o and Waimanu. It is best that we have those lands, to enjoy with our people.” “We have no land there, those lands were granted to those chiefs who asked first, and we do not have those lands” said Kīwala‘ō in a quiet voice.

“These lands are conveyed, but what about Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a and Pu‘uanahulu, it would be good for us to have those.” Kīwala‘ō paused and finally replied: “‘Auhea ‘oe, we lack these lands, they have been conveyed to the chiefs who asked first for them.” “These lands are conveyed, then it would be good for us to have Kahalu‘u and the two Keauhou districts, the two of these lands for us.” “Those lands have been conveyed, we have no land there. Perhaps our lands are those held anciently, previously given us by our father. Perhaps you, of the two of us, who have an entire district to enjoy are better off, and here I have none. Perhaps I have only a mouth to “eat” the land, by means of the kindness of all of you who have land. That which our uncle Keawemauhili has, is what I have. You have heard, my brother.” When Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula heard Kīwala‘ō say this, he breathed deeply and said these sarcastic words: “Tshah! I am lacking for a grant of land, and our brother, Keōuape‘e‘ale, who sits here, and also those who have some claims in this land division. How truly remarkable is this land division of yours!”



Kīwala‘ō assented, bowing his head. While Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula was speaking with Kīwala‘ō, Keōuape‘e‘ale had sat quietly. It was said that he was one of the quiet ones amongst the chiefs of Hawai‘i Nei, perhaps because his mother, during her pregnancy, craved the hilu, the quiet fish.47 He did not grumble about land, but only sat with peaceful eyes observing his brothers arguing about land.

Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula, his twin, was born a warrior and was famous for the beauty of his features and physique. He wore his hair long, uncut—it reached to the knees of this Absalom of Hawai‘i. Amongst the high chiefs of those days there was no chief to approach his handsomeness, except for his brother, Keōuape‘e‘ale, as they were twins born to the high chiefess Kānekapolei, one of the great beauties of Hawai‘i Nei. Perhaps their beauty equaled that of Kekuapo‘i, the very beautiful wife of Chief Kahahana of O‘ahu, for whom was composed that foremost lament: “Two together, fleeing as twain to ‘Ewa. You have gone and one was my heavenly one (‘O pililua ‘oe o hele lua i ‘Ewa. ‘O ka hele ‘oe a kau lani).” 48

When Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula was denied land besides the district of Ka‘ū, he became extremely indignant, he left Kīwala‘ō’s court and returned to the place where his warriors were. He ordered Kapua‘ahiwalani, one of the very brave chiefs under him, to prepare all their warriors for war. (This aforesaid warrior chief was the grandfather of Judge Kauhane, and he was descended from Kapua‘akuni who was his grandfather. He was a very brave leader under Chief Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula.) The chief Kapua‘ahiwalani immediately took up the leadership of the army named the Pōniu. These were persons skilled in whirling their spears like windmills. The second unit of warriors was led by the famous warrior Ka‘ie‘iea who was famed for his prowess in battles begun by Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula. Ka‘ie‘iea’s army was named the Pūkeawe, and consisted of warriors skilled with the spear and also with slingstones. These armies under these Ka‘ū chiefs were brave men chosen from amongst the youth and strength of Ka‘ū who were accustomed to the use of the weapons of those ancient times.




Until midnight that night Keōua’s warriors were drilled, and the hubbub of voices at the camp of these Ka‘ū chiefs was heard. This aroused wonder in some other chiefs as to what was happening at the place where Keōua and his people were staying. When dawn came the warriors bound up their loincloths, put on their cloaks and helmets and prepared themselves for the great task ahead. At the same time these warriors of Keōua were seen preparing their pale kaua, coconut fiber shields [or defensive armor], which had been well plaited by the warriors and their women who were skilled at this task.

That morning, after their early meal, they were ordered to go to the place where the game of lele kawa was enjoyed. The word had been spread amongst them to say that they were going to the lele kawa place if they were asked where they were going.

When Kīwala‘ō saw the movement of Keōua’s numerous warriors, garbed in battle garments and furnished with their weapons, he and the chiefs with him wondered at it, and he asked indirectly: “Say, where are the two Keōua going at this time of the morning?”49 At this time, some of the people of Kīwala‘ō’s court reported that they had heard that the Ka‘ū chiefs were going to swim and leap into the sea, as they were long accustomed to leaping at the famous kawa of Kaumaea at Ka‘ū [Kona]. Some of the chiefs laughed at this, because the chiefs, such as Keawemauhili and his people who were accustomed to making war, realized that this was an act of incitement to war by the Ka‘ū chiefs. Keawemauhili and his people thought it would be well to prepare themselves, for it was not known which way the battle might slant. If, indeed, these Ka‘ū chiefs turned to support King Kīwala‘ō, then it would be of great assistance to Keawemauhili’s side. He well understood the affection between Kīwala‘ō and his kinsman Kamehameha. Also, there was no way to allay Kekūhaupi‘o’s action in striking that ‘awa cup except on the battlefield.



Our readers should remember that the aforementioned warrior named Ka‘ie‘iea had been adopted by Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula because of his great bravery.

He was said to have been one of the very brave and very strong men of Hawai‘i Nei. They [he and Kekūhaupi‘o] met on the battlefield afterwards, but neither one of them triumphed over the other since they were men extremely proficient in warding off spears and were also skilled in lua fighting. Each was able to stand without doubt before his opponent. However, this fearless warrior on the side of his lord Keōua, his adoptive father, was unable to lead him to victory. Perhaps Kekūhaupi‘o’s ability to triumph was the cause of Kamehameha’s absolute faith in his war instructor.

Keōua was accompanied on his journey by Uhai, an orator and adviser, and also there were some friends who were famed for their warlike qualities. On this “lele kawa” journey, Keōua and his warriors arrived at a certain place called Keomo, between Ke‘ei and Hōnaunau, where many coconut trees had been planted. From this boundary of Keomo with Ke‘ei, the land was occupied at that time by Kamehameha’s people. Many of them had gone to Ke‘ei to surf, and they did not know about this incitement to war by Keōua.

The remarkable thing about the cutting down of the coconut trees by Keōua was that he was starting a war between himself and Kīwala‘ō, because he was irritated at Kīwala‘ō for leaving him out of the land apportionment. It was strange that he chopped down the coconut trees of Kamehameha’s people who were under the authority of Kekūhaupi‘o, Kamehameha’s warrior. Our readers must remember that the act of cutting down the coconut trees was in the nature of a declaration of war, because the ancient people compared a coconut tree to a man. The head of the coconut was under the earth, and its fruit [testicles] swung above. Therefore, if the coconut tree was cut down, the man wilted. Perhaps this is what is referred to in a


certain phrase in the famous chant by Hi‘iakaikapoliopele when these famous words were spoken: “Kīkē ka a la, uwē ka māmane.” 50 This was a symbol of the announcement of war between some high chiefs of the land.

After Keōua had cut down the coconut trees, his wrath was not appeased, and he directed his journey straight to Ke‘ei, Kekūhaupi‘o’s home. There he found some chiefs and commoners surfing, and he ordered his men to beat some of the people. Three men died at the hands of his people while others fled. At this time at which Keōua arrived at Ke‘ei, although Kamehameha and Kekūhaupi‘o had been staying at Ke‘ei, on this day Kamehameha and Kekūhaupi‘o had gone to meet some important chiefs of the Kona districts at Ka‘awaloa. These were the chiefs mentioned previously in a certain place of this story.

If, perhaps, Kamehameha and Kekūhaupi‘o had been present when the two Keōua arrived at Ke‘ei, they would have immediately met in a hot battle, because Kamehameha was a chief who loved his people, and he would never have allowed them to be slaughtered. The three men who were killed in this assault by Keōua’s people were named Po‘omahoe, Kalino, and Kaihekaola. They were prominent men on Kamehameha’s side and were the owners of that coconut grove needlessly cut down by Keōua’s men. Besides these three men who were killed, five people were taken captive, and Keōua ordered that they and the bodies of those killed be taken before Kīwala‘ō at Hōnaunau.

Keōua’s idea, in sending the five captives and the three dead men to Kīwala‘ō, was to test Kīwala‘ō’s mind. If Kīwala‘ō did not take these men and offer them at the heiau, it would mean that he did not approve this action by Keōua, at which time Keōua’s mind would turn to warfare with Kīwala‘ō. If, on the other hand, Kīwala‘ō took these bodies and offered them on the altar at the heiau, it would signify his approval of Keōua’s action, and the result would be war between Keōua and Kamehameha. The needless cutting of the coconut trees and the slaughter of those blameless men was a cause for war, and this was a strong attempt on the part of Keōua to initiate a fight between the two kinsmen.


On the arrival of the captives before King Kīwala‘ō, when he learned that these were men who had been killed by Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula, he offered the bodies of the dead men at the heiau. He also had the living captives killed and they were also offered on the altar of the heiau at Hōnaunau, perhaps becoming moepu‘u [victims slain to accompany a dead chief] for his royal father who was laid in Haleokeawe.


When this news was brought to Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula, he knew that Kīwala‘ō had approved his actions, and he turned and attacked Kamehameha’s men. Some small actions were begun between his men and Kamehameha’s men, in which the high chiefs did not engage. Three days passed with these small engagements between the two sides, and on the fourth day of these increasing fights, at a place between Hōnaunau and Ke‘ei, the great Battle of Moku‘ōhai began.

The first to join Keōua in these little fights was King Kīwala‘ō, with the guidance of Keawemauhili and his people. Also, some chiefs, believed to have been for Kamehameha, turned to assist Kīwala‘ō. One chief was Kānekoa of Hāmākua, who was a makua kāne of Kamehameha. Kānekoa was followed by Keahia, another chief thought to have been on Kamehameha’s side—another name of his was said to have been Kaha‘i. This Kaha‘i followed Kānekoa, as he was a hoahānau pono‘ī [blood cousin] of that Hāmākua chief. The Puna chiefs, one of whom was Ahia, also turned. He was most brave in warfare, however he was killed by the lua skill of Ke‘eaumoku, father of Ka‘ahumanu. Ke‘eaumoku, the famous chief on the side of Kamehameha, was thought of as his supreme commander. It was said that most of the generals on Kīwala‘ō’s side yielded their leadership to Keawemauhili, high chief of Hilo, supported by the Keōua twins of Ka‘ū.

On Kamehameha’s side were Chief Ke‘eaumoku; the sacred twins of Kekaulike, Kamanawa and Kame‘eiamoku; Keaweaheulu; and also Kekūhaupi‘o, who was the foremost warrior on Kamehameha’s side. Kamehameha was also well supported by his kaikaina, Kala‘imamahū and Kawelookalani and his own younger blood brother, Kalanimālokulokuikepo‘okalani, afterwards known as Keli‘imaika‘i. There were also some lesser chiefs who followed Kamehameha, who were prepared to support their chief, Pai‘ea Kalaninuimehameha, and also some very young chiefs who entered into the dust of battle.


However, the most amazing thing in this Battle of Moku‘ōhai was that the famous young chief Keaweokahikona turned to support Kamehameha and opposed the side of his own father, Keawemauhili, the high chief of the Hilo districts. This was perhaps the fulfillment of the advice by the prophetess Kalaniwahine when she guided Kamehameha to Hilo to see his piko pono‘ī, who was most highly skilled with the weapons of Hawai‘i Nei. It was said that in this Battle of Moku‘ōhai the genuine fearlessness of this young Hilo chief was such that it terrified the men on Kīwala‘ō’s side, and they fled before Kamehameha’s forces. However, the readers of this story are aware of the fearlessness and proficiency of the one whose story passes before the Hoku’s readers, and we are able to say that Kekūhaupi‘o was no less able than that young warrior of the Hilo districts.


46 Keōua uses the dual inclusive pronoun kāua throughout his long conversation with Kīwala‘ō about gaining more land for the two of them. It illustrates attitudes toward land tenure in that it recognizes the sovereign right of the ali‘i and that Keōua would not have exclusive claim to the land.

47 This saying is explained by Pukui as follows: “When a pregnant woman longed for hilu fish, the child born to her would be a very quiet, well-behaved person” (Pukui 1983:67, #578).

48 This alludes to a death chant for Kahahana who, with his wife, fled to ‘Ewa after he lost control of O‘ahu in a battle with Kahekili of Maui. They wandered for several years until their capture (Kamakau 1961:137–38).

49 As the speaker seemingly takes no notice of their warlike appearance, this is a ho‘omaoe or indirect question.

50 Pukui translates this saying as follows: “When the boulders clash, the māmane tree weeps.” It indicates that “when two people clash, those who belong to them often weep” (Pukui 1983:193, #1797).


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