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War at Hakalau, Kekuhaupi'o battles Kaihe of Maui.

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Kii: Herb Kawainui Kane



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

Page 66-72


In those days when Kekūhaupi‘o was staying at Kohala he began to build up Kamehameha’s various armies, arranged as follows:

Class 1. The warriors called Ka Haunaele [Hunalele] were under Kalawa, a lesser chief of Hālawa in Kohala, and he was the general

(māmakakaua ali‘i koa) of this army.

Class 2. Huelokū. Puniawa was the general of this army and he was an extremely proficient warrior.

Class 3. Ona Hema, the people extremely proficient in whirling spears, and in hand-to-hand [combat]. Honoli‘i was appointed as general for them; he was a famous warrior of Makalawena, North Kona.

Class 4. Ihe Mākini, led by Kukalohe as general. He was also one of the skilled students of Kuakoko and he also was from La‘aloa, North Kona.

The total of these combined armies was four lau by Hawaiian counting, or sixteen hundred by present-day counting. These were skilled warriors who had been well trained. Kekūhaupi‘o stayed with Kamehameha and assisted in the preparation of these warriors. The disposition of these various armies was under his control. They were the foundation of Kamehameha’s future victory, under the instructor of his youth, who was Kekūhaupi‘o the famous warrior of Ke‘ei o lalo lilo ē. After the passage of seven anahulu periods during which time Kamehameha arranged his battle divisions, he asked Kekūhaupi‘o to accompany him to Hilo Palikū, and this seemed good to Kekūhaupi‘o. Chief Kamehameha’s great canoe was prepared and he took his warriors with him, a very wise act, because during this journey they were attacked by some Maui people. This was a great canoe which Kamehameha had prepared, and it carried almost two hundred men on one double canoe. There were also some swift sailing canoes, each canoe being able to carry fifty men with ease.



Kamehameha and his warriors left Kohala, followed by Kekūhaupi‘o and some warrior chiefs of Kohala. They sailed easily to land at Hakalau where Kamehameha and Kekūhaupi‘o and their people were entertained by Chiefess Keakealani of Hilo; Princess Likoa; and Kahipa, the daughter of Chief Kānekoa of Hāmākua. She was living at Hakalau with her female hoahānau in those days. This visit by High Chief Kamehameha was a cause for joyous entertainment by these high chiefesses of Hilo and Hāmākua. The ali‘i ‘ai kalana of the Hilo districts in those days was Keawemauhili, a very high-ranking chief under the mō‘ī Kalani‘ōpu‘u, the ali‘i ‘ai moku. Keawemauhili’s status was held under his wife Ululani [Ululani-a-Moku] who possessed the naha kapu. She was the mother of Keaweokahikona and Kapi‘olani.

When Kamehameha arrived with his people at Hakalau, Kahāhāwai was staying in the upland forest of Hakalau, making a canoe for his lord, Kahekili of Maui. With him at that time was Kaihe, the “black [tattoo] of Kahekili,” one of Kahekili’s very great favorites, who was a famous warrior amongst Kahekili’s men.

The reason for the presence of this army of Kahekili in the upland forest of Hilo was the request by Kahekili to Keawemauhili, the Hilo chief, for permission for some of his people to sail to Hilo to make a canoe for him. The request was made at the time of the accord to end the war between Kalani‘ōpu‘u and Kahekili on Maui. It was a good time in the minds of both parties so Keawemauhili gave permission to this request by his high-born hoahānau of Maui. As explained previously, Chief Keawemauhili was at Ka‘ū when Kamehameha landed at Hakalau and was entertained by those chiefesses whose names have been mentioned.

Kahāhāwai was a famous warrior and of royal Maui blood, famous for some battles on Maui, and a numerous army had been sent under that favorite “black” man of Kahekili.

Kahāhāwai had stationed a spy at Hakalau to watch the activities of the Hawai‘i people. On that day that Kamehameha landed there the spy ran quickly to Kahāhāwai in the upland forest to tell him that Kamehameha and Kekūhaupi‘o were at Hakalau. When Kahāhāwai heard this news from his spy he became very angry because at some battles on Maui Kamehameha and Kekūhaupi‘o had thwarted him. The landing by Kamehameha and his group at Hakalau caused suspicion that he had come to spy on Kahāhāwai’s activities in Hilo, or perhaps to waylay him in the Hilo forests. Therefore, Kahāhāwai quickly prepared to make a secret attack on Kamehameha.


When Kamehameha’s Hunalele warriors had prepared their slingstones they proceeded to the place where they would meet the Maui warriors led by that pā‘ele kū [black, referring to tattooing] warrior of the Bays of Pi‘ilani. The Maui warriors were sure that Kamehameha was not aware of their secret attack and they came down thinking that Kamehameha was taking his ease. However they met with something undreamed of: the hot stones of Kaueleau [unyielding forces]. When those Maui warriors emerged from the ‘ama‘uma‘u ferns they were startled to meet the Hawai‘i warriors. The stones from the slings of the Hunalele struck some of them, so that their bodies were left in the foreign land. However, Kaihe quickly called to his warriors and led them fearlessly to meet Kamehameha’s Hunalele army, who, not having spears in their hands, were unable to fight with those Maui people. At this time the warriors of the Huelokū, led by Puniawa, the famous warrior of Makahanaloa, met the Maui people face to face and a very strong battle between the two sides began.

Kamehameha’s army was very skilled at hurling spears and in warding off or seizing the spears of their enemy. They fought like hyenas, uttering their battle calls, and trampled the Maui people who had become victims of Kamehameha’s Hunalele warriors. The Maui people displayed their fearlessness and great cleverness as they were very skilled in that type of battle, learned from numerous encounters. This “black man” of Kahekili was incomparably skilled with his spear and was overwhelming Kamehameha’s warriors, as well as warding off with great skill the thrusts of his opponents, so that his followers were encouraged by his bravery.

Kamehameha’s searching eye noted the forward movement of that Maui warrior, who was causing death to his warriors of the Huelokū. He greatly desired to meet this famous man in person, but his way was barred by the war instructor of his youth, the one of whom this story is told.

E Kalani ē, perhaps you should not cause pain to the skin with that Maui warrior of low status—you do not lack for people on your side who have equal status with him. Therefore abide, and one of us shall place the punishment of death upon him. They shall not at all triumph on this day. They did wrong by attacking first and attempting to assault you, O heavenly one. Therefore leave it to us to punish this warrior who intruded wrongly.

As Kamehameha’s intention was blocked by these words of Kekūhaupi‘o, he turned and began to slay some others of the Maui people, leaving Kaihe for his instructor to fight. It was said that this battle in the vicinity of Hakalau showed the strength of Kamehameha, which so terrified the Maui people, that they fell back, behind that “black” Kaihe.

Now Kekūhaupi‘o moved toward this man who was killing Kamehameha’s warriors, and when they met face to face they eyed each other fearlessly in preparation for their fight. There was a little pause in the fighting between some of the warriors in order to watch the fight between these famous warriors. (In a certain previously published history of Kamehameha it was said that it was another lesser chief who killed Kaihe, the famous “black” of Kahekili, and that his name was Ho‘ohi‘olo‘olo, the son of Ho‘onohoka‘ie‘ie and her husband Kaukahiakua. However, the genuine truth was that Kekūhaupi‘o was the opponent of that “black” Kaihe of Maui. This was verified by Kekūhaupi‘o when he told the story to some of his family at Nāpo‘opo‘o. Perhaps that is the truth, for the most famous warrior on Kamehameha’s side was this man of ( Ke‘ei o lalo lilo.)

This “black” man of Kahekili was extremely proficient in whirling the spear, as described previously, and he had engaged victoriously in numerous battles. His opponent, who stood forth at this time, is known to us, O readers, for his proficiency, as a lesser chief instructed in the various martial arts of ancient Hawai‘i. His companions regarded him with pride, knowing that this “black” man of Kahekili would be unable to slap his head (ke pa‘i i kona po‘o).

Kekūhaupi‘o well understood the status of his opponent, and prepared himself accordingly. They immediately began telling of their sons (A ho‘omaka koke ihola no ka hō‘ike ‘ana o lāua i nā keiki kāne o lāua). It is true that Kahekili’s warrior was extremely well prepared and if Kahekili had been present on this battlefield he would have been stirred by the appearance of his favorite warrior. The eyes of Kamehameha and those of his battle companions were upon his instructor, because if he fell under the spear of Kahekili’s warrior then his ali‘i would be shamed, as well as his battle companions, and the Maui people would stand boasting. Kekūhaupi‘o gathered together all his skill, and both opponents well understood that death was the goal.

They maneuvered to gain the best situation from which to hurl their spears, each attempting to find the other’s weakness. For a short time they did this, then Kaihe was seen to whirl his spear, hurling it strongly at Kekūhaupi‘o thinking perhaps that Kekūhaupi‘o was unprepared. As the spear left the hand of Kaihe it was warded off by the spear in Kekūhaupi‘o’s hand, so that it fell uselessly. That first thrust by Kaihe was immediately followed by Kekūhaupi‘o’s spear hurled with great strength; however, it was dodged effortlessly and passed without harming that Maui warrior.

It was the custom in this type of fighting to have two spears in hand, the first to hurl at the enemy, the second to ward off the enemy’s weapon. When those two spears of those opponents missed equally, the persons close by this fight hastened to furnish each of them with another spear. Again they prepared to fight. Kaihe was seen whirling his spear like a windmill, and while he was doing this Kekūhaupi‘o observed the movement of his feet to understand his next action. Another reason for Kekūhaupi‘o’s staring at Kaihe’s feet was his thought of attempting to deceive Kaihe by making him think that he was going to thrust below the navel so that perhaps he would attempt to defend below, giving Kekūhaupi‘o the opportunity to aim his spear above the navel.

While Kekūhaupi‘o was staring at the movement of Kaihe’s feet, Kaihe hurled his spear, and Kekūhaupi‘o alertly seized it and hurled it back at his opponent. Kekūhaupi‘o had thought this movement of Kaihe would weaken his defensive stance, but with great alertness Kaihe warded off the spear and it struck quivering in the forest.


The din of battle was stilled on both sides and all eyes focused on these two daring ones of the battlefield. When the spear hurled by Kekūhaupi‘o had missed, the opponents again took up their stance, eyeing each other with fiery eyes, seeking any weakness, as well as a good opportunity to use their spears. We, O readers, are able to understand that Kekūhaupi‘o’s eyes were accustomed to assessing the conditions in a battle, for he had been the instructor of not only Kamehameha, but of some of the warriors under Kamehameha.

His opponent, Kaihe, was also accustomed to the battlefield, although he had not been an instructor and did not have the experience of assessing the students of warfare. However this did not lessen his preparedness as he had gained experience on many battlefields. While these two were resuming their stance the multitudes were unable to make a choice as to who was the more proficient, but soon we shall see, O reader of this story of the famous warrior of the era when the nation was conquered by that person later distinguished by the title Napoleon of the Pacific.

While these warriors were preparing themselves, Kekūhaupi‘o noted that his opponent was preparing to leap, and he perceived the means by which to deceive him. It was the custom of this famous “black” warrior to leap here and there. While they were staring, one at the other, Kekūhaupi‘o deceived his opponent by making a feint to the right of Kaihe, who believed that his opponent was hurling at his right side, and he leaped to the left, at which moment Kekūhaupi‘o hurled his spear straight to Kaihe’s belly, before he was able to leap again to the right. He received a direct thrust of the spear from the famous warrior of Ke‘ei o lalo lilo, and he fell, with his feet fluttering, as the spear had pierced him through to his back.

When the Maui warriors witnessed the death of their leader, fear of the Hawai‘i people overcame them and they began to run from the battlefield, pursued by the Hawai‘i warriors. The shouts of Kamehameha’s men were heard as they pursued Kahekili’s warriors. The words of encouragement from Kahāhāwai were not heeded by the Maui people, and he ran with his people, without seeking to fight with Kamehameha’s men. He was one of those whom Kekūhaupi‘o had greatly desired to meet on that day, but his wish was unfulfilled.

After the Maui people had fled into the forest of the Hilo districts,

Kamehameha’s people returned, and he conferred with his chiefs, also discussing what should be communicated to his uncle, Kalani‘ōpu‘u. At this same time when Kamehameha was fighting at Hakalau with the Maui people, Kalani‘ōpu‘u had arrived at North Kohala, desiring to see his keiki Kamehameha and to discuss with him the preparations to make war again on Kahekili. When, however, he arrived at Kohala he learned that Kamehameha was at Hilo. Kamehameha learned that his chiefly makua [uncle] was at Kohala with his retinue, and a swift messenger was sent to report to Kalani‘ōpu‘u concerning Kamehameha’s fight with the Maui people and that Kahāhāwai and his people had been put to flight.



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