Keaweikekahiali‘iokamoku marries Lonoma‘aikānaka at Kanukuokamanu and ends the civil war
What a place this Kanukuokamanu is. So much has happened here. You can see a photograph of the train that was hit by the 1946 tsunami here at the Pacific Tsunami Museum. You can see a painting of Kamehameha with his chiefs here at a kiosk near his statue at Wailoa State Park. And best of all, when I am at Kanukuokamanu I can watch some of the best canoers in the state practice and compete.
Where is Kanukuokamanu? One hint is in the meaning of the word: the beak of the bird. This is the part of the shoreline of Hilo Bay to the Keaukaha side of the canoe halau right up against the mouth of the Wailoa River.
Years ago there was less soil and sand along the shoreline here, and the curve was more pronounced. Indeed, the shoreline shape looked more like the curvy beaks of the native iiwi and ʻakiapolaʻau birds of Hawai`i.
Things changed dramatically sometime after 1932 and before 1951 when a channel was dug from the Wailoa River under Kamehameha Avenue to the ocean. Sediments began to accumulate in the ocean and the shoreline moved outward into the bay. Today the shoreline is 300 feet further into the bay than it was 70 years ago. As a result, there is not much curve of the bird’s beak along the shoreline anymore.
The place has also been referred to as Kanukuokamanō, which would translate as “the nose of the shark”. Oddly, it is spelled both ways (with -manu and -manō) in Samuel Kamakau’s Nā Mo‘olelo a ka Po‘e Kahiko: Tales and Traditions of the People of Old. Desha, in his story of Kekuhaupio spelled this place name Kanukuakamanu (with an ‘a’ in the middle instead of an ‘o’. I do not know which is the correct spelling, but I’m going to go with Kanukuokamanu, partly because, like humuhumunukunukuahupua`a, it just sounds good to say it.
Long before it became the county seat, Hilo was an important place for politics on this island. Kanukuokamanu is within Pi‘opi‘o, an ancient land division that is famous as the place of residence for Hilo ali‘i and ruling chiefs of the island for many generations. Kamakau tells one story in his book Nā Mo‘olelo a ka Po‘e Kahiko that emphasizes the regal nature of Kanukuokamanu. In this story, Lonoma‘aikānaka had been living in Hilo with the local chiefs, but had not revealed the full extent of her powerful genealogy. One day she and her entourage were heading to the sea to gather fish. On this little trek they passed close to the houses of the high ali`i named Moku that were at Kanukuokamanu.
Kapu staffs and ‘aha cords were posted for all to see along the outer edge of the chief’s compound to keep commoners away. Lonoma‘aikānaka told her companions to walk at some distance behind her as she neared the sacred cords. And when she did, the posts fell over and the cords dropped down. This was a clear indication to those that saw this happen that she was a chiefess of the highest status.
The sacred cords were about a fathom (6 feet) long made of braided coconut fibers. When strung together on posts around a chief’s area, they functioned similar to the yellow caution ribbon that we see today telling us to “keep out”. There were often two lines of ʻaha cords around a chief’s residence. The inner barrier near the house, or even in the door of the house, was called the ʻaha iloko, and the outer barrier around the whole compound was called the ʻaha kapu according to Kamakau.
The ‘aha cord would fall of its own accord in the presence of a chief or chiefess, and then they would then step over it. The cords were named, and were also used in the binding of the bones of that particular chief as they were bundled and placed within the burial baskets called ka‘ai.
Lonoma‘aikānaka was indeed a powerful chiefess from a powerful lineage. She was descended from the revered ‘I, sire to perhaps the most powerful Hilo lineage of all, and she married Keaweikekahiali‘iokamoku (often referred to simply as Keawe). Her marriage to Keawe put an end to the warfare that had been going on for several generations between the east and west sides of the island of Hawai‘i by unifying the two sides through matrimony. The significance of this union is reinforced when one considers that the first born son from this marriage was Kalaninui‘īamamao for whom The Kumulipo was composed.
Things change. Leaders come and go. Shorelines move. But the joyful sites and sounds at Kanukuokamanu remain.
The Attempt to Kidnap Kamehameha at Piʻopiʻo
It is a beautiful, peaceful day, probably not too different from a day back in the 1750s when Kamehameha was a young boy staying in Hilo with his father. On that fateful day long ago, a series of dramatic events unfolded that included the death of his father and an attempt to kidnap the youthful Kamehameha. Someone back then sitting where I am now, and perhaps drinking kava instead of coffee, would have been able to witness some of these events as they happened.
I am in Hilo outside having a cup of coffee at an establishment on the corner of Aupuni Street and Kilauea Avenue. Facing the ponds in Wailoa State Park to my left I can see the Hilo Lagoon Center. To my right is Chiefess Kapiʻolani Elementary School, and the channel of the Waiākea Stream going under a bridge of Kilauea Avenue.
It was the year 1752, as Samuel Kamakau in Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi declares, or perhaps it was 1758 as Fornander implies in Ancient History of the Hawaiian People, but one thing is for certain, Alapa‘inui was the ʻai moku, the ruler of the entire island, of Hawai‘i. Young Kamehameha was with his father Keōua Kalanikupuapaikalaninui, and both were residing then with Alapa‘inui at his royal center at Pi‘opi‘o. The current Hilo Lagoon Center is near the center of Piʻopiʻo.
Alapaʻinui came to power during the turbulent times created by the passing of the famous island ruler Keawe. After that his two senior sons each ruled over half of this island. The elder son, Kalanike‘eaumoku, disposed of the other, and seemingly had control over the whole island, but the chief of Hilo, Mokulani, refused to acknowledge that ruler.
The Kohala chief Alapa‘inui knew an opportunity when he saw one. He gathered an army and attacked Kalanike‘eaumoku. After he defeated Kalanike‘eaumoku, Alapaʻinui marched against Mokulani’s forces, defeating them, too. Suddenly, Alapa‘inui was ʻai moku, and the genealogy of this island’s ruler shifted away from the direct descent from the ancient and powerful Pili line.
Alapa‘inui spent much of his latter years ruling the island from the ancient seat of power at Pi‘opi‘o. But holding on to power is not an easy thing, especially when there are those that claim closer ties to the ancient powerful lineage. Kalani‘ōpu‘u was just such a chief, being a grandson of Keawe.
According to John Papa ʻĪʻī writing on page 3 in Fragments of Hawaiian History, Keōua (Kamehameha’s father) advised Kalani‘ōpu‘u to watch out for Alapa‘inui, and also suggested that Kalani‘ōpu‘u would benefit from having Kamehameha on his side as the youth grew into manhood. But Kamehameha, who was about five years old at the time, was with his father, and they both were under the watchful eye of Alapa‘inui at his royal court in Pi‘opi‘o.
Kalani‘ōpu‘u was chief of Ka‘ū when he came to Piʻopiʻo to visit Keōua. Kalani‘ōpu‘u camped with his contingent “above Kalepolepo”, according to Kamakau’s Ruling Chiefs of Hawai‘i page 76. Kalepolepo, translating to “the dirt” in Place Names of Hawai‘i, was one of the fishponds that make up the waterways within what is now Wailoa State Park. The pond Kalepolepo was just to the mauka side of the little bridge of Kilauea Avenue that is on the front lawn of the Chiefess Kapiʻolani Elementary School. Kalepolepo was still in its original shape until the middle of the 20th century, but was altered dramatically when it was filled in and channeled out to its current, narrow, cement-lined waterway alongside the grounds of the school. Based on Kamakau’s description, the most likely location for Kalaniʻopuʻu’s camp is on the top of the hill at or near the old Sun Sun Lau building.
Keōua died during this visit, and the kahu and advisor for Kalani‘ōpu‘u, named Puna, suggested that Alapa‘inui was somehow the instrument of his death. Kalani‘ōpu‘u and Puna, who was also a chief and noted warrior, hatched a plan to take advantage of the unrest created by the passing of this high ranking ali‘i.
While many chiefs in residence were mourning the death of Keōua at his house in Pi‘opi‘o, Puna had slipped his war canoe out into the waters somewhere near the shoreline that is now behind the Hilo Lagoon Center. Kalani‘ōpu‘u entered the crowd of mourners with a small group of his warriors. He tried to bring the youthful Kamehameha away with him, but alert chiefs became aware of this development, and a fight broke out. Kalani‘ōpu‘u barely escaped to the canoe where Puna was waiting, but he did so without Kamehameha.
Kalani‘ōpu‘u and Puna retreated to their camp on the high ground overlooking Kalepolepo, and prepared for the worst. They did not have long before the warriors of Alapaʻinui would arrive. The “Puna Wars” began there the next day.
The last battle for Ahia at Mokuʻōhai
Few Hawaiian battles are described in detail in the written versions of the oral histories. Even fewer one on one encounters are recorded. Hawaiian battles were a composite of many such grapplings. Desha, in his long book about Kekūhaupiʻo called Kamehameha and is Warrior Kekūhaupiʻo, shares a detailed story about one such fatal fight at the battle of Mokuʻōhai between Ahia the powerful chief from Puna and Keʻeaumoku a staunch ally of Kamehameha.
During the chaotic opening moments of the battle of Mokuʻōhai the many high and lower chiefs of the island shifted their allegiances. According to Desha (2000:121) several chiefs from Hāmākua district moved from supporting Kamehameha to fighting on the side of Kīwalaʻō, the newly anointed ʻai moku of the island. The Puna chiefs, including the prominent Ahia, soon followed suit.
The united forces of Kīwalaʻō, advanced against a contingent of warriors led by Keʻeaumoku that were under the direction of Kamehameha. Desha reports that men that lived near the battle witnessed this particular encounter on that tumultuous battlefield, and the following is that version of the events. Before long…
“Keʻeaumoku met the Puna chief Ahia. Keʻeaumoku had secured on his hands the leiomano made of shark’s teeth just before he met Ahia. When these chiefs met, Ahia saw the weapon on Keʻeaumoku’s hands and he was unable to spring quickly to fight with Keʻeaumoku, and they studied one another, each longing to spring at the other. The father of Kaʻahumamou [Keʻeaumoku] was large in body and thoroughly familiar with martial arts. He was versed in the bone-breaking method of wrestling called lua. Also, Ahia was famed for his battle-readiness, and had caused fear to some other chiefs. His great body was very strong, and he was a head taller than Keʻeaumoku. However, Keʻeaumoku had a broad body, and the advantage was on his side with the leiomano on his hands, as well as his famed proficiency in lua fighting, so that Ahia was somewhat dubious about springing to combat” (Desha 2000:131).
“While they were glaring at each other, one of Kīwalaʻō’s warriors attempted to assault Keʻeaumoku, while he had his eyes fixed on Ahia. Because of the attack by Kīwalaʻō’s warrior, Keʻeaumoku fell over. At that moment Ahia leaped to seize Keʻeaumoku by his legs as he feared to seize him higher up because of the leiomano in his hands” (Desha 2000:131).
“Before Ahia realized it, Keʻeaumoku somersaulted, rolling over on Ahia’s back, at the same time pulling Ahia’s arms backward. Keʻeaumoku’s heels were on Ahia’s shoulders, and his feet crossed on Ahia’s temples and this, combined with the weight of Keʻeaumoku’s body, held him fast. Then Keʻeaumoku thrust his head under Ahia’s thighs, and armed with the dreaded leiomano in his hands, he seized Ahia’s legs so that he was unable to move. He was held fast in the clever lua hold called an iwikoʻo” (Desha 2000:132).
During those same moments Kamehameha was advancing towards a warrior that was dispatching his enemies with great skill. On his way there he heard a familiar voice call out “E Kalani ē! Fetch the fish caught in the sluice gate.” When Kamehameha turned “he saw Keʻeaumoku with his head swinging down and his feet holding tightly to the throat of a very large man. Keʻeaumoku’s toes squeezed the throat of that man while his head was hanging down behind the man’s buttocks. The man’s arms were stretched out and he was unable to do anything to his opponents. Keʻeaumoku’s head was under the man’s thighs and he thought to scrape the ‘hala clusters of Puna’ [testicles] with his leiomano made of shark’s teeth, and bring a terrible death to that large man. However, he saw Kamehameha and did not harm those swinging hala clusters of Puna. This incomparably large man was none other than Ahia, leader of the Puna warriors on the side of Kīwalaʻō. This famous warrior chief of Puna was held as though bound in the lua hold by Keʻeaumoku and was entirely unable to do any harm to him” (Desha 2000:128).
Kekūhaupiʻo, who was at the side of Kamehameha in this and many previous battles, grabbed Ahia and broke his back. He then presented the broken Ahia to Kamehameha who promptly tore the large Ahia in half for all on the battlefield to see. This kind of activity was not uncommon: one warrior facilitating the victory for the highest chief. It was expected that junior warriors would give the honor of their achievements on the battlefield to their leaders and their war gods.
Later the broken body of Ahia was placed on the lele (altar) in the heiau Hikiau as a sacrifice to Kūkāʻilimoku after the battle of Mokuʻōhai. So was Kīwalaʻō who had also fallen to Kamehameha’s forces. Kīwalaʻō’s body was then given to Kaʻahumanu, daughter of Keʻeaumoku and wife of Kamehameha. The disposition of Ahia’s bones is not provided in the written records.
Mary Kawena Pukui printed nearly 3,000 Hawaiian sayings and proverbs in the essential book ʻŌlelo Noʻeau. One is: E kalani e, kiʻi mai i ka iʻa, ua komo i ka mākāhā! That literally means: “O heavenly one, come and get the fish for it has entered the sluice gate!” The saying is used generically to mean: “Used by one who has his hands full and needs help quickly” (Pukui 1983:38). Pukui’s version of the origin (or perhaps simply the most famous coinage of an old saying) is directly associated with the fatal fight with Ahia. But she writes that it was Kameʻeiamoku (one of the sacred twins of Kekaulike), not Keʻeaumoku, that had the lua hold on Ahia and yelled out the phrase. She describes those fateful moments in this way: “In a battle, Ahia caught Kameʻeiamoku and lifted him with the intention of dashing him to the ground. Kameʻeiamoku twisted himself about, grasped Ahia by the calf of the leg and held fast so that it was impossible for him to run. Seeing Kamehameha a short distance away, Kameʻeiamoku called to him to come and take the fish. Thus was Ahia killed.”
So even as “recently” as the battles involving Kamehameha there is some disagreement or discrepancy between accounts, and perhaps even embellishment. Was it Keʻeaumoku or Kameʻeiamoku that caught Ahia in the “sluice gate” and called out to Kamehemeha?