Wahi Pana: Kohala

#92 in the Moʻolelo series

Kohala is not only Kamehameha’s birthplace, but the site of major historical events – to some, it is the birthplace of a nation. Kamehameha was born in Kokoiki, Kohala. As mentioned in the post on Kamehameha’s birth, many of the place names in Kohala are connected to the story of his perilous first days and nights, fleeing the aliʻi Alapaʻinui with his kahu Naeʻole. But because he was the district chief of Kohala, and later of Kona as well, he took actions in this district that changed Hawaiian history.

Puʻukoholā heiau, Kawaihae, Hawaiʻi Island

Foremost among these is his building of Puʻukoholā heiau, the building of which was prophesied to allow him to conquer. Kamehameha waged an indecisive battle with Keouakūahuʻula, after which Keoua’s army was trapped by volcanic activity in Keaʻau, Puna. He lost a third (some say half) of his army, and when Kamehameha invited him to help dedicate the new heiau, he accepted knowing that their next battle could end in the slaughter of his Kaʻū people. After performing the ʻumuʻo ritual (self-mutilation) he surrendered to Kamehameha and was sacrificed at Puʻukoholā.

In the video Hoʻokūʻikahi, participants in the annual observations of the 1791 events at Puʻukoholā say that “a nation was built here” (John Keola Lake). This is because Puʻukoholā marked the unification of Hawaiʻi Island, the island Kingdom that eventually conquered the entire archipelago, and so was the start of the “Hawaiian nation” as we know it.

Kohala also pushed the boundaries of food production on the Leeward sides of islands, as Kamehameha grew ʻuala (sweet potato) to feed his large army and large population. He built irrigation systems in the uplands to accomplish this. Recent research suggests that this system allowed for the support of a population of 11,000 in Kohala (Peter Vitousek).

The famous town of Waimea is in the Kohala district – the boundary of the Leeward and Windward side of the island goes right through the middle of the town, so it has a “dry side” and a “wet side.” Of course, Waimea has a paniolo history that is far too extensive to cover here, but suffice it to say that it’s most famous son was probably the Parker Ranch paniolo Ikua Purdy:

Ikua, a Parker Ranch cowboy, put Hawai`i’s Paniolo on the map when he stunned the American west by winning the 1908 World Roping Championship In Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was the grandson of one of Waimea’s original settlers, Jack Purdy, a natural cowboy. He is the first Hawaiian to be nominated to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

hi cattle.org

Parker Ranch was started by a favorite of Kamehameha, John Palmer Parker and was at one point “the largest ranch in the United States.” Kamehameha:

 gave Parker exclusive permission, not only to shoot the wild cattle, but to supply meat and hides for local and foreign consumption.  The musket is still in possession of Parker Ranch.

In less than a year, a thriving salt beef industry replaced sandalwood as the Island’s chief export, and Parker quickly grew into a respected man of wealth and influence.  He learned to speak Hawaiian, adopted Hawaiian ways and in 1816, married Chiefess Kipikane, granddaughter of King Kamehameha I.  They were awarded two acres of land on the slopes of Mauna Kea where they built the homestead “Mana Hale,” had three children, and began the Parker dynasty that would play a prominent role in the next two centuries of Hawaiian history.


In the present day, Kohala is probably best known worldwide, perhaps a little ironically, as part of the course in the famous Kona Ironman triathlon world championships. The turnaround point of the 112-mile bicycle leg is in the town of Hawī, Kohala. But Waimea is also the site of the scientific research organization The Kohala Center, Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy (HPA), the charter school Kanu o ka ʻĀina and Hawaiian Homes ranch lots.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s