O wau ke aliʻi nui: Kahekili’s Conquest of Oʻahu

#101 in the Moʻolelo series

In 1783, Kahekili was the most powerful chief in the islands. When Captain George Vancouver had referred to Kamehameha as a great chief, Kahekili reponded “O wau ke aliʻi nui” – I am the great chief, “Kamehameha has come up from nothing, ” he noted. Knowing this, Oʻahu was expecting an attack and to appease Kahekili, they asked him to send a replacement for their banished chief Kumahana. Kahekili sent Kahāhana, a teenaged aliʻi who he had been grooming and who had Oʻahu bloodlines.


Kahekili asked for a piece of Oʻahu as a reward to himself for facilitating Kahāhana’s receipt of the throne of Oʻahu. Kahāhana was inclined to give Kahekili Kualoa, which he had requested – that kalo-rich ahupuaʻa that was a sanctuary and possibly the first place Hawaiians ever landed. But the Kahuna Nui of Oʻahu, Kaʻōpulupulu warned against such a move – giving Kahekili a foothold on Oʻahu would only hasten his perhaps inevitable conquest of the island. Kamakau writes:

ʻHow about those lands on O‘ahu that I asked of you?’ Kahahana replied, ʻYou cannot have them. The high priest Ka‘ōpulupulu held them back, so you will not get Kualoa and the ivory that drifts ashore.’ Kahekili exclaimed, ʻThat is strange! Ka‘ōpulupulu is truly strange!’

Kamakau, accessed: hooilina.org

Kualoa (as noted in the post on Kūkaniloko birthing stones) was prized as a place where whale bone could be found. So Kahāhana sent a message back to Kahekili that he would receive no land. Kahekili attacked and conquered Oʻahu with the help of the some of the Hawaiʻi Island chiefs’ soldiers. Kahāhana had a falling out of sorts with Kaʻōpulupulu, who was eventually killed. After the battle between Maui and Oʻahu, Kahāhana, his wife and his friend ʻAlapaʻi wandered in the mountains for a time, but were eventually captured by Kekuamanaohā:

Then Kekuamanohā sent men to Kahekili
at Waikīkī to tell him that Kahahana was at Waikele. Kahekili ordered him to be killed and brought to Waikīkī, and he sent <double- hulled> canoes to Hālaulani at Waipi‘o in ‘Ewa. Kekuamanohä killed Kahahana and his friend Alapa‘i, wrapped them in coconut leaves, placed them on the <platform> of the canoes, and took them to Kahekili at Waikīkī.

Kamakau, accessed: hooilina.org

My mother, Leialoha Apo Perkins, wrote a poem about Kahāhana and Kaʻōpulupulu that was published in the book The Quietest Singing.* It is excerpted below:

*The Quietest Singing is a collection of writings from the winners of the Hawaiʻi Award for Literature, which she won in 1998.

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