Wahi Pana: Kona

#122 in the Moʻolelo series

I once attended a retreat, for those of us who were members of the editorial board of Kamehameha Publishing, at the Keauhou Beach Hotel in Kahaluʻu, Kona. It was described to us by kumu hula Taupouri Tangarō (son-in-law of Pua Kanahele) that Kahaluʻu referred to deep diving, immersing oneself, both literally in the kai, and figuratively, in one’s activities and in life itself. In the mornings, I would go running along the coast and saw the many heiau that line the coast. I thought about global warming and sea level rise and how these historic sites were so very much imperiled.

Kailua Kona (source: wikimedia commons)

According to the Hawaiian Dictionary:


1. nvs. Leeward sides of the Hawaiian Islands; leeward (PPN Tonga.)

2. nvi. A famous leeward wind; to blow, of this wind. Many names of Kona winds follow. See ex., Kapakū.

3. n. Name of a star.


Kona is a massive moku, or district, about the size of Maui or Oʻahu, so large that it is currently divided into North and South Kona. Indeed, the Northern and Southern parts of the moku are geographically quite different, the North dominated as it is by lava flows. Kona had been the unofficial capital of Hawaiʻi Island since the time of ʻUmi-a-līloa, who moved from Waipiʻo to Keauhou, at a site called ʻUmihale. At the time of Kamehameha, seven generations later, Kona was still the base of operations. It was from Kona that the fleet was launched for the Battle of Nuʻuanu in May 1795. Known lyrically as Konakaiopuaikalaʻi, Kona sits at the base of the 10,000-foot Hualalai. Henry Waiau wrote of a love affair between Liholiho and “a woman of rank” (huapala.org):

ʻO Kona kai ʻōpua i ka laʻi
ʻO pua hinano i ka mālie
Wai na lai
Ka mako a ʻōpua
ʻAʻole no ahe lua aʻe like aku ia


The cloud banks over Kona’s peaceful sea

Like the hinano flower

In the peaceful sea

The cloudbanks of Kona

Are incomparable, second to none

Henry Waiau, accessed at huapala.org

Iʻm not sure how many people know that the Island of Hawaiʻi is over 4000 square miles, just slightly less than two-thirds of all the land in the archipelago. (It is sometimes noted that Hawaiʻi is the “largest island in the United States”). It was here on Hawaiʻi Island that the Pacific scholar Epeli Hauʻofa arrived at his idea, now central to Pacific Island studies, that the Pacific Islands are not small but consist of a “sea of islands” including the ocean that connects them.

Central to Kona is the town of Kailua, which was the seat of the governor of Hawaiʻi Island during the Kingdom period. It is the site of the first completed church in Hawaiʻi, Mokuʻaikaua (visible in the picture above). Huliheʻe Palace, which sits on Aliʻi Drive in Kailua town, was home to Aliʻi including Princess Ruth. According to the Daughters of Hawaiʻi – a sort of Hawaiʻi version of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), it is only open to women who descend from Hawaiʻi residents before 1880 (Hawaiian or not):

The Palace was originally built out of lava rock during the Kingdom of Hawai‘i on land known as Kalāke‘e, a former residence of Kamehameha the Great. The Palace itself was first home to High Chief John Adams Kuakini, brother of Ka‘ahumanu the favorite wife of Kamehameha, and later home to more members of Hawaiian royalty than any other residence in Hawai‘i.


Kalākaua stayed at Huliheʻe at times and some of his belongings are there on display, including a guitar of his.

Huliheʻe Palace (source: wikimedia commons)

Today, Kona is known worldwide for three things; its deep-sea fishing, Kona coffee, the most expensive coffee in the world, and the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, which for triathletes is often just called “Kona.”

In South Kona is Puʻuhonua o Honaunau, the “City of refuge.” Now a National Park, it was the site of ceremonies surrounding Kalaniopuʻu’s death in 1782. Kamehameha had disrupted the new king Kīwalaʻō’s aha ceremony and at an ʻawa drinking at Hōnaunau, Kīwalaʻō took symbolic revenge:

Kīwalaʻō passed the ʻawa chewed by Kamehameha on to his aikane. Kekūhaupiʻo exclaimed “The chief has insulted us! Your brother did not chew the ʻawa for a commoner, but for you, the chief” (Kamakau, 1992, 119). The two sailed to Keʻei to avoid further conflict.

Kealakekua Bay (By Travis.Thurston at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10632640)

Kona is also home to Kealakekua Bay, the site of Cook’s arrival on Hawaiʻi Island and of his death:

Cook was killed on February 14, 1779 in an altercation while trying to take Kalaniopu’u, King of Hawai‘i island hostage to regain a stolen longboat. He did not feel he could leave without it, and employed a tactic he had used in other islands – he took a hostage. He took as hostage King Kalaniopu’u. Cook convinced the King to join him on his ship, but as the group was walking down the beach, Kalaniopu’u’s wife realized what was happening and threw herself at the King, begging him not to leave. Kekuhaupi’o, who had seen a skirmish between Hawaiians suspected of stealing the boat and Cook’s sailors, called out “O heavenly one! Stop! It is not safe on the sea … go back to the house.” With these warnings, Kalaniopu’u turned to go back to his house, but Cook’s men tried to restrain him. When the Hawaiians on the beach saw this, they began to move down to the shore to defend the King. Cook’s men fired into the crowd, but they continued to crowd around them. Cook was stabbed. And when he groaned with pain, it was the final verification that he was not a god. According to Kamakau, “Captain Cook struck Ka-lani-mano-o-ka-ho’owaha with his sword, slashing one side of his face from temple to cheek. The chief with a powerful blow of his club knocked Captain Cook down  against a heap of lava rock. Captain Cook groaned with pain. Then the chief knew that he was a man and not a god, and that mistake ended, he struck him dead together with four other white men.”

Kamakau, 1992, 102-103.

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