The Battle of Nuʻuanu – Part 1: The Death of Kaʻiana

#145 in the moʻolelo series

When Kahekili was still alive, he questioned his aha aliʻi, his council of chiefs, interrogating them about where Kamehameha would land when he invaded Oʻahu. All of them said that Kamehameha would land at Kaneʻohe Bay; it seemed the obvious choice, because to control Oʻahu, one has to control the food supply. One of the chiefs said that Kamehameha would land on the South shore (Kona) and make his way toward Kaneʻohe-Kailua. Kahekili said that that chief was correct. And it turned out he was.

Kamehameha launched his fleet of 800 (some say 1000) canoes from Kona and landed at Lāhaina, burning the houses there. The fleet then sailed to Kaunakakai, Molokaʻi and held a planning meeting for the final invasion of Oʻahu. Excluded from this meeting was a chief named Kaʻiana, who was experienced with foreign ships and guns, having sailed as far as Canton, China. (There are stories that, while there, he refused to remove his cape and strolled the streets of Canton – all 6ʻ2″ of him – resplendent in his ahu ʻula). Thinking that he was “on the outs” with Kamehameha, Kaʻiana defected, taking about 3500 warriors under his control with him. Upon telling his wife of his defection, she wished him luck, but remained with the Kamehameha side.

It seems as if Kahekili’s son Kalanikupule was not expecting Kamehameha on the Kona side, because the Hawaiʻi Island forces landed unopposed and camped for 3-4 days before marching toward Nuʻuanu. Desha (2000) recounts the portion of the battle leading to Kaʻiana’s death:

Ka‘iana, on Kalanikūpule’s side, noted the skilled marksmanship of the women on Kamehameha’s side. Indeed, amongst those who were casting death on Kalanikūpule’s warriors, those led by the warrior Ali‘i Ka‘iana, was Kekupuohi who had learned her skill in shooting from her husband in times past. Yet here was Kekupuohi employing the knowledge which she had learned from her husband. Kekupuohi had the leadership of this corps of chiefly women because Kamehameha had not the least doubt concerning the loyalty of this ali‘i wahine of Hawai‘i.

     Ka‘iana deployed his musket-firing army with great skill, supported by his hoahānau Nāhi‘ōle‘a. Under them were warriors well accustomed to firing muskets and shooting the cannons. When the two sides came quite close to each other, Ka‘iana was struck three times in the breast with bullets; however, he was not killed immediately. He was using his gun with a great desire to approach close to Kamehameha so as to be able to shoot him. There were perhaps only a few fathoms between the two sides. When Ka‘iana received his wounds, he increased his attempts to move forward. He ran amongst Kamehameha’s warrior women and seized Kuhimana’s gun.

     While he was loading a bullet into that gun which he had snatched, he was shot by Kalino, one of Kamehameha’s accomplished marksmen. This bullet struck his left thigh, and he fell down suffering a great loss of blood from his wounds which weakened him. His wife, Kekupuohi, saw him fall and she left her place and ran without hindrance to the place where her husband lay. She sat by his head and lifted it upon her lap, and tears of love for her husband fell. Ka‘iana gazed with eyes of suffering upon his wife but was unable to speak, and gazing at his warrior wife who had fought against him, with his head resting on her lap, he drew his final breath.

     However, before Ka‘iana’s last breath, Kekupuohi caressed her beloved husband,157 and this pathetic sight on that terrible battlefield touched the hearts of the onlookers. It is said that the shooting on both sides was restrained, and they looked at the pitiful sight of the loving wife giving her husband a final caress.

Stephen Desha, Kamehameha and his Warrior Kekūhaupiʻo, Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 2000.

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