Kaleleakaʻanae: The Battle of Nuʻuanu – Part 2

#146 in the Moʻolelo series

As mentioned in the previous post (The Battle of Nuʻuanu – Part 1: The Death of Kaʻiana), Kamehameha’s fleet of 800 peleleu canoes landed at Waikīkī unopposed, where they camped for three to four days. This was May, 1795. The reduced army, which had originally been 16,000, marched toward Puowaina (Punchbowl). Desha tells us of the initial positions of the two armies:

Kalanikūpule’s armies were in the upland above Honolulu, and Kamehameha’s Kforces were on the seaward side. Kamehameha’s men were well supplied with muskets and cannons. Kalanikūpule’s men were also supplied with these foreign weapons, however, not as well because they had lost those foreign weapons on board Captain Brown’s ships which the foreigners had taken at that time Kalanikūpule had first thought of attacking Kamehameha.

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

The fighting began at Kawānanakoa in lower Nuʻuanu. Kamehameha sent his cannons, mounted on sleds, over what is now Pacific Heights, firing down on the Oʻahu-Maui forces, led by Kalanikupule.

Aerial contemporary view of Nuʻuanu valley looking Northeast

Major fighting occurred near the site of Kaniakapupu, the later site of Kamehameha III’s summer palace. Kamakau’s account of the battle is surprisingly brief, but useful for our purposes:

Kamehameha’s fleet landed at Waikiki where it covered the beaches from Waiʻalae to Waikiki. Ka-lani-ku-pule and his chiefs were stationed at strategic points in Nuʻuanu at Kanoneakapueo, Kahapaʻakai, Luakaha, Kawananakoa, Kaukahoku, Kapaʻeli, Kaumuʻohena, and Puʻiwa, where the fighting began. At Laʻimi in Nuʻuanu Ka-lani-ku-pule’s side was routed, and there Kaʻi-ana died. The chiefs and warriors of Ka-lani-ku-pule were slaughtered, but Koa-lau-kani escaped and fled to Kauai, and Ka-lani-ku-pule hid in the underbrush for a little over a year and then was captured mauka of Waipiʻo in ʻEwa and killed. His body was brought to Kamehameha and offered in sacrifice to his god, Ku-kaʻili-moku.

Samuel Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi, Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 1992.
Kamehameha’s aha aliʻi, including Kekūhaupiʻo (center), Keʻeaumoku, Kamanawa and Kameʻeiamoku (the twins on the left). Painting by Brook Parker.

Desha (who likely availed himself of the work of Joseph Poepoe) gives us more detail:

 At this time when the battle began, the ali‘i ‘ai moku Kamehameha, closely followed by his renowned warrior Kekūhaupi‘o, began their fight amongst Kalanikūpule’s warriors. The O‘ahu people’s spears were seized, and in the hands of Kamehameha and Kekūhaupi‘o, were used to ward off the crowd of people thrusting at them. The tips of the spears were as bath water to Kamehameha and Kekūhaupi‘o. Seeing this skill at warding off spears, the O‘ahu people were astonished, and this method of fighting by this ali‘i ‘ai moku of Hawai‘i began to instill terror in the O‘ahu people as this was the first time they had seen this kind of fighting by this famous ali‘i of whom they had only heard. When they had been taught to be warriors, they had also been taught to run, and some of them ran stupidly, not knowing where to escape. Some of them leaped over the pali. We have all heard of the great numbers of O‘ahu people who died leaping over the Nu‘uanu Pali.

Desha, 2000, 413.
Kamehameha landing at Waikīkī, painting by Herb Kane.

The battle was called “Kaleleakaʻanae” due to this leaping – the “leaping of the mullet.” Because Kahekili had unified Oʻahu with the Maui Kingdom (Nā Pono a Piʻilani) and Kalanikupule had maintained this unification, Kamehameha acquired this unified kingdom of five islands in one day. This day had been four years in the making however, with preparation from the time of Kamehameha’s unification of Hawaiʻi Island in 1791.

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