The Battle of Mokuʻōhai – Part 2

#154 in the Moʻolelo series

Before the battle, the prophet Holoʻae seemed to foresee the death of Kīwalaʻō. He said to Kamehameha:

E Kalani ē! This is a day of trouble. There will be death on the two sides, and some of your chiefs will die, also a great chief, but the god will shift death to the other side, then a chief of very high rank will die. However, let us observe the time to which the omen is directing us, and pay strict attention to these words of mine.

Desha, 2000, 124
Ka aha ula o Kamehameha Kunuiakea by Brook Parker – Holoʻae is the bearded man with the kīhei on the right.

Holoʻae even predicted that the battle would unfold in two parts – a morning battle, which would see Kīwalaʻō victorious, and another part later in the day, which would allow Kamehameha to prevail. In the first part, Kamehameha’s warriors fled after suffering major casualties, but also inflicting some on Kīwalaʻō’s forces. Desha writes:

And truly, at the time in the evening that Kīwala‘ō’s side fled, Keōua, his brother, and his warriors ran and boarded their canoes with Ka‘ū as their goal. This perhaps fulfilled that saying of the ancients: “A‘o nō ke koa, a a‘o pū nō i ka holo [When one learns to be a warrior, one must also learn to run].

Desha, 2000, 126

The editors added a footnote, citing Pukui, who interpreted this ʻōlelo noeau as “it is no disgrace to run when there is danger of being destroyed” (Pukui 1983:26, #219). Desha seems to chastise Kīwalaʻō and his hubris, in pursuing the battle further rather than taking his early victory for what it was:

We are able to remember the obstinacy of Kalani‘ōpu‘u, Kīwala‘ō’s own father, when the many, many bones of the Waimea chiefs were laid on the sand hills of Kama‘oma‘o. Here the son was following in that pattern of obstinate chiefly power, and we shall see the unfortunate result of this. Hawai‘i’s ancestors had a saying: “Deafness is death, and hearing is life (‘O ke kuli ka make a ‘o ka lohe ke ola).” Kīwala‘ō turned a deaf ear to the good advice of his kahuna who had seen the omens of what was to come, and was overcome by the bitter result.

     Kīwala‘ō was encouraged in his stubbornness by High Chief Keawemauhili of the Hilo districts, because he was dominated by this rapacious chief. This was combined with his euphoria at the morning victory, and he failed to heed the voice of life.

Desha, 2000, 127

As told in Part 1, Kīwalaʻō met his end at the end of this day. Here is Kamakau’s analysis of the battle and its outcome:

What chief was responsible for giving Kamehameha dominion? It was Keoua Kuahu-ʻula. But did not the ruling chief, Kiwalaʻo, join hands with Keoua? Yes, and that was when he broke the solemn command of Ka-lani-ʻopuʻu and his proclamation at Akahipapa. In what respect was Kiwalaʻo wrong? In first offering in sacrifice Kamehameha’s men who had been killed by Keoua; that was as if he had consented to make war on Kamehameha. And for this reason the god transferred his power to Kamehameha. The offerings (mohai) and the gifts (alana) of Kiwalaʻo were an abomination to the god.

Kamakau, 1992, 122
Joseph Mokuʻōhai Poepoe

Joseph Poepoe, who I mentioned in the video “The Most Underrated Books on Hawaiian History” had written an account that Desha “plagiarized” if such a concept exists in Hawaiian culture, had the middle name Mokuʻōhai.

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