John Papa ʻĪʻī

#203 in the Moʻolelo series, I’ve begun looking at ʻĪʻī to fill in a review of various early Hawaiian scholars’ accounts of Hawaiian creation, such as Malo, Kamakau and Kepelino.

John Papa ʻĪʻī lived from 1800 to 1870, in that time becoming one of the most trusted advisors of the aliʻi nui and a noted authority on Hawaiian scholarly matters. In a famous story about Kamehameha, the chief (not yet king at the time) had six spears “hurled at him at nearly the same instant.” Peter Young recounts the story from Williams:

John Papa ʻĪʻī (source: wikimedia commons)

Kamehameha became the most skillful of all the chiefs in the use of the spear. Captain George Vancouver later wrote that he once saw six spears hurled at Kamehameha all at the same time.  Kamehameha caught three with one hand as they flew at him. Two he broke by hitting them with a spear in his other hand. One he dodged.

Peter Young, Images of Old Hawaiʻi, citing Williams

Marie Alohalani Brown, in her book Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ʻĪʻī, relates ʻĪʻī’s repeating of the same feat, showing his place in a lineage of Hawaiian warriors into the modern era:

Typical of the renaissance men of the Kingdom era, among ʻĪʻī’s positions were; member of the aliʻi council of Kauikeaouli, hānai father to Victoria Kamāmalu, Kahu of the Chiefs’ Children’s School, treasurer of the Kingdom, Superintendent of Schools for Oʻahu, and privy council member for Kamehameha IV (Brown).

ʻĪʻī retired from government service in 1868. He wrote the series known as “Fragments of Hawaiian History” in 1869 and 1870, and died of scarlet fever that same year. These writings were published as a book of the same name in 1970. Among his land holdings was Anapuni, which was sold in 1879. IN 1907 a tablet was placed at Kawaiahaʻo Church in his honor (

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