At the time of Cook’s arrival (1778-1779), the Hawaiian Islands were divided into four kingdoms: (1) the island of Hawaiʻi under the rule of Kalaniʻōpuʻu, who also had possession of the Hāna district of east Maui; (2) Maui (except the Hāna district,) Molokai, Lānaʻi and Kahoʻolawe, ruled by Kahekili; (3) Oʻahu, under the rule of Kahahana; and at (4) Kauai and Niʻihau, Kamakahelei was ruler.
At that time of Cook’s arrival, Kalaniʻōpuʻu was on the island to Maui to contend with Kahekili, king of Maui. The east side of Maui had fallen into the hands of Kalaniʻōpuʻu and Kahekili was fighting with him to gain control.
Kalaniʻōpuʻu returned to Hawaiʻi and met with Cook on January 26, 1779, exchanging gifts, including an ʻahuʻula (feathered cloak) and mahiole (ceremonial feather helmet.) Cook also received pieces of kapa, feathers, hogs and vegetables.
After the departure of the Resolution and Discovery, Kalaniʻōpuʻu left the bay and passed to Kaʻū, the southern district of Hawaiʻi, having in his charge the young Kaʻahumanu. He died shortly thereafter. (Bingham)
In about 1781, through a well-planned campaign, Kahekili was able to regain possession of the Hāna district and this marked the beginning of the disintegration of Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s kingdom. (Kuykendall)
Kalaniʻōpuʻu died shortly thereafter (1782.) Before his death, Kalaniʻōpuʻu gave an injunction to Kiwalaʻo and Kamehameha, and to all the chiefs, thus: “Boys, listen, both of you. The heir to the kingdom of Hawaii nei, comprising the three divisions of land, Kaʻū, Kona and Kohala, shall be the chief Kiwalaʻo. He is the heir to the lands.” (Fornander)
“As regarding you, Kamehameha, there is no land or property for you; but your land and your endowment shall be the god Kaili (Kūkaʻilimoku.) If, during life, your lord should molest you, take possession of the kingdom; but if the molestation be on your part, you will be deprived of the god.” These words of Kalaniʻōpuʻu were fulfilled in the days of their youth, and his injunction was realized. (Fornander)
Kiwalaʻō and his chiefs were dissatisfied with subsequent redistricting of the lands; civil war ensued between Kīwalaʻō’s forces and the various chiefs under the leadership of Kamehameha.
Kīwala‘ō did indeed cut up these various lands, and what was seen was that all the valuable lands went to Chief Keawemauhili of Hilo, followed by the chiefs of Hāmākua and Puna. The chiefs of the west were without lands so that they were unable to restrain their thoughts of war with Kīwala‘ō and the land-grabbing chiefs of East Hawai‘i. (Desha)
Kekūhaupi‘o (one of Kamehameha’s warriors) took the lead in speaking, and this is what he said to those chiefs gathered at Ka‘ūpūlehu at that time: “My thought to you, my lord and the chiefs gathered here with you, is that it would be well for us to go to Ka‘awaloa and Nāpo‘opo‘o, and as far as Ke‘ei, which will be the meeting place for our side.”
“If there is trouble in battle, then the most excellent site to try our strength is Hauiki. Between Ke‘ei and Hōnaunau, the ground is pitted and there is much rough lava (‘a‘ā). Hauiki is the very best place for us to show our strength, if indeed there is to be war.” (Kekūhaupi‘o; Desha)
When Kamehameha and the other high chiefs heard these words of guidance by the famous warrior of Ke‘ei, they unanimously agreed with him. (Desha)
“It was a wretched place in which small groups would be better able to fight the large army of Kīwala‘ō and the many men under him. Kekūhaupi‘o knew his site in advance.” (Desha)
This was the first major skirmish, the battle of Mokuʻōhai (a fight between Kamehameha and Kiwalaʻo in July, 1782 at Keʻei, south of Kealakekua Bay on the Island of Hawaiʻi).
Kīwala‘ō’s army led by the twins Keōuakū‘ahu‘ula and Keōuape‘e‘ale and supported by the Hilo warriors of Keawemauhili and the Puna warriors of Ahia, along with warriors of Kaʻū and Hāmākua versus Kamehameha’s army of warriors mostly from Kohala, Kona, and Waimea.
Chiefs allied with Kamehameha and Kekūhaupiʻo were Keʻeaumoku Pāpaʻiaheahe, Keaweaheulu, Keaweokahikona, Kawelookalani, Kala‘imamahū, and Kamehameha’s younger brother Keli‘imaika‘i, as well as Kameʻeiamoku and Kamanawa, the sacred twins of Kekaulike. (Harrington)
The leadership of Kamehameha’s warriors was under Ke‘eaumoku, the warrior father of Ka‘ahumanu, well supported by some other chiefs of the Kona districts.
Ke‘eaumoku was a chief celebrated for his knowledge of lua, or bone-breaking, and in fighting with the spear and the hand weapon called the leiomano used in hand to hand combat. This was a mikini lima [object worn on hand], a small-meshed net to which shark’s teeth are attached. It was made to fit the hand and was used with terrible effect in close combat. (Desha)
Kīwala‘ō’s forces had a beginning battle victory in the morning. Kīwala‘ō and his chiefs and the various armies under them were at Hōnaunau, and he moved his armies over that uneven lava to the boundary of Ke‘ei, moving along that side of Ke‘ei to a place called Hauiki, which is there at Ke‘ei until this very time.
In the afternoon, the battle began again. Ke‘eaumoku was captured and “surrounded by Kīwala‘ō’s warriors, which led Kīwala‘ō to that place, thrusting aside those who obstructed his way to the place where Ke‘eaumoku lay in his weakness.”
“When Kīwala‘ō saw this high chief of Hawai‘i being thrust at by the men surrounding him, he called out in a hoarse voice: ‘Ea, be careful in thrusting the spear! Take care lest the niho (lei niho palaoa) be smeared with blood.’”
“When Ke‘eaumoku heard Kīwala‘ō’s first words, he thought he was to be saved, because of the command to be careful in thrusting the spears. When Kīwala‘ō uttered the last words, he realized he was in danger since the niho palaoa he was wearing was the source of Kīwala‘ō’s concern, lest it be soiled with blood.”
“This famous lei niho palaoa was named Nalukoki. Kīwala‘ō greatly prized it for it had been skillfully made of the hair of some famous ali‘i of Hawai‘i Nei, and if it had been soiled with blood its excellence would have been impaired.”
“At this moment, Kamanawa, one of the sacred twins of Kekaulike, saw Ke‘eaumoku’s danger. He quickly moved his men to where Ke‘eaumoku lay, and a heated battle was begun between his men and those of Kīwala‘ō.”
“In the midst of this heated battle a stone flew and struck Kīwala‘ō on the temple so that he fell close to where Ke‘eaumoku lay. When some of Kīwala‘ō’s chiefs saw the harm that had befallen their ali‘i ‘ai moku, they were weakened and began to retreat.”
Kīwala‘ō was not killed when struck by the stone, but had been stunned. “Ke‘eaumoku regained his strength and moved to where Kīwala‘ō lay.”
“He then said these words to the people who were listening: ‘I shall care for the body of the ali‘i.’ At the same time he seized the body of the faint Kīwala‘ō who was lying there, and with the leiomano in his hands, he slashed open Kīwala‘ō’s belly so that his entrails gushed forth and he died instantly.” (Desha)
“When Keōua and his chiefs realized that Kīwala‘ō was dead and they saw the slaughter of their men by Kamehameha’s warriors, they ran and leaped into the sea and swam to the canoes which awaited them.” (Desha)
The result of the battle of Mokuʻōhai was virtually to split the island of Hawaiʻi into three independent and hostile factions. The district of Kona, Kohala and portions of Hāmākua acknowledged Kamehameha as their sovereign. (Fornander)
The remaining portion of Hāmākua, the district of Hilo and a part of Puna, remained true to and acknowledged Keawemauhili as their Mōʻī; while the lower part of Puna and the district of Kaʻū, the patrimonial estate of Kīwalaʻō, ungrudgingly and cheerfully supported Keōua against the mounting ambition of Kamehameha. (Fornander)
After a struggle of more than ten years, in 1791, Kamehameha succeeded in securing control over that island of Hawaiʻi (and later, the entire Hawaiian Islands chain.)