It starts with the delivery of a simple package … two ʻulu maika stones wrapped in kapa.
This was an announcement of war between two aliʻi. It was an offer, and a threat.
The kilo (reader of omens) and the kuhikuhipuʻuone (seer, soothsayer) were familiar with the thought behind those white and black stones, and they also understood the ki-leaf knots which were made.
The white stone signified peace and not war, showing the clean thought of the person who sent it, and it might be reciprocated by the return of that stone without a wrapping.
The black stone was a symbol of war between the one who sent it and the one to whom it was sent. (Desha)
The recipient was asked to make a choice.
If the recipient aliʻi sought peace, he returned the white stone. That would show his good intentions and that he was asking that they dwell in affection without starting a war between them.
If he agreed to war between himself and the aliʻi who had sent those stones, then he would take the black stone and wrap it in black kapa, and return it to the aliʻi who had sent the stones.
This action would announce war between them, the stone symbolizing the black thought between them. This would lead to preparations for war.
Kamehameha used this in his conquest of the Islands.
On receipt by Keawemauhili, he chose the white stone and sent it back to Kamehameha showing his good will toward him.
The messenger to Keawemauhili returned with that stone and appeared before Kamehameha and his court. Kamehameha opened up the kapa bundle and saw the white stone within and he turned and said to his chiefs:
“My makua kane (uncle) of Hilo does not desire to oppose me, and it would not be well for our side to go to war with him. It would be a cause for the god to favor him and desert us, as there is no wrongdoing on that side, and we alone desire to make war.”
However, Keʻeaumoku, his uncle and war-seeking advisor said while he returned the white stone, it was deficient. He said Kamehameha should have also asked for the sweet tasting ‘anae (mullet) and the fat awa (milkfish) of Hilo. Kamehameha sent his messenger with that request.
Keawemauhili immediately commanded the konohiki of his fishpond to fetch some fish for the ali‘i Kamehameha, saying: “Fetch four fat ‘anae and also four fat awa, and wrap them in seaweed to keep them alive until they arrive before my keiki Kamehameha.” Keawemauhili also sent back a bundle with two stones wrapped in ki leaves, both white coral.
The later death of Kanekoa at the hands of Keoua led Kamehameha to make war plans, Keawemauhili of Hilo and Keoua of Kaʻu joined forces – Kamehameha attacked Keawemauhili.
A later declaration of war was sent to Kahekili.
In the spring of 1790, Kamehameha invaded the island of Maui. One of the bloodiest battles of Kamehameha’s time was fought and won by him at ʻIao Valley. So many men were killed in this battle that their bodies filled the river, which gave the name of the battle Kepaniwai (the damning of waters.)
After the battle, Kamehameha was on the island of Molokai; he sent a messenger to Kahekili, the King of Maui and Kauai, carrying to symbolic stones, one white and the other black.
“This stone, the white one, is a symbol of farming, of fishing, of the feeding of mankind, and is a stone of rule of government also. This black stone is a stone of war.”
Kahekili paused for a while, then turned again and questioned the messenger: “Ea, does Kamehameha say by these stones that he desires to sail to O‘ahu to make war?” “Yes,” the messenger replied.
If the King returned the white stone, it was equivalent to giving Kamehameha their kingdom without battle; but if the black stone came back, he would prepare for war. Kahekili answered that when his body should be covered with the black tapa (when he was dead,) then Kamehameha could take possession of the Kingdom without battle.
This was acceptable for the time being. Kamehameha waited. Kahekili died in 1794.
“The appropriate time has now come to fulfill that thought of our uncle in giving the land. I am blameless in taking that land because it was previously conveyed to me because of those words of bequest by our uncle.” (Kamehameha; Desha)
In 1795 Kamehameha sailed from his home island of Hawaiʻi with an army of thousands of warriors, including a handful of non-Hawaiian foreigners to battle Kalanikūpule (Kahekili’s son.).
The war apparently ends with some of Kalanikūpule’s warriors pushed/jumping off the Pali. When the Pali Highway was being built, excavators counted approximately 800-skulls, believed to be the remains of the warriors who were defeated by Kamehameha.
Finally, Kamehameha’s messenger delivered to Kaumuali‘i of Kauai a black stone, which was a really beautiful ʻulu maika, and some small black ʻulu maika. Those excellent large and small stones were marked with cord (kahamaha ia). Besides these excellent large and small stones, a white maika stone wrapped in kï leaves.
The large and small black maika stones were as though Kamehameha was saying to Kaumuali‘i through these stones: “Perhaps by strength Kaua‘i might be gotten or perhaps not.” That was the nature of those black maika stones—they were words of war.
The white maika stone wrapped in ki leaves was a denial of war, showing the white thought in Kaumuali‘i’s heart, that he did not desire war.
The fine-meshed net expressed the thought that the other islands of Hawai‘i were bound under Kamehameha, in other words, Hawai‘i, Maui, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Moloka‘i, and O‘ahu. If the discussion went well, then Kauai and Ni‘ihau would be included in the fine-meshed net.
Kaumuali‘i kept the black stones which had been sent him and returned the white maika stone wrapped in kī leaves to the messenger. It was wrapped in the fine-meshed net, and also a section of bamboo was given the messenger.
Kaua‘i’s opposing factions (Kaumuali‘i versus Keawe) were extremely vulnerable as they had been weakened by fighting each other (Keawe died and Kaumuali‘i was, ultimately, ruler of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.) Kamehameha’s two attempts at invading Kauaʻi were foiled (by storm and sickness.)
The island was never conquered; in the face of the threat of a further invasion, in 1810, at Pākākā on Oʻahu, negotiations between King Kaumuali‘i and Kamehameha I took place and Kaumualiʻi yielded to Kamehameha. The agreement marked the end of war and thoughts of war across the islands.
The image shows Kamehameha as a young warrior. (Herb Kane) (Lots of information here from Desha.)