At the time of Captain 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,) Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi and Kahoʻolawe, ruled by Kahekili; (3) Oʻahu, under the rule of Kahahana; and (4) Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, Kamakahelei was ruler.
Kahekili was son of Kekaulike. Kekaulike descended from Pi‘ilani, founder of Maui’s last ruling dynasty. King Kekaulike and his children built an empire that enjoyed levels of power and prestige greater than any other royal family up until that point.
The kings of Maui consolidated their strength, built up their armies and created a nation strong enough to threaten at times even the might of the powerful kings of Hawai‘i.
Kahahana was high-born and royally-connected. While still a child, Kahahana was sent to Maui to grow up into young manhood in close contact with one of the most noted courts among the different island kings – the court of his relative, Kahekili.
Then, a transition of Oʻahu leadership was contemplated; it was decided that Kahahana was the most available of all who could be accepted for their future ruler; this was the second king to be elected to succeed to the throne of Oʻahu, the first being Māʻilikūkahi who was his ancestor.
All seemed OK … for a while.
When war broke out between Kalaniʻōpuʻu of Hawaiʻi Island and Kahekili in 1779, Kahahana had come to the aid of Kahekili.
After the return of Kalaniʻōpuʻu to Hawaiʻi in January, 1779, Kahahana went over to Molokai to consecrate the heiau called Kupukapuakea at Wailau, and to build or repair the large taro patch at Kainalu known as Paikahawai.
Here he was joined by Kahekili, who was cordially welcomed and royally entertained. On seeing the fruitfulness and prosperity of the Molokai lands, Kahekili longed to possess some of them, and bluntly asked Kahahana to give him the land of Hālawa.
Kahahana promptly acceded to the request, not being moved by the same considerations regarding the Molokai lands as those of Oʻahu.
“At that time, Kahekili was plotting for the downfall of Kahahana and the seizure of Oʻahu and Molokai, and the queen of Kauai was disposed to assist him in these enterprises.” (Kalākaua)
In a meeting between Kahahana and Kahekili, Kahekili deceived Kahahana by having him believe his High-priest Kaʻōpulupulu had offered the government and throne of Oʻahu to him (Kahekili), but that out of affection for his nephew he had refused; and, he intimated strongly that Kaʻōpulupulu was a traitor to Kahahana.
Kahahana believed the falsehoods and it subsequently caused friction between Kahahana and Kaʻōpulupulu and the Oʻahu King turned a deaf ear to his kahuna’s advice and by the later part of 1782 or beginning of 1783, he arranged to have Kaʻōpulupulu killed.
With his main obstacle removed, Kahekili prepared for an invasion against Oʻahu and Kahahana. He called on Kahahawai, his special friend, strategist and war chief.
However, Kahekili did not have enough war canoes and through Keʻeaumoku, who had married his sister, he asked for Kamehameha’s support for canoes. Kamehameha refused.
Because of this refusal, Kahekili asked Keawemauhili of Hilo; he consented, Kahekili should send some canoe-making experts and warriors to guard them at their work. He sent Kahahawai and about 1,200-men.
A battle took place between Kamehameha and Keawemauhili forces – Kahahawai helped Keawemauhili. The blows to Keawemauhili’s forces began to show, and victory began to lean toward Kamehameha’s forces. In victory, Kamehameha rested in Laupāhoehoe.
While Kamehameha was staying at Laupāhoehoe, Kahekili sent some warriors from Maui to get Kahahawai – he wanted Kahahawai to return and assist him in making war with Kahahana on Oʻahu.
When Kahahawai was ready to return, Keawemauhili presented some war canoes to Kahekili. Keōua also gave some large war canoes, as some of his people had sailed in the great canoes from Kaʻū.
As Kahahawai was leaving, he stopped at Laupāhoehoe to meet with Kamehameha. Kamehameha said to Kahahawai: “I have no death for this aliʻi. Return to Maui, and perhaps there we shall meet again and see each other, and sharpen each other’s spears with our strength.” (Desha)
Kamehameha let them return to Maui in peace.
Then, on behalf of Kahekili, Kahahawai with a number of warriors went to make war on Oʻahu.
Niuhelewai Stream was the location for a famous battle between Kahahawai and Kahahana. In this battle many of Kahahana’s warriors were defeated and slaughtered. “The waters of the stream were turned back, the stream dammed by the corpses of the men.”
After the battle of Niuhelewai, the chiefs and the men retreated and encamped on the mountains of Kaʻala. They were well supplied with war implements and other things necessary for the destruction of their enemies.
A decisive battle in the war between Kahekili and Kahahana took place near Kolekole Pass. With only a little more than 40-men, Kahahawai contrived a means of destroying them.
“Kahahawai told (his warriors) to prepare torches. When these were ready they went one evening to the top of a hill which was near to the rendezvous of the enemies where they lighted their torches.” (Fornander)
“After the torches were lit they moved away to a cliff called Kolekole and hid themselves there, leaving their torches burning at the former place until they died out. The enemies thought that Kahahawai and his men had gone off to sleep. They therefore made a raid …”
“But Kahahawai and his men arose and destroyed all the people who were asleep on the hills and the mountains of Kaʻala. Thus the enemies were annihilated, none escaping.” (Fornander)
Therefore, the conquest of Oʻahu by Kahekili was complete through the bravery and great ingenuity of Kahahawai in devising means for the destruction of the enemy.
Oʻahu remained under Kahekili’s control until the reign of Kalanikūpule, Kahekili’s son – when Oʻahu was conquered by Kamehameha in 1795.
The image shows Kahahawai by Brook Kapukuniahi Parker. (Lots of information here from Fornander and Dibble.)