Nuʻuanu Valley is romantic ground!
Here every knoll and dingle hath its talc.
Woven from legends stark of lonely swale
And Pali steep! Aye, long ago, to sound
Of savage warfare waged by Chiefs renowned.
Th’ historic Vale was scarred with bloody trail.
E’en now the bent ear hears the wild death-wail
Of warriors, in the winds which still rebound
The cliffs along: or, in the depths the eye
Doth catch the twinkling of spry Epas’ feet
Where, ‘neath the trailing clouds which not half hide
The tropic moon, they dance in circles nigh
To sound of falling waters—requiem meet,
Where mouldering heroes dim for aye abide!
The battle was the last stand of Kalanikūpule and 9,000-warriors of O‘ahu against Kamehameha and his invading army of 12,000-warriors from Hawai‘i. (Dukas)
Kamehameha’s fleet landed at Waikiki where it covered the beaches from Waiʻalae to Waikiki. Kalanikūpule and his chiefs were stationed at strategic points in Nuʻuanu at Kanoneakapueo, Kahapaʻakai, Luakaha, Kawananakoa, Kaukahoku, Kapaʻeli, Kaumuʻohena, and Puʻiwa (where the fighting began.) (Kamakau)
Outnumbered and outgunned, the O‘ahu defenders were already weakened by the Battle of ‘Aiea (Kukiʻiahu) and a failed attempt to seize two well-armed foreign merchant vessels. (Dukas)
The landings were unopposed, and Kamehameha’s forces had four days to gather food and scout out enemy positions. The army began to move west and first clashed with Kalanikūpule’s men near Punchbowl Crater.
Both armies used traditional Hawaiian weapons, augmented with Western firearms. Kamehameha, however, used European-style flanking tactics and sited cannons on the Papakōlea ridgeline, routing similar positions held by Kalanikūpule’s cannoneers. (James)
“Kalanikūpule’s men were also supplied with these foreign weapons, however, not as well because they had lost those foreign weapons on board Captain Brown’s ships which the foreigners had taken at that time Kalanikūpule had first thought of attacking Kamehameha.” …
“In the beginning of this battle, the female aliʻi on Kamehameha’s side used their muskets, firing their bullets amongst the warriors on Kalanikūpule’s side.”
“Those on Kamehameha’s side were better skilled with the muskets, and perhaps these warriors furnished with the foreign weapons were electrified (ho‘ouwila ‘ia paha) by seeing the fearlessness of these aliʻi wahine.” (Desha)
Just a little above the Queen Emma’s property was a decisive point of the battle. There a well-directed shot from John Young’s cannon brought death to the restless and ambitious Kaʻiana; Kaʻiana had landed with Kamehameha but defected to the side of Kalanikupule.
With his death, Kalanikūpule’s forces scattered – some to the hills and valleys beyond, and drove the rest to a swift destruction over the famous pali. (Thrum)
Kamehameha’s cannon’s rained fire down on Kalanikūpule’s forces, which disorganized under the assault from above. From that point on, it was a running fight, a desperate rear-guard action as Oʻahu’s defenders were herded up Nuʻuanu Valley.
A number of them did escape. Some went up Pacific Heights, but primarily they went up Alewa and over into Kalihi and escaped to Aiea and through there.
Others went up over the pali or went up to Kalihi and then went over into Kāne’ohe. A lot of them went down the old trails on the pali. (Pacific Worlds)
But the actions of some gave the battle another name …
The name of the Battle of Nuʻuanu is also referred to as Kaleleakeʻanae, which means “the leaping of the mullet fish.” With their backs to the sheer cliff of the Nuʻuanu Pali, many chose to fall to their deaths than submit to Kamehameha.
In 1897, while improving the Pali road, workers found an estimated 800-skulls along with other bones, at the foot of the precipice. They believed these to be the remains of Oʻahu warriors defeated by Kamehameha a hundred years earlier. (Island Call, October 1953; Mitchell)
Kalanikūpule survived the battle, but was later captured and sacrificed by Kamehameha at the Diamond Head heiau of Papaʻenaʻena. (Dukas)