By the time of Cook’s arrival, Kamehameha had become a superb warrior who already carried the scars of a number of political and physical encounters. The young warrior Kamehameha was described as a tall, strong and physically fearless man who “moved in an aura of violence.” (NPS)
Physical attributes helped him get there, so did the assistance and training he received from Kekūhaupiʻo. Let’s look a little into his trainer. But first, let’s see how the trainer was trained.
Kohapiolani, father of Kekūhaupiʻo, was a warrior chief who had been involved in some battles in earlier times. He is said to have been born at Keʻei close to Nāpoʻopoʻo. His mother was also from Keʻei and here he grew up in the days of his youth.
His father began to instruct Kekūhaupiʻo in the warlike arts, such as spear hurling, boxing and wrestling; as well, he trained him to run swiftly, for the father said: “One who is learning the warlike arts of the land does well to accustom himself to swift running whereas, by speed, the fleeing enemy can be pursued from the battlefield and caught. I am training you now, but when you become big, you will be taught by experts.”
After the passage of several anahulu (ten day periods) in practice, Kekūhaupiʻo had become quite adept and then his father said: “My son, fighting a battle consists not only in hurling a spear, but a most valuable thing in this warlike profession of our ancestors is the knowledge of how to dodge the spears that will be thrust at you—this knowledge makes a famous warrior.”
His father quickly saw that Kekūhaupiʻo had advanced in his training and determined it was time to seek some teachers in the art of war, including the spear and also the wooden staff, as well as lua, the bone-breaking arts of wrestling.
Laʻamea, his lua instructor noted, “This young aliʻi will become a famous warrior in the future and will become a fighter on the side of some famous aliʻi of the land. He will become one who seeks land for some of our aliʻi ʻai moku. If he exhibits such competence at this young age, his future competence is established and not only with the weapons in his hand, but combined with his genuine strength. This one’s status is as a moa lawai one who is sufficiently adept to prevail in future battles.”
After training under Laʻamea, Kekūhaupiʻo was under the instruction of Koaia, a certain man of Kapalilua very famous for bone-breaking wrestling.
When Koaia realized he had taught his student all he knew, having spent some months together with him and having been drawn to him by his agreeable nature, he said to him:
“‘Auhea ʻoe, e kuʻu aliʻi haumana, in my teaching of the various methods of our ancestors’ lua fighting, all that remains is the ʻailolo ceremony to confirm you an adept; however, unlike others I have taught to overcome a man, you shall also become adept in fighting that terrifying fish of the wide ocean which people fear—then you shall become a niuhi shark (tiger shark) on the battlefields of the future. Do you dare to become an adept by (overcoming) this terrifying fish of the ocean and eating the eye of the niuhi shark for your ‘ailolo ceremony?”
Preparing himself to battle the shark, Koaia advised, “E Kekūhaupiʻo ē, don’t hasten to leap into the fight with your opponent, but let us play with him. … This is something good for you to learn: in the future when you fight an opponent, don’t hasten to leap forward, but first study his nature to enable you to learn his weakness, then it will be easy for you to secure him by one of the methods you have learned. However, prepare yourself and look well at the place where you can kill him. I only ask of you that you act fearlessly.”
When the time was right, on hearing his teacher’s order, Kekūhaupiʻo dove straight to the shark’s side giving it no time to turn. All that was seen by the people on board was the strong flick of the shark’s tail when it received the thrust behind its gills. Kekūhaupiʻo withdrew his spear and thrust again near the first thrust and the shark was weakened near to death – it only thrashed and Kekūhaupiʻo clung to its side and killed it.
Eventually, Kekūhaupiʻo went to live and serve as a warrior with the aliʻi ʻai moku of Kaʻū (Kalaniʻōpuʻu) and in his presence demonstrated his proficiency in the arts of battle. There were constant battle-practice exercises and it was noted that Kekūhaupiʻo overcame his opponents and his fame spread as far as Maui, O‘ahu, and even to the sun-snatching island to the leeward (ka ‘āina kāʻili lā o lalo ē—a poetic reference to Kaua‘i.)
Then, Kamehameha came onto the scene. When Kalaniʻōpuʻu reigned over Hawai‘i, Kamehameha returned to his uncle’s court and lived together with Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s own son, the young Kīwalaʻō.
Kalaniʻōpuʻu instructed Kekūhaupiʻo to teach Kamehameha the ancient martial arts of the land. Kekūhaupiʻo was determined to give all his knowledge to his chiefly pupil, and he indeed did so. This brought about the firm bond between Kekūhaupiʻo and the young Kamehameha.
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. (Williams)
Kekūhaupiʻo is arguably the one man most closely connected to Kamehameha I during Kamehameha’s formative years, while he developed his skills as a warrior, and through the early period of Kamehameha’s conquests.
A short while after this, Kalaniʻōpuʻu raised an expedition to Maui. Part of Maui, specifically the district of Hāna and the famous fortification of Kaʻuiki, had previously been held by those of Hawai‘i. Kekūhaupiʻo and Kamehameha were taken along on this war expedition by Kalaniʻōpuʻu, king of Hawai‘i.
While Kalaniʻōpuʻu was at Hāna he sent his warriors to plunder the Kaupō people. Kahekili was king of Maui in those days, and when he heard of the deeds of King Kalaniʻōpuʻu of Hawai‘i in slaughtering the Kaupō people and the taking of land, he raised a great army led by his very famous general named Kāneʻōlaelae. When Kahekili’s warriors met those of Kalaniʻōpuʻu at Kaupō, a very strong battle developed between the two sides.
This battle showed the fearlessness of Kekūhaupiʻo. It was said that when the battle started Kekūhaupiʻo moved amongst Kahekili’s warriors, and it was said of him: “The man raised up is broken in the strong hands of Kekūhaupiʻo.” However, while he was fighting fearlessly he was surrounded by the Maui warriors, and they combined in their multitudes so that Kekūhaupiʻo was in dire trouble.
When Kamehameha saw that his teacher was in trouble, he leapt into the heat of the battle attempting to rescue his teacher. By Kamehameha’s action, Kekūhaupiʻo escaped with his life.
Outnumbered and overpowered, the Hawai‘i warriors fled but many were slaughtered by the Maui people at that battle at Kaupō which was named the Battle of Kalaeokaʻīlio (it happened in 1775.)
This is the first battle of the rising warrior Kamehameha, and during the fighting, the young aliʻi chief showed fearlessness and bravery by coming to the rescue of his war instructor Kekūhaupiʻo.
Kekūhaupiʻo first served as Kamehameha’s instructor in the skills of combat before becoming his stalwart bodyguard, fearless warrior and trusted advisor.
Much of this summary is from a newspaper serial originally published in Ka Hoku o Hawaiʻi, written in Hawaiian by Reverend Stephen L Desha, translated by Frances N Frazier and produced into a book with assistance from DLNR by Kamehameha Schools. The image shows Kamehameha as a young warrior (Herb Kane.)