Manono was born on Maui in the 1780s; her father was Kekuamanoha, and her mother was Kalola-a-Kumukoʻa, a wife of Kamehameha. Through her father, she was a granddaughter of Kekaulike, the Mōʻi (King) of Maui.
From her mother’s side, she was the great-granddaughter of King Keawe of Hawaiʻi. Her half-siblings from her father’s first marriage were Kalanimōkū, Boki and Wahinepio. She was cousin of Kaʻahumanu, Kalākua Kaheiheimālie, Keʻeaumoku II and Kuakini (Governor of Hawaiʻi.)
At the time of Cook’s arrival (1778-1779) (while the Colonists were battling the British on the continent,) 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 at (4) Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, Kamakahelei was ruler.
Separate Kingdoms ruled separate parts of the Islands. However, conquest was in the air and battles and negotiations for power and control were going on.
When Keōua, the father of Kamehameha, died, he commended his son to the care of Kalaniʻōpuʻu, who received him, and treated him as his own child. (Dibble) Following Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s death in 1782, the kingship was inherited by his son Kīwalaʻō; Kamehameha (Kīwalaʻō’s cousin) was given guardianship of the Hawaiian god of war, Kūkaʻilimoku.
Dissatisfied with subsequent redistricting of the lands by district chiefs, civil war ensued between Kīwalaʻō’s forces and the various chiefs under the leadership of his cousin Kamehameha.
In 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,) Kiwalaʻo was killed. With the death of his cousin Kiwalaʻo, the victory made Kamehameha chief of the districts of Kona, Kohala and Hāmākua, while Keōua, the brother of Kiwalaʻo, held Kaʻū and Puna, and Keawemauhili declared himself independent of both in Hilo. (Kalākaua)
Kamehameha, through the assistance of the Kona “Uncles” (Keʻeaumoku, Keaweaheulu, Kameʻeiamoku & Kamanawa (the latter two ended up on the Islands’ coat of arms;)) succeeded, after a struggle of more than ten years, in securing the supreme authority over that island (and later, the entire Hawaiian Islands chain.)
Prior to his death on May 8, 1819, Kamehameha decreed that that his son, Liholiho, would succeed him in power; he also decreed that his nephew, Kekuaokalani, have control of the war god Kūkaʻilimoku (a similar scenario to Kalaniʻōpuʻu and Kiwalaʻo/Kamehameha.)
At a young age Manono fell in love with and married Kekuaokalani, the young kahu (priest) of Kūkaʻilimoku from the island of Hawai’i. The couple lived in the mountains on the island of Maui tending to their taro patches and raised their four children. (Cupchoy)
Following the death of Kamehameha I in 1819, King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) declared an end to the kapu system. “An extraordinary event marked the period of Liholiho’s rule, in the breaking down of the ancient tabus, the doing away with the power of the kahunas to declare tabus and to offer sacrifices, and the abolition of the tabu which forbade eating with women (ʻAi Noa, or free eating.)” (Kamakau)
The people were divided about keeping the traditional social structure or abandoning it. Kekuaokalani, Liholiho’s cousin, opposed the abolition of the kapu system and assumed the responsibility of leading those who opposed its abolition. These included priests, members of his court and the traditional territorial chiefs of the middle rank.
Kekuaokalani demanded that Liholiho withdraw his edict on abolition of the kapu system. (If the kapu fell, the war god would lose its potency.) (Daws) Kamehameha II refused.
After attempts to settle peacefully, “Friendly means have failed; it is for you to act now,” and Keōpūolani then ordered Kalanimōkū to prepare for war on Kekuaokalani. Arms and ammunition were given out that evening to everyone who was trained in warfare, and feather capes and helmets distributed. (Kamakau)
The two powerful cousins engaged at the final Hawaiian battle of Kuamoʻo – a battle for tradition versus the modern.
In December 1819, just seven months after the death of Kamehameha I, opposing heirs met in battle on the lava fields south of Keauhou Bay. Liholiho had more men, more weapons and more wealth to ensure his victory. He sent his prime minister, Kalanimōku, to defeat his cousin.
Kekuaokalani marched up the Kona Coast from Kaʻawaloa and met his enemies at Lekeleke, just south of Keauhou. The first encounter went in favor of Kekuaokalani. At Lekeleke, the king’s army suffered a temporary defeat.
Regrouping his warriors, Kalanimōkū fought back and trapped the rebels farther south along the shore in the ahupuaʻa of Kuamoʻo. (Kona Historical Society)
“No characters in Hawaiian history stand forth with a sadder prominence, or add a richer tint to the vanishing chivalry of the race, than Kekuaokalani and his courageous and devoted wife, Manono, the last defenders in arms of the Hawaiian gods.” (Kalākaua)
“Kekuaokalani is referred to by tradition as one of the most imposing chiefs of his day. He was more than six and a half feet in height, perfect in form, handsome in feature and noble in bearing. Brave, sagacious and magnetic, he possessed the requirements of a successful military leader”. (Kalākaua)
Kekuaokalani, having earlier received a wound, fainted and fell and, unable to stand, “sat on a fragment of lava, and twice loaded and fired a musket on the advancing party. He now received a ball in his left breast, and, immediately covering his face with his feathered cloak”. (Ellis)
“In the midst of these scenes of blood the eye rests with relief upon numerous episodes of love, friendship and self-sacrifice touching with a softening color the ruddy canvas of the past.” (Kalākaua)
“Manono, during the day, fought by his side, with steady and dauntless courage.” (Ellis)
“He finally fell with a musket-ball through his heart. With a wild scream of despair Manono sprang to his assistance”. (Kalākaua)
“But the words had scarcely escaped from her lips, when she received a ball in the left temple – fell upon the lifeless body of her husband, and expired.” (Ellis)
“Thus died the last great defenders of the Hawaiian gods. They died as nobly as they had lived, and were buried together where they fell on the field of Kuamoʻo.” (Kalākaua)
“It is painful to contemplate the death of Kekuaokalani, of Manono a wife who seems to have been unusually affectionate, and of the many friends and adherents who fought with acknowledged steadfastness and courage and fell on the field of battle.” (Dibble)
“Manono is said to have been an interesting woman, and she certainly gave evidence of attachment and affection. … Not even the horrors of savage fight could prevent her from following the fortune and sharing the dangers of her husband.” (Dibble)
It is said that Kalanimōkū left the body of Kekuaokalani on the lava rocks after this battle instead of having it buried according to his rank of a chief because Kekuaokalani’s ancestor, Alapaʻi-Nui-a–Kaʻu-au-a had drowned Kalanimōkū’s ancestor, Kauhi-ai-moku-a-kama, at Puhele, Kaupo district, Maui. (Kamakau)
After Kalanimōkū’s departure, Kekuaokalani’s loved ones retrieved his body; later the iwi of Kekuaokalani were brought from Koaiku Cave in Kaʻawaloa to Pohukaina on the grounds of ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu. (Parker, Alu Like)
Kekuaokalani’s feathered cloak was taken as a battle prize of Kamehameha II. The cloak became one of the three feathered cloaks that legitimized Liholiho’s claim to power. After the death of Kamehameha II, the cloak did not have the same symbolic power to his brother, Kamehameha III, and it was given to Captain John H Aulick of the American Navy in 1841. His descendants gave it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1869. (Smithsonian)
The image ‘Kekuaokalani and Manono Battle at Kuamoʻo Dec. 1819’ by Brook Kapukuniahi Parker was the inspiration for this summary. Front and center is Manono, standing beside her husband Kekuaokalani. In the back, a kahuna holds Kūkaʻilimoku, the Hawaiian war god, first entrusted to Kamehameha I, who passed it on to Kekuaokalani.