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.
Kahahana was high-born and royally-connected. His father was Elani, one of the highest nobles in the ʻEwa district on Oʻahu, a descendant of the ancient lords of Lihue. His mother was Kaionuilalahai, a sister of Peleioholani, King of Oʻahu, and a cousin of Kahekili, King of Maui. (Fornander)
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.
Educated in all the athletic and warlike exercises, Kahahana was remarkable for his personal beauty and manly bearing. Handsome, brave and gallant, he was the idol of the Maui court and the pride of the Oʻahu aristocracy. (Fornander)
In 1773, back on Oʻahu, Kūmahana was High Chief. For six generations, Oʻahu Chiefs had always been loyal to the Kākuhihewa family and they were looked upon as their representative on the Oʻahu throne. Here, Kualiʻi and Peleioholani (grandfather and father of Kūmahana) set a standard.
Kualiʻi was celebrated for his long life and other qualities. Stern but just, Peleioholani’s reign was a blessing to his kingdom of Oʻahu, which probably had never since the days of Maʻilikūkahi stood higher in population, wealth, and resources, than at the time of his death. (Fornander)
Not so for Kūmahana. His weaknesses and extravagancies were enough in three short years to alienate chiefs, priests and commoners.
While leadership was typically assumed via conquest or heredity, under Kūmahana, Chiefs, in conjunction with the High-priest Kaʻōpulupulu, called a public meeting to consider the situation of the country and for the avowed purpose of deposing Kūmahana.
Not a voice was heard nor a spear raised in defense of Kūmahana, who then and there was publicly decreed incompetent and unworthy to rule the Oʻahu kingdom. That meeting and the manner of the execution of its decree find few parallels in the most civilized of modern countries, where the people had to resort to revolution to protect the best interests of their country and their own well-being. (Fornander)
Though Kūmahana had grown-up children at the time, the Oahu nobles passed them by in selecting a successor to the throne. 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 Maʻilikūkahi who was his ancestor.
Kahahana was still in Kahekili’s court on Maui at the time and when approached to release Kahahana to return to Oʻahu, Kahekili turned to Kahahana and said, “I permit you to go. Only do me this favor, that when you are firmly established on O‘ahu, you let the land of Kualoa and the ivory that drifts ashore (palaoa-pae) be mine; let these be my property on the island.” (Kamakau)
Then the chiefs, lesser chiefs, priests, counselors, warriors and commoners gathered from the mountains of the interior to the seacoast at the principal place at Waikīkī to make Kahahana Chief over O‘ahu. When word of Kahekili’s request was made known to Kaʻōpulupulu he responded, “if you give away these things your authority will be lost.” (Kamakau)
“To Kualoa belong the water courses of your ancestors, Kalumalumaʻi and Kekaiheheʻe; the sacred drums of Kapahuʻulu, and the spring of Kahoʻahuʻula; the sacred hill of Kauakahi son of Kahoʻowaha of Kualoa. Without the ivory that drifts ashore you could not offer to the gods the first victim slain in battle; it would be for Kahekili to offer it on Maui, and the rule would become his. You would no longer be ruler.” (Koʻolaupoko HCC)
In Hawaiian tradition, the lands of Kualoa were considered to be the symbol of sovereignty and independence for Oahu, and were closely protected by the Oahu chiefs and priests. (NPS)
The ahupuaʻa of Kualoa was once famed for the “ivory that drifts ashore (Palaoa-pae)”. The combination of wind, current and reef brought to the Kualoa shoreline the bodies of dead whales. Whale ivory that washed ashore was considered sacred.
One of the most powerful symbols of status was the whale tooth lei or lei niho palaoa. The beaches of Kualoa on O‘ahu were a major collection point for whale ivory and as such this ‘āina was considered the spot to control in order to possess all of O‘ahu. (Bishop Museum)
Kaʻōpulupulu also strongly stated that if Kahahana had obtained the kingdom by conquest, he might do as he liked, but having been chosen by the Oʻahu chiefs, it would be wrong in him to cede to another the national emblems of sovereignty and independence. Kahahana and the chiefs agreed with Kaʻōpulupulu’s arguments, decided not to comply with the Kahekili’s demands.
All seemed OK, for a while. When war broke out between Kalaniopuʻu of Hawaiʻi Island and Kahekili in 1779, Kahahana had come to the aid of Kahekili.
Later, things soured.
“At that time, Kahekili was plotting for the downfall of Kahahana and the seizure of Oʻahu and Molokaʻi, and the queen of Kauaʻi was disposed to assist him in these enterprises.” (Kalākaua)
In a meeting between Kahahana and Kahekili, Kahekili deceived Kahahana by having him believe 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 landed at Waikīkī in the beginning of 1783. Kahekili, dividing his forces in three columns, marched from Waikīkī by Pūowaina (Punchbowl,) Pauoa and Kapena to battle Kahahana and his forces.
Kahahana’s army was routed, and he and his wife fled to the mountains. For nearly two years or more they wandered over the mountains, secretly aided, fed and clothed by his supporters. Kahekili’s warriors finally found and killed Kahahana.
Kahekili and his eldest son and heir-apparent, Kalanikūpule, conquered Kahahana, adding Oʻahu under his control. (Kahekili’s son, Kalanikūpule, inherited his kingdom; Oʻahu was later lost to Kamehameha in the Battle of Nuʻuanu (1795.))
The image shows Kualoa (KualoaRanch.) Lots of information here from Kamakau and Fornander.)
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