Combat in ancient Hawaiʻi was essentially hand to hand fighting, with various held or thrown weapons (included spears, daggers, clubs, slings, strangling ropes, shark tooth weapons and more.)
The cannon and other fire arms – and people who knew how to effectively use them – were pivotal factors in the outcomes of future battles after “contact.” Here are a few who helped.
John Young (1790)
John Young, a boatswain on the British fur trading vessel, Eleanora, was stranded on the Island of Hawai‘i in 1790. Kamehameha brought Young to Kawaihae, where he was building the massive temple, Puʻukoholā Heiau.
Because of his knowledge of European warfare, Young is said to have trained Kamehameha and his men in the use of muskets and cannons.
Young was instrumental in building fortifications throughout the Islands, which included the conversion of Mailekini Heiau (below Pu‘ukoholā Heiau) into a fort, which he armed with as many as 21 ship cannons. Young also served as a negotiator for the king, securing various trade and political agreements with many of the foreigners that visited the Islands.
Kamehameha appointed John Young as Governor of Kamehameha’s home island, Hawai‘i Island, and gave him a seat next to himself in the ruling council of chiefs. In 1819, Young was one of the few present at the death of Kamehameha.
Isaac Davis (1790)
Isaac Davis (c. 1758–1810) (Welch) arrived in Hawaii in 1790 as the sole survivor of the massacre of the crew of The Fair American. He became one of the closest advisors to Kamehameha I. He was instrumental in Kamehameha’s military ventures.
Davis became a respected translator and military advisor for Kamehameha. Davis brought western military knowledge to Hawai‘i and played a big role during Hawaii’s first contacts with the European powers. His skill in gunnery, as well as the cannon from the Fair American, helped Kamehameha win many battles.
Davis had the King’s “most perfect confidence” and he attended to Kamehameha’s needs on all travels of business or pleasure – and ventured with him during times of war. Davis earned Kamehameha’s “greatest respect and the highest degree of esteem and regard.”
Isaac Davis resided immediately next to Kamehameha. He became one of the highest chiefs under Kamehameha and was Governor of Oʻahu during the early-1800s.
When Captain George Vancouver visited Hawai‘i Island in 1793, he observed that both Young and Davis “are in his (Kamehameha’s) most perfect confidence, attend him in all his excursions of business or pleasure, or expeditions of war or enterprise; and are in the habit of daily experiencing from him the greatest respect, and the highest degree of esteem and regard.” (Both Young and Davis fought alongside Kamehameha in his many battles.)
Mare Amara (1791)
Kāʻeokūlani left Kauaʻi with a well-equipped fleet of war canoes, accompanied by his nephew Peapea, his military commanders Kiikiki and Kaiawa, his foreign gunner Mare Amara and arrived at Oʻahu in the spring of 1791. (Fornander)
Kahekili and his half-brother Kāʻeo sailed for Hawai’i, carrying with them Mare Amara (from France or Italy) and a special group of fighting men called the pahupu.
Once more foreign weapons worked devastation on the old methods of waging war. Mare Amara picked off an enemy chief where he stood, feather-cloaked, directing his warriors with sweeping gestures.
At Kepuwaha’ula’ula, the battle of the red-mouthed gun, for the first time, a Hawaiian sea battle was fought in which both sides had foreign gunners – Mare Amara with Kahekili, and Isaac Davis and John Young with Kamehameha. It was indecisive, and Kahekili was able to break off and withdraw safely to O’ahu. (DeMink)
Later, Captain Brown had Mare Amara aboard advising his crew in a conﬂict. Amara was later executed; he was considered a turncoat. Reportedly, he was burned alive on the deck of the boat in a large pan of his own gunpowder.
Don Francisco de Paula Marin (1793)
Don Francisco de Paula Marin was a Spaniard who arrived in the Hawaiian Islands around 1793. His knowledge of Western military weapons brought him to the attention of Kamehameha, who was engaged in the conquest of O‘ahu. Marin almost immediately became a trusted advisor to Kamehameha I.
Marin spoke four languages (he arrived fluent in Spanish, French and English, and learned Hawaiian) and was employed by Kamehameha as Interpreter, Bookkeeper and part time Physician (although he had no formal medical training, he had some basic medical knowledge.)
Marin also served as purchasing agent for the arms that proved decisive to Kamehameha’s victory of the Battle of Nuʻuanu (1795.)
These are only a few of the prominent foreigners who sided with Hawaiians during the post-contact era – there were others.
In the end, Kamehameha had more weapons on his side. With these powerful new weapons and associated war strategy, Kamehameha eventually brought all of the Hawaiian Islands under his rule.
The image shows Herb Kane’s depiction of Kepuwahaʻulaʻula, the battle of the red-mouthed gun, where both sides had foreign guns and gunners.