Prominent features rising above the town of Waimea on the Big Island are the puʻu (cinder cones) in the surrounding pasture. The South Kohala community made special note of these physical features in the Community Development Plan noting, “the Puʻu define the special landscape ‘sense of place’ of Waimea.”
One of these, Hōkūʻula (red star,) played a prominent role in battles between warring leadership from the islands of Maui and Hawaiʻi. This story dates back to about the mid-1600s.
To put this timeframe in global perspective, around this time: the Ming Dynasty in China ended and the Manchus came into power and established the Qing dynasty; the Taj Mahal was completed in India: British restored the monarchy and Charles II was crowned king of England; and the Massachusetts Bay colony was forming after the recent landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.
In the islands, Lonoikamakahiki (Lono) was the Mōʻi (Chief) of Hawai‘i. He was a descendant of Pili (a high chief from Tahiti from the 13th century. Lono was grandson of ʻUmi (and great grandson of Līloa.))
“Lono-i-ka-makahiki was a son of Keawe-nui-a-Umi, and was chief of Ka-u and Puna. He was sole ruler over those two districts on Hawaii. He was married to a chiefess, named Ka-iki-lani-kohe-paniʻo, who was descended from Laea-nui-kau-manamana. To them were born sons, Keawe-Hanau-i-ka-walu and Ka-ʻihi-kapu-mahana.” (Kamakau)
Through marriage and victories over other chiefs, Lonoikamakahiki became the ruler of the Island of Hawaiʻi. “During Lono’s reign, when he tended to the affairs of his kingdom, the chiefs and commoners lived in peace.” (Kamakau)
Lono visited the Mōʻi of the various islands, including Kamalālāwalu, ruling chief of Maui. “Lono-i-ka-makahiki sought the good will of these chiefs when he came to meet and associate with them in a friendly manner. There were to be no wars between one chief and another.” (Kamakau)
Kamalālāwalu (Kama) met him and welcomed him royally. The chiefly host and guest spent much time in surfing, a sport that was enjoyed by all. Lono was lavishly entertained by Kamalālāwalu.
Not long after Lono’s departure and return to Hawai‘i, however, Kamalālāwalu, driven by ambition, decided to invade and conquer the nation of Island of Hawai‘i. He sent spies to survey the opposition; they reported there were few men in the Kohala region.
When Kamalālāwalu heard the report of his spies, he was eager to stir his warriors to make war on Hawaiʻi. Most of the prophets and seers supported the chief’s desire and gave dogs as their omen of victory [said that clouds taking the form of dogs foretold victory]. The dogs were a sign of fierceness, and so would the chief fiercely attack the enemy and gain the victory with great slaughter of the foe.
Part of the prophets and seers came to the chief with prophecies denying his victory, and urging him not to go to fight against Hawaiʻi. When Lanikāula, a high priest from Moloka‘i, warned Kamalālāwalu of the dangers of an assault, an irate Kamalālāwalu replied “when I return, I will burn you alive.” (Fornander)
Kamalālāwalu’s fleet landed in Puakō and met no opposition. Lono’s oldest brother, Kanaloakuaʻana, was in residence Waimea at the time, and, upon hearing of the invasion, marched toward Puakō with what forces he had at hand. A battle ensued at Kauna‘oa (near the present-day Mauna Kea Resort), and Kanaloakuaʻana’s forces were defeated, with Kanaloakuaʻana himself being taken prisoner and eventually killed.
After this initial success, Kamalālāwalu and his Maui warriors marched boldly inland and took up a position above Waimea on top of the puʻu called Hōkūʻula and awaited Lono’s forces.
During the night, Lono’s warriors from Kona arrived and occupied a position near Puʻupā (the large cinder cone makai of the Waimea-Kohala Airport.) His warriors from Kaʻū (led by its high chief and Lono’s half-brother, Pupuakea) and Puna were stationed from the pu‘u called Holoholoku (the large cinder cone out in the plains below Mauna Kea,) those from Hilo and Hāmākua were stationed near Mahiki, and those from Kohala were stationed on the slopes of Momoualoa.
That morning, from his position atop Hōkūʻula, Kamalālāwalu could see that the lowlands were literally covered with the countless warriors of Lono, and realized that he was outnumbered. For three days the armies skirmished, with the actions of the Maui warriors being dominated by Kamalālāwalu’s nephew and chief, Makakuikalani.
“Short and long spears were flung, and death took its toll on both sides. The Maui men who were used to slinging shiny, water-worn stones grabbed up the stones of Puʻoaʻoaka. A cloud of dust rose to the sky and twisted about like smoke, but the lava rocks were light, and few of the Hawaii men were killed by them.” (Kamakau)
“The warriors of Maui were put to flight, and the retreat to Kawaihae was long. [Yet] there were many who did reach Kawaihae, but because of a lack of canoes, only a few escaped with their lives. Most of the chiefs and warriors from Maui were destroyed.” (Kamakau)
While Kamakau notes Kamalālāwalu died on the grassy plain of Puakō, other tradition suggests that after Lonoikamakahiki defeated Kamalālāwalu at Hōkūʻula, he brought the vanquished king of Maui to Keʻekū Heiau in Kahaluʻu and offered him as a sacrifice.
The spirits of Kamalālāwalu’s grieving dogs, Kauakahiʻokaʻoka (a white dog) and Kapapako (a black dog,) are said to continue to guard this site. Outside the entrance to the heiau and towards the southwest are a number of petroglyphs on the pāhoehoe. One of them is said to represent Kamalālāwalu.
So ended the first of the major wars between the nations of Maui and Hawai‘i, and a turning point in the history of Hawai‘i.
(Puʻu Hōkūʻula is sometimes referred as “”Buster Brown.” Apparently, while training at Camp Tarawa in Waimea, Marines named it Buster Brown Hill after the former section manager for Parker Ranch, who lived just below the hill.)