At the time of Captain Cook’s arrival (1778-1779), the Hawaiian Islands were divided into four chiefdoms: (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.
Kalaniʻōpuʻu was born about 1729; he died in April 1782. His brother was Keōua and his son was Kiwalaʻō; he was the grandfather of Keōpūolani. 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)
“(W)hen Captain Cook first landed on Hawaiʻi he found the (chief) of that island absent on another warlike expedition to Maui, intent upon avenging his defeat of two years before, when his famous brigade of eight hundred nobles was hewn in pieces.” (Kalākaua)
Kahekili was born at Hāliʻimaile, Maui, the son of the high chief Kekaulike. In 1765, Kahekili inherited all of Maui Nui and O‘ahu and was appointed successor to his brother Kamehamehanui’s chiefdom (not to be confused with Hawai‘i Island’s Kamehameha I.)
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 Līhuʻe. His mother was a sister of Peleioholani, Chief of Oʻahu, and a cousin of Kahekili, Chief of Maui. (Fornander)
Kahahana had from boyhood been brought up at the court of Kahekili, who looked upon his cousin’s child almost as a son of his own. (Fornander)
Kamakahelei was the “queen of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, and her husband was a younger brother to Kahekili, while she was related to the royal family of Hawaiʻi.”
“Thus, it will be seen, the reigning families of the several islands of the group were all related to each other, as well by marriage as by blood. So had it been for many generations. But their wars with each other were none the less vindictive because of their kinship, or attended with less of barbarity in their hours of triumph.” (Kalākaua)
At the time of Cook’s arrival, “Kahekili was plotting for the downfall of Kahahana and the seizure of Oʻahu and Molokai, and the queen of Kauaʻi was disposed to assist him in these enterprises. “ (Kalākaua)
At about that time, in 1779, Kahahana had assisted Kahekili in his wars against Kalaiopuʻu of Hawaiʻi. The rupture between Kahekili and Kahahana did not occur till afterward, in 1780-81. (Fornander)
In the early part of 1783, Kahahana was in the upper part of Nuʻuanu valley, when the news came of Kahekili’s landing at Waikīkī, and hastily summoning his warriors, he prepared as best he could to meet so sudden an emergency. (Fornander)
In this company there were eight famous warriors, who seemed to think themselves invulnerable: Pupuka, Makaʻioulu, Puakea, Pinau, Kalaeone, Pahua, Kauhi and Kapukoa.
They had often faced danger, and returned chanting victory.
The night shadows were falling around the camp when these eight men, one by one, crept away from the other chiefs. Word had been passed from one to the other and a secret expedition partially outlined. Therefore each man was laden with his spear, club and javelins. (Westervelt)
With the coming of morning light they found themselves not far from the old temple, which had been used for ages for most solemn royal ceremonies, a part of which was often the sacrifice of human beings, and here, aided by their gods, they thought to inflict such injuries upon the Maui men as would make their names remembered in the Maui households.
While Kahekili and his Maui army were camped near the heiau at ʻApuakehau, they were suddenly attacked by the eight of Oʻahu.
Without authorization from Kahahana, into these hundreds the eight boldly charged.
The conflict was hand to hand, and in that respect was favorable to the eight men well-skilled in the use of spear and javelin. Side by side, striking and smiting all before them, the little band forced its way into the heart of the body of its foes.
Wave upon wave of men from Maui beat against the eight, but each time the wave was shattered and scattered and destroyed. Large numbers were killed while the eight still fought side by side apparently uninjured.
It has been said that this was a fight “to which Hawaiian legends record no parallel.” Eight men attacked an army and for some time were victorious in their onslaught. (Westervelt)
Surrounded, they were able to escape at Kawehewehe, killing dozens of their adversaries.
Only one of the eight lived to perpetuate his name among the families of Oʻahu. Pupuka became the ancestor of noted chiefs of high rank. The others were probably all killed in the destructive battles which soon followed. (Westervelt)
Kahahana’s army was later 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. He was finally betrayed and killed by his wife’s brother. (Kanahele)
Kahekili conquered Oʻahu and finally received the body of Kahahana, which was taken to the temple at Waikīkī and offered in sacrifice. After this annihilation of the Oʻahu army, no hint is given of the other members of the band of the famous eight. (Westervelt)
Kahekili and his eldest son and heir-apparent, Kalanikūpule, conquered Kahahana, adding Oʻahu under his control. (Kahekili’s son, Kalanikūpule, inherited his chiefdom; Oʻahu was later lost to Kamehameha in the Battle of Nuʻuanu (1795.)) The image shows the Oʻahu Eight, drawn by Brook Kapukuniahi Parker.