Hāmākua Hawai`i

Battlefield Hamakua

Hamakua is the ancient district of the Island of Hawai`i in which I have lived since arriving in the Islands in 1973. Following is one of a number of articles I wrote for The Hamakua Times, intended to enhance the appreciation of fellow residents of the amazing qualities and history of our home lands.

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The most thorough and inspiring archeological/historical synthesis ever done on data from the Island of Hawai`i  was published in 2000: Exalted Sits the Chief: The Ancient History of Hawai`i Island, by State archeologist Ross Cordy. One of the most riveting things about the book is the fact that, since it deals with our Island, it has numerous references to our Hamakua lands.

Many battles were fought during what Cordy calls “The Decade of Strife & Tears,” the period between 1782 and 1791. Because western observers were intermittently present during this period, either to witness the events or to hear of them from participants, there is a good deal of written information about the twists and turns of events that eventually led to Kamehameha’s establishment of dominion over all the islands of Hawai`i. Hawaiian historians also were able to document the history of the time with accounts from individuals with direct or second-hand experience. One particular episode in all these conflicts is of particular interest to us as residents of Hamakua and is summarized as follows:

With the death of Kalaniopu`u, three rivals emerged for control of the Island of Hawai`i, after a very brief reign of the old king’s son, Kiwala`o. Keawema`uhili controlled the lands of Hilo, eastern Hamakua and eastern Puna. Keoua held sway over Ka`u and western Puna, while Kamehameha ruled the lands of Kona, Kohala and western Hamakua, including Waipi`o. Warriors from Maui had gotten involved in the fighting among Hawai`i’s chiefs and Kamehameha had invaded to conquer portions of that Island.

After the bloody battle in `Iao Valley on Maui, in which Kamehameha’s lead in the race for western weapons assured his victory, Kamehameha traveled to Moloka`i. His intent was to increase his power by arranging connections with several powerful women. It was at this time, too, that he received the prophecy that a heiau dedicated to Ku and built at Pu`u Kohola at Kawaihae, would assure his success in conquering all the islands. In his absence, Keoua invaded Hilo and slew Keawema`uhili at `Alae, thereby extending into Hamakua the land under his control. With no one to seriously oppose his movements, Keoua continued on up the coast into Kamehameha’s strongholds, including Waipi`o. There, according to accounts put forth by Rev. Stephen Desha (see Kamehameha and His Warrior Kekuhaupi`o), he “…dried up the famous ponds of Lalakea and Muliwai, and also broke down some other fishponds. The kalo patches being cultivated by the men were damaged. The kalo was laid waste, and the banks of the lo`i needlessly broken down. He plundered the maka`ainana and abused the women of Waipi`o.” From the Valley, Keoua’s troops moved on to Waimea – probably along the alanui, or main trail that ran approximately along the route of the current-day “Mud Lane Road” — where the same kind of despoliation continued.

Reports of these terrible activities had reached Kamehameha, and his heart was greatly troubled. Kamakau, in Ruling Chiefs of Hawai`i, quotes Kamehameha as saying, “Alas, while I have been seeking new children my first-born have been abandoned.” He and his troops set out to return to Kawaihae. Their arrival was observed by Keoua’s spies; when he learned of the landing of his rival, Keoua immediately ceased his harassment of the people of Waimea and descended the slope of Mauna Kea toward the windward coast, placing himself and his army directly in Hamakua. John Young and Isaac Davis helped lead Kamehameha’s forces, and they caught Keoua at Pa`auhau, on the shoreline below and toward Hilo from present-day Honoka`a. Their cannon, Lopaka, did great damage to Keoua’s troops, but was for a time captured by one of Keoua’s leading fighters. The battle was indecisive, and Keoua retreated down the coast toward Hilo; another bloody but also indecisive battle was fought at Koapapa in east Hamakua. It, too, was inconclusive. Both armies retreated from the field, Kamehameha to Waipi`o, Keoua to Hilo.

These events, centered in Hamakua, were sandwiched in between the prophecy that led to the building of Pu`u Kohola heiau at Kawaihae, and the destruction of much of Keoua`s army at Kilauea by the violent eruption a short time after in 1790. At least in the temporal sense, and perhaps in even more critical ways, the lands under us here were the stage upon which pivotal events in the unfolding of history in Hawai`i occurred.