By Léo Azambuja

Kaua‘i Museum Executive Director Chucky Boy Chock is seen here with a painting of Chiefess Kamakahelei, in exhibit at the museum. The painting was done by Evelyn Ritter, who has portrayed several chiefs and royalty also in exhibit at Kaua‘i Museum in Lihu‘e.

Chiefess Kamakahelei ruled over Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau when power-thirsty chiefs waged war against each other throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Though warfare may have been the business of men, Kamakahelei was arguably one of the most important chiefs in Hawai‘i during her time as ali‘i nui of Kaua‘i.

“She was powerful; her lineage was very important,” said Chucky Boy Chock, executive director of Kaua‘i Museum.

Kamakahelei was born in the mid 1750s. She was the great-granddaughter of Kuali‘i, once the ruling ali‘i of Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Molokai, Lāna‘i and Maui. Kuali‘i’s son, Pelei‘ōhōlani, ruled Kaua‘i, reporting only to his father. When Kuali‘i died at an old age, control of O‘ahu passed to his oldest son, Kapi‘oho‘okālani, according to Frederick B. Wichman, in his book, Nā Pua Aliʻi o Kauaʻi: Ruling Chiefs of Kauaʻi.

But Kapi‘oho‘okālani would die in a fierce, five-day battle on Molokai soon after taking control of O‘ahu. Though Kapi‘oho‘okālani’s son succeeded him, Pelei‘ōhōlani would eventually move to O‘ahu to rule the island, leaving behind his daugther, Ka‘apuwai, as the governor of Kaua‘i.

Ka‘apuwai married Kaua‘i chief Ka‘umeheiwā. Both were direct descendants of high chief Kalanikukuma, so their daughter, Kamakahelei, inherited a strong mana, or divine power. In old Hawai‘i, by marrying close relatives, even siblings, royalty would increase their offsprings’ mana and keep their lineage pure.

“She was a very powerful woman because her mother came from a powerful family, and so did her father, so that elevated her to an even higher status (than her parents),” said former Kaua‘i Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, who researched Kamakahelei’s life a few years ago as a Kaua‘i Historical Society board member.