A portrait of the feared Maui King Kahekili, by artist Brook Kapūkuniahi Parker.

Pāʻele ku lani

“The chiefly blackening”

This expression, used in chants and songs, refers to the tattooing of Kahekili, ruler of Maui. Because he was named for the god of thunder, who was believed to be black on one side of his body, Kahekili had himself tattooed on side from head to foot.

Source: Ōlelo Noʻeau, by Mary Kawena Pukui.

Hawaiian artist Brook Kapūkuniahi Parker painted several portraits of Hawaiian chiefs, including this one of of the feared Maui King Kahekili. The king and his pahupu warriors — with the right side of their bodies tattooed from head to toe — were seen as formidable protectors of Maui and its residents. But elsewhere in the Islands, Kahekili and his pahupu warriors were feared by their enemies for being ruthless killing machines. Kahekili was known to roast defeated chiefs in an imu, or underground oven, and use their bones to build structures, a vicious desecration, given the Hawaiians’ reverence for the bones of the deceased. Kamehameha I never defeated Kahekili in battle, and was only able to conquer O‘ahu a year after the Maui chief’s death in 1794. Kaua‘i Chiefess Kamakahelei married Kahekiliʻs younger brother, Kāʻeokulani, who fathered Kaumualiʻi, Kaua‘iʻs last king.