By Jan TenBruggencate

The Hikina a Kala heiau in Wailua. Photo by Léo Azambuja

Victors get the spoils, and also write the histories.

And when the Kamehameha family supplanted the historic Kaua‘i line of King Kaumuali‘i, many Kaua‘i traditions and genealogies were lost.

The late 1800s historian Abraham Fornander recognized this when he wrote of Kaua‘i’s ancient history, “the legends are disconnected and the genealogies are few.”

Edward Joesting, whose Kaua‘i: The Separate Kingdom is one of the few attempts to write a history of Kaua‘i, doesn’t bother trying to track the pre-European history of the island other than telling a few stories.

We do know that Kaua‘i chiefs were considered some of the highest ranking in the Hawaiian archipelago. Chiefs from other islands intermarried with them to gain some of that royal clout, and there was virtually no generation of Kaua‘i chiefs that did not marry some member of the family into O‘ahu, Molokai, Maui or Hawai‘i Island royalty.

In the remaining stories, there are hints about great leaders.

We don’t know much, for instance, about Kawelo-mahamaha-ia, but Fornander writes that under his rule, “the country prospered, peace prevailed and population and wealth increased.” Kawelo’s wife was Kapohinaokalani. According to some sources, this king was born about 1630, a century-and-a-half before Capt. Cook’s visits. There are some suggestions he was a hard ruler, but a successful one.

We know Kawelo-mahamaha-ia came from strong royal roots. His father Kamakapu and his grandfather Kahaku-makalina were kings before him. His great-great-grandfather Kahaku-makapaweo was a contemporary of the great kings of the archipelago, Pi‘ilani of Maui, Kukaniloko of O‘ahu and Liloa of Hawai‘i Island.

Kawelo‘s son Kawelo-makualua by all accounts was a good ruler, but then the line soured. This Kawelo had twin sons, one of whom, Kawelo-aikanaka became king. The peace and prosperity of their grandfather Kawelo-mahamaha-ia was over.

Grandson Kawelo-aikanaka threw a high-ranking cousin, Kawelo-a-maihunalii, off the island. Because of the many inter-island chiefly unions, Kawelo-a-maihunalii was welcomed and given land by the Kakuhihewa clan of O‘ahu. He married into an O‘ahu chiefly family, took training as a warrior, and then returned with canoes and soldiers to battle for his home island.

After a complex series of battles, Kawelo-a-maihunalii won, but he was apparently not a benevolent ruler either. One story is that his supporters killed him by throwing him off a cliff.

Jan TenBruggencate

On his death, the island was divided. An O‘ahu chief, Kuali‘i, controlled the windward side centered at Wailua and the traditional Kaua‘i Ilihiwalani line had the leeward side, with their royal residence housed at Waimea.

Thanks to the many chiefly inter-island marriages, Kuali‘i had his own Kaua`i roots. The great chief Kawelo-mahamaha-ia was his great-grandfather. Thus the offspring of high-ranking Kaua‘i chiefs would continue to control the island, right up to Kuali‘i’s great-grandson, Kaumuali‘i.

There is certainly more to this story, but as the late Fred Wichman wrote in Na Pua Ali‘i O Kaua‘i: Ruling Chiefs of Kaua‘i, the surviving stories “illuminate a history, not accurate in every detail of fact, not complete, yet all there is.”

  • Jan TenBruggencate is a Kaua‘i based writer and communications consultant.

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