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Turning Point! The Hawaiian Battle Of Kuamo'o

The lifting and stalemate of the Ai Kapu was felt throughout all of Polynesia in days of old like a ripple of rings in a pond. This was not just a Kanaka Maoli Kapu, but a Polynesian one. In those days all were still intertwined and because the AiKapu was never reset , it severed many ties as it was a sign for changes to come. Many Polynesian entities closed themselves off from each other to protect what they had left as it was a battle over Gods and Akua's.


Kekuaokalani with his Chiefess Manono and his modern army against the greater forces of Kamehameha Elua(the second)

In the 1819 Battle of Kuamo‘o, Hawaiian forces clashed over the traditional kapu religious system. The dispute pitted the forces of Kekuaokalani, nephew of Kamehameha I, who sought to preserve the traditional system, against his cousin, Liholiho (Kamehameha II), who had abandoned the kapu system. Liholiho was victorious, but many warriors from both sides perished in battle and were buried on the property, including Kekuaokalani and his wife, Chiefess Manono. With her dying breath, Chiefess Manono is said to have uttered “Mālama kō aloha”‐ “keep your love”‐ a plea to both sides that no matter what obstacles come to Hawai‘i, keep your love of one another.

Accounts of the historic battle and the events leading up to it differ. In general, before Kamehameha I died in May 1819, he named two heirs – his son Liholiho (Kamehameha II) received his lands and political power, and his nephew Kekuaokalani was entrusted with the care of his feathered war god Kūkāʻilimoku. Strongly encouraged by Kamehameha I’s powerful queens/widows, Keōpūolani and Kaʻahumanu, Liholiho symbolically shared a meal of forbidden foods with the women of his court to set aside the ʻai kapu (eating taboos, but encompassing the traditional Hawaiian code of conduct governing contact between men and women) and initiated ʻai noa (eating without restrictions, but meaning a time of no adherence to the traditional Hawaiian religion, laws, and regulations).

Historian Samuel M. Kamakau wrote that the time of mourning a beloved aliʻi nui was the time to ʻai noa, and that when the period of mourning was complete, the new ruler would reestablish the kapu and reset the order of the kingdom. So, it is possible that the meal shared by Liholiho and the women of his court was observed in a time of traditional ʻai noa, and Liholiho chose not to reinstate the ʻai kapu. Regardless, either the breaking of the ʻai kapu, or Liholiho’s choice to not reinstate the kapu was a drastic change. Liholiho’s cousin, Kekuaokalani, resisted this change. In December 1819, Liholiho sent his Prime Minister Kalanimoku to defeat Kekuaokalani and the forces he had amassed.

Kekuaokalani marched up the Kona coast from Kaʻawaloa and met Kalanimoku’s forces at Lekeleke, south of Keauhou. The battle was fought with muskets, spears, slingstones and clubs. Kalanimoku’s/Liholiho’s forces were supported by a swivel gun mounted on a double hulled canoe and cannons on a western frigate. The first skirmish is said to have favored Kekuaokalani – with Liholiho’s forces suffering a temporary defeat at Lekeleke. Liholiho’s forces regrouped and allegedly trapped Kekuaokalani at Kuamoʻo between forces on land and a flotilla of canoes at sea. Kekekuokalani’s wife Chiefess Manono (sister of Kalanimoku) accompanied Kekuaokalani into battle, and was slain beside him at battle’s end. Hundreds of warriors died. Liholiho ordered that his men be buried in the terraced graves at Lekeleke, located to the north of the property. Kekuaokalani, Manono, and their followers are said to have been left exposed or buried at Kuamoʻo under makeshift stone cairns.

The Battle of Kuamoʻo marked a pivotal turning point in Hawaiian history. Following the battle, traditional gods were abandoned and kiʻi representing those gods destroyed. The first group of missionaries arrived only three months later in March 1820 to find an incredibly spiritual people with a void. Hawaiʻi was forever changed.

Historian Kamakau interpreted the Battle as the fulfilment of the prophecy of the famous seer Kapihe – who told Kamehameha that the islands would unite, the taboos will fall, the high shall be brought low, and the low shall rise to the heavens. Others disagree with Kamakau and feel that the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled.

In addition to this historic and pivotal battle, the land at Kuamoʻo includes Lonohelemua Heiau and Pūʻoʻa Heiau, shrines and ceremonial areas, sea caves (haunt of the shark-god Ukanipo), salt pans, agricultural terraces, the remains of an historic village and residence, and part of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.

To learn more and help conserve the Kuamo'o Battlefield and Burial Grounds, please visit

*This footage was graciously made available by Merrie Monarch

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