Battles by District

map of all Hawaii districts

Details of the action and location of battles becomes hazier the further back in time one goes. In addition, warriors become larger, weapons become magical, and gods become participants. The oldest stories of battles on the island are comprised entirely of supernatural beings and their incredible actions. It has been suggested that these oldest of stories provide insights into actual events and people (Beckwith 1970:4; Fornander 1996:44; Kalakaua 1990:140). What if this is so?

The first people came to Hawaiʻi sometime between 0 and 1000 AD. Not much is known about these early inhabitants. Instead, the Hawaiian myths, chants, and genealogies focus on the later wave of immigration to the islands. Pāʻau and Pili were among this later group, and after landing in Puna (Beckwith 1970:371), they staked their claim to the largest and easternmost of the islands, Hawaiʻi. Through warfare and strategic marriages their friends, families, and gods soon gained control over the islands (Kalakaua 1990:71). These victorious latecomers were in a position of power to create the storyline of the events from their perspective. In the process of doing so they demonized the defeated others and remade the histories to support and justify their actions and authority. The reshaping of the history and social order by the newcomers begins with the stories of Pele.

Pele, the tempestuous goddess of the volcanoes and possible brother to Pāʻao (Beckwith 1970:372), was sometimes called akua malihini, “the foreign goddess”, because she arrived in Hawaiʻi after people had already colonized the island chain (Handy and Pukui 1972: 123). She departed from her homeland far to the south of Hawaiʻi, and headed across the vast expanse of the ocean to find a new place to live. She struck land at Niʻihau, one of the little islands in the middle of the Hawaiian archipelago. To the southeast, the islands were progressively larger, and she headed in that direction looking for a suitable home. When she finally reached the biggest island in the chain, Hawaiʻi, she heard about the mighty god of the volcanoes known as ʻAilāʻau, “the devourer of forests”, who had resided there for generations (Westervelt (1999:1). Pele looked forward to meeting this local kindred spirit, and she set out to visit him in his home in the volcanic crater called Kīlauea Iki, the “little Kīlauea”. But ʻAilāʻau had seen Pele when she was along the coast, and he became so afraid of this powerful newcomer that he decided to sneak away (Rice 1923:9). He abandoned his home and island without any notice or any encounter with Pele, disappearing without a trace (Armitage and Judd 1944:76). Pele found Kīlauea empty, and she made the larger crater at Kīlauea, known as Halemaʻumaʻu, “house of ferns”, her home. In this way the first confrontation between the old and new order was avoided. That did not last long.

The recorded battles are presented individually in this website by district. Multiple battles were fought over more than one district. When this occurs, you will see information pertaining to those battles duplicated so that it appears under each of the districts concerned.

The story of how this warfare was interwoven into the historical fabric of the island of Hawaiʻi is told in brief on the back of the poster “Battles on the Big Island From the Time of the Ancient Gods to Kamehameha’s Kingdom.” The poster shows the location of 108 battles, and the text on the back provides a succinct presentation of how the Hawaiian rulers’ involvement in conquest and rebellion shaped the formation of the kingdom. The poster-narrative is available in many locations around the Big Island, and online at our store.

Armitage, G. T., and H. P. Judd 1944. Ghost Dog and Other Hawaiian Legends. Advertiser Publishing Co., Ltd., Honolulu.

Beckwith, M. W. 1970. Hawaiian Mythology. The University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu.

Fornander, A. 1996. Ancient History of the Hawaiian People. Mutual Publishing, Honolulu.

Handy, E. S. C., and M. K. Pukui 1972. The Polynesian Family System in Ka-‘u, Hawai‘i. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont.

Kalakaua, D. 1990. The Legends and Myths of Hawaii. Mutual Publishing, Honolulu.

Rice, W. H. 1923. Hawaiian Legends. Bulletin 3, Bernice P. Bishop Museum. 1974 reprint by Kraus Reprint Co., Millwood, New York.

Westervelt, W. D. 1999. Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes. Mutual Publishing, Honolulu.