Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine September-October 2014 - September-October 2014
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Kapa: More to Learn

See all eleven kapa Pua Van Dorpe created to honor ancient Maui chiefs, and read their stories.

The clubhouse at the King Kamehameha Golf Course in Waikapu is one of the few public places on Maui where you can see kapa created by living-legend Pua Van Dorpe. Commissioned for the club’s Hawaiian-themed art collection, these eleven keiki kapa moe (baby blankets) each honor a Maui chief, who would have received a personal pattern at birth, identifying his lineage. Our thanks to King Kamehameha for permission to feature these kapa, and the accompanying text, on our website.

Kapa in Maui


The 12th and 13th centuries A.D. were a period of chiefly migrations to the Hawaiian Islands from central Polynesia. The migratory chiefs included Huanuikalala‘ila‘i and Paumakua-a-Huanuikalala‘ila‘i, grandfather and father, respectively, of Haho, who was presumably Maui-born.

Haho’s grandfather was an independent and warlike ruler of Hana. With his huge warfleet, he plundered the coasts of Moloka‘i and Hawai‘i Island, and was the aggressor in the earliest remembered war between Maui and Hawai‘i.

In Haho’s lifetime, Maui’s various districts were ruled by independent chiefs. Haho deserves recognition as the founder of the ‘Aha Ali‘i, Maui’s first Council of Chiefs, designed to consolidate power as “a protection of the native aristocracy against foreign pretenders.” The council lasted until Maui’s conquest by Kamehameha the Great, some five-and-a-half centuries later.




Kamaluohua kapa pattern


In the late 1300s, the warlike and ambitious ruling chief of the Ka‘u District of Hawai‘i Island embarked on the first recorded campaign of Hawaiian interisland conquest. His name was Kalaunuiohua—a direct ancestor of that famous conqueror from the Big Island, Kamehameha the Great.

Kalaunuiohua, his warriors and invasion fleet assaulted Maui’s defenses where Kamaluohua was principal chief and defender. Kamaluohua was defeated and taken along as prisoner, as Kalaunuiohua swept up the island chain, overcoming opposition on Moloka‘i and O‘ahu.

On Kaua‘i, however, Kalaunuiohua met his Waterloo. He was crushingly defeated, himself taken prisoner and only much later allowed to return to Ka‘u. Freed by Kaua‘i’s defenders, Kamaluohua returned safely to Maui.

Tradition says that while Kamaluohua ruled over the greater part of Maui, a vessel called Mamala arrived at Wailuku bearing light-colored foreigners with “bright, shining eyes”; one of several references to castaways who were in due time absorbed into the native Hawaiian population, chiefly and otherwise.





Kakaalaneo kapa pattern


In the early- to mid-1400s, two brothers at the royal court at Lele (the earlier name for Lahaina) emerged as noteworthy in Maui’s history. The elder, Kaka‘alaneo, was known for his thrift and energy. It was he who planted the groves of breadfruit trees for which Lele was celebrated for 400 years. Ka malu ‘ulu o Lele, the breadfruit preserve of Lele, offered shade and shelter, enhancing this part of a coastline known for its barren heat.

Kaka‘alaneo had a son whose mischief-making earned him everlasting fame. Kaulula‘au, whose pranks included uprooting his father’s breadfruit trees, was ingloriously banished to Lana‘i, an island haunted and tyrannized by akua ‘ino (evil spirits). By courage and craft, Kaulula‘au overpowered the vicious ghosts and mo‘o (dragons), restoring peace to the island, and regaining his father’s favor. Kaulula‘au was welcomed back to Lele a hero.

Of Kaka‘alaneo’s younger brother, Kaka‘e, little is remembered—yet his was the line of royal succession. Kaka‘e’s grandson Kawaoka‘ohele and granddaughter Kelea were the immediate forebears, respectively, of King Pi‘ilani and Queen La‘ielohelohe, of Maui’s Golden Age.




Piilani Kapa pattern


The name of King Pi‘ilani is synonymous with the Golden Age of Maui (1500s–1700s), an era of profound accomplishments and remarkable royal personages.

To Pi‘ilani is attributed the political unification of East and West Maui, the island-encircling King’s Highway, ceremonial architecture on a grand scale (Pi‘ilanihale, the largest heiau, or temple, in the Hawaiian Islands), and Maui’s rise to political prominence—which continued for two-and-a-half centuries until invasion and conquest by Kamehameha the Great.

Of Pi‘ilani’s three royal marriages, the most significant was to his high-born first cousin La‘ielohelohe. Her father, Kalamakua, was a high chief of O‘ahu. Her mother, Kelea—a celebrated surfer who was reputed to be the most beautiful woman on Maui—was the sister of Pi‘ilani’s father. The union of Pi‘ilani and La‘ielohelohe produced four offspring, all of whom were to play consequential roles in Maui’s—and Hawai‘i’s—history.

Although King Pi‘ilani resided periodically in Hana and Wailuku, and made frequent tours throughout his kingdom to collect taxes, promote industry and enforce order, he ruled from Lahaina, where he was born and is known to have died. His Lahaina residence and the nearby fishpond Mokuhinia became identified with a mo‘o (water deity), which inhabited the cavern beneath Moku‘ula island in Mokuhinia pond. Following her death, Pi‘ilani’s daughter Kala‘aiheana was deified as Kihawahine, the divine mo‘o guarding the royal family and royal descendants. Thus, sacred Moku‘ula became the pivotal spiritual and political focus of the highest bloodlines and the most sacred kapu for the next three centuries.




Kihaa Piilani kapa pattern


Following the demise of King Pi‘ilani, succession passed to his first-born son, Lono-a-Pi‘ilani, whose character and reputation traditions recount as avaricious, surly and abusive to all. Lono’s maltreatment of his younger brother, Kiha, drove him into exile on Hawai‘i Island, where he sought the support of his sister Pi‘ikea and her husband, King ‘Umi-a-Liloa, in deposing Lono.

‘Umi-a-Liloa summoned his chiefs and warriors and prepared to invade Maui. Landing in Hana, the invaders stormed the fortress atop Ka‘uiki Hill and eventually defeated the defenders. Lono was killed in battle, and Kiha was proclaimed king of Maui. Kiha rewarded Pi‘ikea with the gift of Hana District, which thereafter was ruled, along with Kohala District, by Chief Kumalae-nui-a-‘Umi, son of  Pi‘ikea and ‘Umi-a-Liloa.

For the rest of Kiha-a-Pi‘ilani’s reign, his kingdom—Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i and Kaho‘olawe—was notably peaceful and prosperous.




Kamalalawalu kapa pattern


The first-born son of Kiha-a-Pi‘ilani, Kamalalawalu succeeded his father as mo‘i (king) of Maui. His regency was highly regarded for enlightened leadership: wise government, good resource management, a genial and sumptuous royal court, peace and prosperity. No wonder Kama’s name became associated with the island in song and tradition as Maui-nui-a-Kama, Great Maui of Kama.

But Kamalalawalu’s fate ended in tragedy. Wanting to regain the Hana District his father had given to the rulers of Kohala, on Hawai‘i Island, Kamalalawalu sent his eldest son, Kauhi-a-Kama, to secretly reconnoiter the vulnerability of that coast. But Kauhi-a-Kama’s reconnaissance was grossly flawed. Believing the region to be totally unprepared to resist invasion, Kamalalawalu launched his fleet, landed in Kohala and engaged in a disastrous battle. The best of his army perished, and Kamalalawalu was killed and sacrificed. Kauhi-a-Kama miraculously survived, returned to Maui and became its next ruler.




Kaulahea II kapa pattern

Ka‘ulahea II

During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Hawaiian Islands experienced a dramatic population increase; highly sophisticated and intensive aquaculture and agriculture; and an elaborate hierarchy of chiefs, priests, occupational specialists, and commoner fishermen and farmers. From mere district chiefdoms, the growing consolidation of power and authority gave rise to island and interisland kingdoms.

Intricate networks of royal kinship—with their concurrent privileges and obligations—resulted from plural and prudent political marriages. One striking example of such advantageous marital alliances is evident in the unions of Ka‘ulahea II, great-great-grandson of King Kamalalawalu.

Ka‘ulahea’s first marriage was with Kalanikauleleiaiwi, who ruled the Island of Hawai‘i with her half-brother, Keawe‘ikekahiali‘iokamoku. Their mother, Keakealaniwahine, was in her time the renowned sovereign queen of Hawai‘i.

Ka‘ulahea’s second marriage was with Papaikani‘au, his first cousin. Their son, Kekaulike, was destined to be the next king of Maui. Historians say Kekaulike “enjoyed the company of several wives and was blessed with numerous progeny.” And with his half-sister Keku‘i‘apo‘iwanui, Kekaulike fathered the next generation of Maui’s highest-born royalty, the islands-wide luminaries of the 18th century.

With his full sister Kalaniomaiheuila, Ka‘ulahea fathered a daughter who became the highest-born royal wife of King Kuali‘i of O‘ahu and the mother of that island’s next king, the notable Peleioholani.

Like royal lineages in ancient Egypt, Peru, Japan, and elsewhere in Polynesia, Hawaiian royalty once favored close kin marriages for the sake of bloodline purity and privilege. By the 18th century, Maui was the acknowledged political and military powerhouse, with the highest bloodlines and the most sacred royal taboos. How ironic, then, that a great-grandson of Ka‘ulahea II should be the one to bring Maui to its knees!




Kekaulike kapa pattern


Kekaulike, whose name means “impartiality,” was also known as Kalaninuiku‘ihonoikamoku: “the high chief who joins bays to the island.” By either name, he was a central figure in the rise to preeminence of the royal house of Maui in the 18th century.

Kekaulike had six known wives and was “blessed with numerous progeny,” including 11 high-born offspring. Though most of his reign as paramount ruler of Maui was characterized by peace and prosperity, he sowed the seeds of war when he invaded and plundered the domain of his brother-in-law, Alapa‘inui, king of Hawai‘i Island, who successfully repulsed the invading force.

Soon after, on his deathbed, Kekaulike named as his successor his second-born son, Kamehamehanui (not to be confused with his famous namesake of Hawai‘i Island), whose mother was of higher rank than that of Kekaulike’s first-born son, Kauhi‘aimoku.

Kauhi‘aimoku beseeched his cousin Peleioholani, king of O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, to help him wrest the throne from Kamehamehanui. But Kamehamehanui was under the protection of their uncle Alapa‘inui, who brought his forces to Maui for the inevitable showdown between the adversarial brothers. The year was 1738, and the confrontation, one of the bloodiest in Maui’s history, came to be known as Ke Koko o Na Moku: the Blood of the Islands. The two sides joined battle, retreated, rallied and slaughtered up and down Maui’s west coast. The greatest carnage occurred in the vicinity of Ka‘anapali, where, to this day, heaps of human bones and skulls lie buried in the sand. The loss of life became so intolerable that the two kings, themselves brothers-in-law, met on the battlefield and made peace.

After Kauhi‘aimoku was captured and killed by order of Alapa‘inui, Kamehamehanui ruled Maui until his passing 27 years later. His younger brother, the fierce and fearsome Kahekili, then assumed power and went on to create an interisland empire that lasted until his death in 1794.




Kaheliki kapa pattern


Kahekili, meaning “thunder,” is a short form for Kane-hekili, “Kane, god of thunder.” The son of Kekaulike and Keku‘i‘apo‘iwanui, Kahekili tattooed half his body black, perhaps to suggest thunder and lightning. He was destined to live up to his name.

His sister Kalolanui married Kalani‘opu‘u, paramount chief of Hawai‘i. A direct descendant of Pi‘ilani through Pi‘ikea, Kalani‘opu‘u wrested Hana District from Alapa‘inui and his son Keawe‘opala. Kahekili recovered Ka‘uiki Hill and Hana District in 1781, and later extended his chiefdom to O‘ahu and Moloka‘i by defeating his nephew Kahahana.

Kahekili married Kauwahine of Kaupo, with whom he had sons Kalanikupule and Koalaukani, and daughters Kalilikauoha and Kalola. After Kamehameha the Great’s success against Kalanikupule at the Battle of ‘Iao, Kahekili’s two sons joined their father at his Waikiki residence, where he died in 1794.

Kahekili may have been the biological father of Kamehameha the Great. A mighty warrior king, he created an empire that included all but Hawai‘i Island. Fate and prophecies decreed that Kahekili’s unclaimed and rivalrous son would soon conquer his father’s empire and emerge as the most significant Hawaiian leader of all time.




Kalanikupule kapa pattern


Eldest son and successor to Kahekili, Kalanikupule was a popular and affable ruler, but his career and his life ended when he was 35.

As heir apparent to the mighty political mastermind Kahekili, Kalanikupule found himself at war with his father’s younger brother, King Ka‘eokulani of Kaua‘i, and then pitted against the powerful war machine of Kamehameha the Great. His struggles climaxed in the fateful rout known as the Battle of Nu‘uanu in April 1795.




Kamehameha the great kapa pattern

Kamehameha the Great

Kamehameha was no ordinary man, and no ordinary chief. His was a life of extraordinary proportions and paramount achievements. By any measure, he was destined for greatness in an era of profound changes for the Hawaiian Islands.

Born in 1758 amid ominous signs and prophecies, at the time of the startling appearance of Halley’s Comet, he was the contestable offspring of the highest ruling bloodlines of Maui and Hawai‘i. He was a po‘olua, born of two fathers.

Kamehameha’s mother was Chiefess Keku‘i‘apo‘iwa II, whose own bloodlines were of Maui and Hawai‘i. She was married to High Chief Keoua Kalanikupuapaikalaninui, but evidence suggests that Kamehameaha’s biological father was King Kahekili of Maui, against whom, in one of the many ironies of his lifetime, he was to wage a bitter campaign of conquest and ultimately replace Kahekili’s vast empire with this own.

More than any other Hawaiian rulers of their time, Kamehameha and his uncle (and surrogate father) King Kalani‘opu‘u of Hawai‘i Island interacted with Captains James Cook and George Vancouver, and with the growing numbers of foreigners to these islands. It is said that Kamehameha undertook his campaign of conquest to prevent takeover by multiple foreign entities. True or not, he succeeded in uniting the Hawaiian Islands for the first time, creating an independent nation that endured for nearly 100 years.


A mural by renowned Hawaiian artist Herb Kane accompanies Pua van Dorpe’s kapa at the King Kamehameha clubhouse, depicting these 11 Maui chiefs.

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