Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Battle of Nu`uanu

The Battle of Nu`uanu was fought in the late 18th century on the Hawaiian island of O‘ahu. It was the battle that allowed Kamehameha I to annex the entire island of O'ahu.

Wikipedia notes of the battle, "The Nu‘uanu Pali was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history, in which Kamehameha I conquered the island of the O‘ahu, bringing it under his rule. In 1795 Kamehameha I sailed from his home island of Hawai‘i with an army of 10,000 soldiers. After conquering the islands of Maui and Moloka‘i, he moved on to O‘ahu. The pivotal battle for the island occurred in Nu‘uanu Valley, where the defenders of O‘ahu, led by Kalanikupule, were driven back up into the valley where they were trapped above the cliff. Thousands of Kalanikupule's soldiers were driven off the edge of the cliff to their deaths 1,000 feet below."

The name of the battle in Hawaiian is Ka-lele-a-ke-anae. Some of the O'ahu warriors managed to escape but many more died fighting. Others were captured and sacrificed. Years later, over 800 skulls were found at the base of the cliff.

No consent was given by the people of O'hau to join the Hawaiian Kingdom. But it happened anyway. This battle literally allowed Kamehameha I to become the first king of a unified Hawaiian Kingdom which endured until 1893. There remains some bitterness on O'hau over the results of the battle but thankfully no one has started an independence movement based on it yet. (If you are interested in doing so, follow my 8 Tips for Creating an American Separatist Cause although in this case start with the premise that the Hawaiian Kingdom was the original occupying power and argue that all subsequent transfers in sovereignty are invalid.)

Unfortunately, there is not a lot on the web dealing with this important battle. Here are a few online resources which can give some more details:

A Native Place: Battle of Nu'uanu - This is the best site I can find on this subject.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin Feature on the Battle - This is basically a plug for a book with some details on the event.

The Battle at Nu'uanu Pali -This site is selling a poster of the battle but has some details.

One book which has been published on this event is The Battle of Nu'uanu -- May, 1795 by Rob James (Kamehameha Schools Press). A quick search of Historical Abstracts reveals nothing. However, I may have missed something. If you know of any other sources on the Battle of Nu`uanu, feel free to leave a comment here listing the citation.


Kamehameha Schools Girl said...

this is one of the great battles our king Kamehameha has conquered in. Kamehameha was not only a great man, he was also a great warrior and king.

Hawaii History Blogger said...

Kamehameha Schools Girl,

Kamehameha can be viewed as a great king or as a tyrant who killed thousands to force them illegally under international law into the Hawaiian Kingdom. The truth lies between these extremes I suspect.

Kamehameha did not have elections or respect his opponents. He simply killed them and seized their formerly independent nations. Nowadays, his opponents would have web sites up about how their kingdoms were illegally occupied and they would be marching in the streets demanding justice and the reinstatement of their kingdoms.

Despite this, Kamehameha was a great administrator who helped to install something that had never existed before. That was Hawaiian nationalism. His wisdom and strength created something that had never beeen before.

Kamehameha was great. But he also committed war crimes and did horrible things. Respect him but keep him in perspective to his actions.

History (particularly Hawaiian history) can mean anything you want depending how you interpret it. Ask yourself this, if the Battle of Nu`uanu happened today, how would you treat Kamehameha's actions?

It seems that every one with an opinion on Hawaiian history treats those who disagree with them as historical revisionists and racists. It is not that simple. Throw off any pre-conceptions you have and think...

Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...


I think you're getting the wrong idea on Kamehameha. Back in his time, and even earlier, battling for land was normal. Plus, he wasn't the only one to fight for land. I'm not saying that the Hawaiians fought for anything and everything, but it was part of the Hawaiian culture. Things have changed, of course, but you have to understand that battles were normal. People understood the reason for Kamehameha's choices. You might think he committed "war crimes", but that's only because you think through Western perspective. Try to see it through a cultural and Hawaiian perspective.

Kamehameha schools Girl 2. said...

Hawaii History Blogger,

okay first of all Kamehameha School Girl is just taking pride of Kamehameha, if it wasnt for Kamehameha I, then our islands wouldnt have been united. It was him who took a chance and did it, not only for him but for his Hawaiian people and the future! Ask yourself, would you take a chance for your people? and go through what he did. do you have the courage? because not that much people now days would do that. and Kamehameha I, had the mana to do so.

Kamehameha School Girl, take your pride!

Kamehameha Schools Girl 3 said...

Kamehameha Schools Girl 1,

Continue to take your pride where you can get it! There are so many things that were taken from us that being proud of our history is sometimes the best and only thing we can do.

Kamehameha Schools Girl 2,

Way to represent! It's about time that we start standing up for ourselves, our sisters, and our ancestors.

Hawaiian History Blogger,
It is true that when history from below is discussed, it is usually written by the victors. But as anonymous so kindly pointed out, we are living in a new era. We appreciate our democracy and constitution, we seek our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the 1800s, Hawaii was in a state of political, social, religious and economic change. Missionaries brought Christianity alongside disease, and one of the reasons why Kamehameha did not conquer the island of Kaua'i was due to the fact that the majority of his warriors had ma'i oku'u, also known as cholera, the bubonic plague, or the squatting sickness. All foreign diseases brought by Cook.

There was no illegal action. There was no international laws broken. The Hawaiian Kingdom was not created yet, and was not even acknowledged as a member of the UN until after 1820. As a society, Hawaiians were neither savages nor an ignorant people. Pre-contact Hawai'i was a collaboration of intellectual and technological achievements and was neither primitive nor simple.

The chiefs which Kamehameha vanquished in battle were proud to die fighting, it has great cultural significance that the warriors jumped from the cliff, preserving their honor even in death. Chief's went to war over land disputes, or to get more mana, or spiritual power.

Understand, that there is no "particularly Hawaiian History" present in this discussion, to understand Kamehameha's actions you must take a step back and learn with the perspective of a historiographer. It is not fair to compare nations, because the USA was built upon civil war. Or even Hitler, he boosted Germany's failing economy and national morale, but at the cost of thousands of lives. There have been many great and terrible leaders in the world, but Kamehameha was no tyrant.

Please do your research before passing judgements. He worked hard as a chief to be accepted by the many islands under his rule. He passed the "law of the splintered paddle" and he was nicknamed "the chief with the black back," because he worked in the lo'i with the people.

I am born and raised on O'ahu, and it was my ancestors who fought with Kalanikupule against Kamehameha, but all I feel is pride. Proud to be hawaiian, and proud to have attended Kamehameha's namesake school, because he was one of the greatest chiefs that ever lived. And his legacy will be everlasting!

Aloha. Malama pono.
Kamehameha Schools Girl 3