Leadership Lessons from Mailikukahi

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Photo: Summer Keliipio

By Summer Keliipio

Mailikukahi was born around the fifteenth century at Kūkaniloko on the island of Oʻahu to Kukahiaililani and Kokalola. Mailikukahi was an aliʻi nui (high chief) and his leadership was known for innovations and change that made Oʻahu prosperous and well-governed.

Turbulence characterized life and governance on Oʻahu prior to Mailikukahi.

As such, Mailikukahi instituted many reforms that would calm the turmoil and establish much needed order. He thoroughly surveyed the entire island and created the moku, ahupuaʻa, ʻili kūpono, ʻili ʻāina, and moʻo ʻāina we still know today. Each new land division had a steward who was responsible for the resources on that land, thereby creating clear roles, or kuleana, for both aliʻi and commoners that prevented the disputes common before Mailikukahi’s time.

Mailikukahi also took all firstborn males into his care to be educated and shown the ways of this new land management system, helping the system to succeed well beyond his tenure. Under Mailikukahi, Oʻahu became prosperous, populous, and more peaceful.

We find ourselves, as Hawaiians, in a new time of tumult with questions about how to create a post-COVID-19 Hawaiʻi that extends and protects the prosperity of our ancestral home.

We need both new leaders to pursue systems that promote equity, safety, and prosperity, and new leadership from existing leaders to huli their thinking. Like Mailikukahi, we need leadership with good sense, humility, and a willingness to make small but worthy improvements that may not show immediate success. We need new leadership and new vision that creates a system of equitably distributed prosperity for Hawaiians that will last for centuries.

The Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce is committed to supporting Native Hawaiian-owned businesses that can envision and act, not only to create prosperity today, but prosperity for generations to come. The chamber has adopted a new mission statement, updated its infrastructure, and focused on increasing member benefits to better support kānaka-led enterprises.

As business owners and leaders, we rely on a chamber of commerce that is grounded in Hawaiian values and dedicated to a path forward rooted in Hawaiian wisdom. Our chamber of commerce brings us together as ʻohana who live the same values, share similar stories, and devote ourselves to our lāhui and its potential to create goodness – both here and beyond our shores. With these tools and inspiration from all our aliʻi, including Mailikukahi who pulled Oʻahu from an age of disorder into an age of sustained prosperity, we, as kānaka, can huli our modern systems to create greater abundance for all.

As new and renewed kānaka leaders who lived through a devastating health, economic, and social crisis, we not only can create a better tomorrow, we must.


Summer Keliipio is a kanaka leader and new member of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce. Summer is a social entrepreneur and systems change leader dedicated to creating a Hawaiʻi that is a beacon of hope for the world. She is the owner of Moʻo Strategies LLC, and managing partner of ʻAʻaliʻi Alliance. Summer has a master’s in public affairs from Princeton University and bachelor’s degree from Pitzer College. Summer was born and raised on Oʻahu and currently lives in a four-generation household in Kāneʻohe.