Moʻolelo Makahiki: The Kōnane Champion

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The beauty of moʻolelo is that there can be many versions. This moʻolelo has been told many times, but this is the one my ʻohana knows.

An aliʻi named Lonoikamakahiki lived on Hawaiʻi island with his smart, beautiful wife Kaikilani.

They were in love and spent much time together. They enjoyed playing kōnane, a game of strategy. It required patience, concentration and wit. They made small wagers on each match to make it more exciting, but soon Lono grew bored from winning all the time and sought to challenge the other chiefs on Hawaiʻi Island.

Crowds gathered to watch as the wagers grew bigger and bigger: canoes, feathers, warriors. Lono kept winning!

At every match, Kaikilani devotedly sat beside Lono in quiet support. After beating all the Hawaiʻi chiefs, he went to Maui. Lono kept winning all the high-stakes kōnane matches and amassed great fame and wealth. He was recognized everywhere – and he liked it. Sometimes he got so carried away that he would forget his devoted wife sitting beside him, her eyes full of pride for her beloved husband.

After defeating all of Maui, Lono set his sights on Oʻahu. On the way, there was talk about Lono passing Molokaʻi without challenging their champion.

Lono said he’d rather not waste his time, but some remarked that perhaps he feared defeat. To prove them wrong, Lono had them stop in ʻAwahua Bay at the base of the Pāneʻeneʻe cliffs, and they came ashore at Kalaupapa.

Everyone knew Lono and why he was there. A board was quickly set up. A kapu of silence was set, and the best chief of Molokaʻi sat opposite him. For three days they played, until finally Lono was left without a move! He couldn’t believe it. The crowd heckled him saying that he wasn’t the best, but Lono demanded a rematch. The Molokaʻi chief reluctantly agreed.

The kapu of silence was set again. Three days later, the exhausted Lono knew the end was near, and it didn’t look good. As Lono stared at the board he heard a voice coming from the cliff above, “Hūi, e Kaikilani, my beautiful lover. Come and meet me as you did last night!”

Lono glared at his wife. “Who is that?!”

“I have no idea, my love,” Kaikilani shrugged. “You surely know I have been here beside you this entire time.”

The voice called again, “Your husband has not paid you any attention, and you deserve so much more! Come sneak away and meet me again.”

Lono, his frustration mounting with everything at stake, struggled to remember if he had even glanced at his wife in the last six days – but he couldn’t.

As the voice continued taunting him and the crowd giggled and sneered, Lono’s rage erupted. He lifted the heavy stone board and struck Kaikilani! She immediately fell, limp. Seeing her crumpled form, guilt rushed over Lono as the crowd shouted for him to be seized.

Lono took off on his canoe and realized he had nowhere to go except to the puʻuhonua to contemplate his fate.

Molokaʻi’s healers were able to save Kaikilani’s life and return her home. Her brothers sought revenge for the assault, but Kaikilani made it clear that she still loved her husband and knew that it was his addiction to gambling and fame that clouded his judgement.

After securing peace from her brothers, Kaikilani sent for Lono. When they saw each other, they wept with remorse, longing to return to their simple life filled with aloha.

Lono asked Kaikilani, “How can I make it up to you, my love?”

Said she, “Let us organize competitions in honor of your namesake, our akua, Lonoikamakahiki. The one rule is, there shall be no wagering or bets of any kind. It is purely to honor Lonomakua for the blessings that feed us, sustain us and make us strong.”

Thus, the first competitions were born.

On Molokaʻi the kapu remains. No betting is allowed during Makahiki and prizes are simple. The ʻAno Koa Kiʻekiʻe, overall adult male champion, wins the honor of carrying Lonomakua in the ceremonies, along with the finest kalo in all the land.