Historians describe the remarkable fighting skills, bravery and fearlessness of Kamehameha, his warrior companion, Kekūhaupiʻo, and their armies. Whenever Kamehameha prepared for battle, he assured that his warriors were fit, well-trained and well-fed. To sustain warrior energy and strength during actual battles, Kamehameha’s men harvested food from surrounding forests: bananas, yams, mahikihiki shrimp, and young fronds of hōʻiʻo and hōʻiʻo kula were gathered.
Many months of peace had preceded Kamehameha’s battle with Keawemauhili, the ruler of Hilo and Hāmākua. Kamehameha charged his aliʻi and chiefly uncles to farm and fish to feed their warriors. Keaweaheulu and Kekūhaupiʻo guided the building of halau, near Kapaʻau, to shelter the warriors during martial arts instruction. Kekūkaupiʻo began preparing warriors for warfare. To attract chiefs and commoners for his armies, Kamehameha furnished their calabashes with ʻai (vegetables) and iʻa (fish) to create sturdy men that were ready for martial arts instruction. Kamehameha’s famous armies, the Hunalele and Huelokū were developed there, near Kapaʻau.
Battles in old Hawaiʻi were fought hand-to-hand with ihe (spear), pololū (long spear), and several small hand-held weapons. Hand-to-hand fighting required a great physical readiness, endurance, strength and agility that, today, would be difficult fully achieve. Kamehameha’s forces of about 32,000 went to Hilo by land and sea.
Kamehameha possessed great strength and highly developed skill in lua, the hand-to-hand fighting method. Any opponent was easily lifted and broken. Kekūhaupiʻo was also skilled in lua, the fighting method reserved for aliʻi and their elite warriors. Kekūhaupiʻo could grab hold of an opponent, break bones and mortally injure that warrior. On the battlefields, Kekūhaupiʻo would call out to his aliʻi, “E Kalani, here is the man.” It seemed, to those who watched, that Kamehameha and Kekūhaupiʻo were able to shed attacking spears like bath water. In the heat of battle, it is said that the niaupiʻo chief of Kohala, Kamehameha, and his fearless followers moved like a twisting wind, blowing away those who opposed them. Observers of those warriors were filled with fear.
On occasion, Kamehameha would seize a flying spear and break it, perhaps to instill fear in the enemy. Survivors of the battle in Hilo, described that Great Warrior’s skills. When large numbers of spears were hurled at him, Kamehameha warded them off with his spear. Or, Kamehameha could shrug off spears, so they fell behind him. Amid the multitude of opponents in Hilo, Kamehameha exhibited his fighting skills. During that battle with Keawemauhili, for a moment, Kekūhaupiʻo was enthralled…watching the unparalleled fighting skill of his aliʻi. Momentarily, he let his guard down. A spear struck Kekūhaupiʻo, grazing his cheek and drawing blood. That flesh wound scarred him, permanently.
After three days of battle, a large contingent of warriors could be seen arriving, by canoe, from Maui to support Keawehauhili. Kamehameha’s forces were greatly out-numbered and tired. They could not possibly prevail against an enemy now. Kamehameha and his armies retreated to their homes in Kohala to fight another day. Kamehameha did not always win his battles, but even in his losses, he demonstrated a fearlessness and prowess that was respected by all men.
Information for this article is from Kamehameha and his Warrrior Kekuhaupiʻo, by Stephen L. Desha (pg 149 to 180).