‘Ahu ‘ula O Kekūhaupi‘o

On display at the


In 2016, Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative (HLRI) commissioned the third collection of featherwork art reproductions, a replica of the cape and helmet of Hawaiian High Chief Kekūhaupi‘o.

 Kekūhaupi‘o was the senior advisor to Kamehameha. Of the five members of the ‘Aha ‘Ula (the sacred red chord) or, symbolically the royal chiefly council tied together by blood, Kekūhaupi‘o had the most influence on the life of the young Kamehameha. He was responsible for all the training of his young charge, including military science, martial arts, use of weapons, genealogy, farming, fishing, and physical training.

Kekūhaupi‘o was a descendant of the royal Pi'ilani line of Maui through Lonohonuakini. This lineage made him an uncle to Kamehameha. Kekūhaupi‘o was not tall, with very wide shoulders, large hands, and long fingers. His grip was extremely strong and his moves were lightning quick. When he was young, his military kumu (teacher) immediately saw his superb skills. He excelled in mea kana (fighting weapons), moa lawa (dart fists) and lua (bone breaking). He was so exceptional that he was given to another Kumu and lua instructor, Koa’ia, for advanced training in this art. After months of training, he was judged to have amazing strength and training knowledge, yet he remained humble and respectful to his Kumu.

 When Kekūhaupi‘o was ready for graduation, his Kumu realized that no human competition was equal for his ‘ailolo (graduation ceremony and accompanying rituals). Koa’ia knew that his most fierce competition could only come from fighting a Niuhi (a great shark with the terrifying eye). If successful, Kekūhaupi‘o would become a Niuhi in battle. The day for his supreme test started when he, Koa’ia and a party of warriors in a double canoe, left shore and headed for deep waters. Bait was prepared and the putrid drips from the pork bundles were scattered to draw the great shark.

 When the shark appeared, the bundles were hung between the hulls from the pola (middle platform). While the shark was in a feeding frenzy, Kekūhaupi‘o slipped into the water and, with his mighty grasp, hung onto the beast and began stabbing it with his ihe pokole (short spear dagger).

After a great length of time, the shark weakened. Koa’ia directed some warriors to dive in and lasso the tail of the exhausted shark. It was pulled up onto the pola and Kekūhaupi‘o came aboard. He was given the right eyeball of the shark to swallow and the left eyeball was presented to Akua as part of the ‘ailolo ceremony. All those around him noticed the change come over Kekūhaupi‘o’s countenance and they knew from that day forward, he would be Niuhi.

Kamehameha participated alongside Kekūhaupi‘o in the wars between Kalaniopu'u and Kahekili. He established a reputation of bravery and strength in these wars with Maui. In 1776, during one of the many battles with Maui, Kekūhaupi‘o was wounded with one of two ihe spears thrown at him by a famous warrior from Maui named Pua. The spear's barb broke off in the body of Kekūhaupi‘o and was irretrievable. The wound healed over but the barb remained lodged in his body the rest of his life.