Thursday, June 21, 2012

Battle of Nu'uanu, 1795

Kamehameha I routes Oahu's forces at Nu'uanu Pali (Cliff),  Battle of Nu'uanu by Herb Kawanui Kane [1]
In 1897, excavators constructing the Pali road found 800 skulls at the base of the cliff, most likely belonging
to the defeated Oahuans and marking the last major battle in Kamehameha's conquest
and unification of the Hawaiian Islands. [2]
       The Battle of Nu'uanu was the culmination of over ten years of clan conflict among the ruling families of the islands.  Really a series of battles, maneuvers and counter-maneuvers, it is named for the Valley in which the decisive actions were fought.   In 1782, the Hawaiian paramount chief, Kalani'opu'u passed away, and in his place, Kamehameha rose to prominence on the largest of the islands.  His major adversary was Kalanikupele, the latest in the line of the Maui dynasty, holding most of the archipelago in fealty.  Kalanikupele ruled from his throne on Oahu, which had been conquered by the Maui's in 1783.  The warrior culture that seeks to increase mana (life force gained through honor and skill at arms) and Kamehameha's  appointment as a keeper of the god "Island Swallower" guaranteed future conflict.  In the spring of 1795, Kamehameha's preparations were complete.  10,000 men and his fleet of war canoes set sail from Hawaii to challenge the Maui dynasty for control of the islands.  By the time his ships landed on Oahu in the summer of 1795 he had conquered Maui at the battle of Lahaina and the island of Molokai at Kaunakakai and had increased his ranks to 14,000 warriors.. 
Karakakooa, O-Why-hee [3]  An etching depicting Cook's expedition.  Kamehameha's
fleet of war canoes, supported by a European brig crewed by Hawaiians likely made sail
from this harbor on its way to conquer Maui, Molokai, and eventually Oahu.

Kamehameha's initial landings at Waikiki and Maunalua Bay.  His beaches were bisected
by Le'ahi (Diamondhead).  He would place himself with the smaller force at Waikiki. (Author)

      After the subjugation of the island of Maui, two of Kamehameha's top lieutenants, Ka'iana and Nahi'ole'a defected to Kalanikupule, which suggests that, despite history, Kamehameha's victory was not the suspected outcome.  The Hawaiian force was split in two with 10,000 men at Maunalua Bay and 2,400 (under Kamehameha) at Waikiki.  With cannon emplaced atop Le'ahi (Diamondhead Crater), the beachead was secured and commanded the terrain northwest to Pu'owaina (The Punchbowl) where the Oahuan army was deploying.
Maunalua Bay
      From the beachhead, Kamehameha's forces advanced in a pincer defeating the first line of Oahuan defenses in detail at Mauna, Kanela'au, and Papakolea.  It was at Papakolea, north of the Punchbowl that the Oahuan army was effectively flanked, causing its withdrawal up the Nu'uanu Valley to the second line of fortifications, or strongholds at Elekoki, Ahi'pu'u, La'imi, and Pu'iwa.
Forest trail east of Nuuanu Pali Drive.  This is what Kamehameha's army fought through
in 1795 as they rolled over the Oahuan strongholds from Elekoki and La'aimi to Ahipu'a and Pu'iwa.

Final push of the Hawaiian Army up the Nu'uanu Valley.  Kamehameha sent the right
wing of his army under Ke'eaumoku in a flanking movement around Pu'owaina (The Punchbowl) to Papkolea
and eventually the Kona Huanui.  This served to cut off any Oahuan reteat to the south. (Author)

      The strongholds, however, only allowed the Oahuans a moment to consolidate and delay before falling back under constant pressure from Kamehameha's Hawaiians.  Pu'iwa was perhaps the bloodiest of these delaying actions and would be the decisive battle.  Although Kalanikupule would rally is army in the coming days at Kahuailanawai and make a final stand at the Pali, the tide turned for good at the Strongholds.

Upper Luakaha Stream, North of Jackass Ginger Pool.  The Oahuans and their allies
likely passed through here during their retreat from Pu'iwa and Kahualanawai.

Nu'uawanu Pass.  Kalanikapule had already lost the war at Pu'iwa, perhaps even before that.
There was only one way for this to end.  The Pali and one of the most unsung "Last Stands"
in history was only a few more miles away. 

The Notches, far Northwestern end of Konahuanui, opposite the Pali.  Did Oahu have cannon posted
here?  While the Oahu forces very likely did have some sort of naval artillery from European traders,
scholars feel it is doubtful, as oral traditions would have mentioned a less precipitous retreat from
 the strongholds to the Pali.  It seems rather than the few cannon that were present with Kamehameha
did not prove to be decisive, as they were brought into action late in previous engagements.

The Notches from one hundred yards below.  Historians disagree whether this was a
pre-contact fortification, an artillery emplacement, or merely a natural formation.  Due to
60 mph winds, I felt discression was the better part of valor with a 1000 foot drop on the
other side.  I'll take the scholars' word for it...

The Pali.  You cannot see this and not be effected by what happened here.  While Kalanikapule
and the Oahuans had lost the war days before, this last gasp is a tale worth telling.  Hundreds of
Oahuan soldiers and women resisting a final push with pike and musket.  Oahuans hurling themselves
to the valley floor below, rather than submit to defeat.  Hand to hand combat with leiomano, newa, and rocks.

Windward shore of Oahu, Southwest of Kaneohe. 
This is what Kamehameha saw as he looked over the Pali.
      A stunning amphibious campaign and landing, rapid movement to contact, envelopment, and pursuit.  Kamehameha's conquest of the Hawaiian Islands and the Battle of Nu'uanu was the last action in a long struggle that had finally come to the end game.  The immensity of what Kamehameha accomplished is too little known outside of Hawaii.  This should be looked upon a not only a great piece of Hawaiian history, but once of the greatest campaigns in American history.  For further reading, consult The Battle of Nu'uanu: 1785 by Neil Bernard Dukas. This is a small pocket guide and is a good companion if you choose to follow Kamehameha's advance as I did.

[1] Halawa Luluku Interpretive Development Project,, accessed 25 May 12.
[2] Jerry Walker, Teacher of Lua (Hawaiian Military Arts), as quoted in The Battle of Nu'uanu,, accessed 23 May 12.
[3] A view of Karakakooa, in Owyhee. J. Webber del, W. Byrne sculp. Plate 68 from Cook, James, 1728-1779. A voyage to the Pacific Ocean : undertaken, by the command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the northern hemisphere ... : performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty's ships the Resolution and Discovery : in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780. Vol. I and II written by James Cook ; vol. III by James King. Volume IV. Atlas., National Library of Australia,, accessed 30 May 12.


No comments:

Post a Comment