- Fragments of MemoryTales of a Wahine Warrior
As a child of the native Hawaiian diaspora, I have always maintained a deep connection to the homeland. In 2004 by serendipity and through family connections, I met native elder Mahilani Poepoe, and through her I heard of the story of Hawaiian warrior woman Chiefess Manono and decided to track her fragmented narrative. The following are two ways to tell her story.
First, only the facts that few would challenge:
In 1819, in a valiant last effort to save the old Hawaiian religion, Manono, the warrior wife of Chief Kekuaokalani, fought bravely and died at the Battle of Kuamo'o. After Chief Kekuaokalani was killed on the field, Manono was hit in the temple by a musket ball and fell dead upon the body of her husband.
My own reconstruction takes considerably more liberties in bringing to life Manono's experience:
Born in the 1780s in Wahine Pe'e on Maui Island, Manono was one of three children of the chief of the Kohala District on the island of Hawai'i. At a young age she fell in love with and married Chief Kekuaokalani, the young kahu (minister) of Kūkā'ilimoku from the island of Hawai'i. The couple lived in the mountains on the island of Maui tending to their taro patches and raised their four children. Manono passed the test of bravery during adolescence by leaping off a cliff and by successfully participating in competitions at Waikapu, Maui (disguised with bound breasts and a mahi ole–feather helmet). She thus gained access to privileged warrior status. When she was in her forties, the kahunas chanted for Manono's need to fulfill her destiny in becoming a na koa (a warrior, a practitioner of the art of lua). The warrior mission required she cut her hair, bind her breasts, dress in a malo (loin cloth), and then await further instructions [End Page 35] from the guardians at the mountains of Keanae. Manō (shark) guided her canoe to the island of Kawiki hea when she traveled there to learn that she must assume the important responsibility of becoming the caretaker of the female child Ka'ahumanu, who would eventually become King Kamehameha I's favorite and most politically powerful wife. Over six feet tall and possessing great beauty, the athletic Manono was covered with tattoos and had the ability to toss an ihe (short spear) farther than many of her male counterparts. These impressive characteristics qualified her to serve as the head guardian at the women's royal court, where she was assigned to protect Ka'ahumanu and raise her to be a warrior woman as well as training leagues of Hawaiian female warriors. These included women such as Kahanohi, Akekea, and Kahikilani, all beautiful women sworn to protect the ali'i (royalty).
The death of Kamehameha I in 1819 placed his eldest son Liholiho on the throne as Kamehameha II. The native society was divided about keeping the traditional social structure known as the 'aikapu system or abandoning it. In 1819 the ancient Hawaiian religion was formally abolished under the figurehead leadership of Liholiho, Ka'ahumanu (a prime minister with administrative power), and high priest Hewahewa. Ka'ahumanu wielded her power and within six months convinced Liholiho to break the sacred kapu system, which had been the rigid code of Hawaiians for centuries, starting with breaking the segregated eating kapu for women. King Liholiho accomplished this simply by sitting and having a meal with the women. When the Hawaiians saw that Liholiho was not struck down by the wrath of angry gods, the entire 'aikapu system crumbled and was abandoned. Exposed to Christianity with the arrival of early Protestant missionaries, Ka'ahumanu, who eventually changed her name to Elizabeth, passed stringent laws against murder, theft, smoking, and breaking the Sabbath. She implemented her new Christian beliefs by encouraging Liholiho to burn the idols and dismantle all of the heiaus (temples), establishing the 'ainoa system (new laws) throughout the islands.
Chief Kekuaokalani and his wife Chiefess Manono recruited and led warriors and priests in a civil war throughout the Hawaiian Islands in a last concerted effort to save...