Island History

No invading army was ever able to conquer Kaua‘i. Not even the great Kamehameha I could invade and conquer Kaua‘i, although he tried twice.

And, long before Kamehameha’s time, and according to Hawaiian antiquities, the Hawaiian King Kalaunuiohua (Kalaunui) led a massive military invasion of Kaua‘i in 1250 A.D. that was turned back by the defending army of King Kukona of Kaua‘i in battles at Maha‘ulepu and Lawa‘i, according to Hank Soboleski in his book, “History Makers of Kauai.”

Kalaunui’s invasion of Kaua‘i began when his army of perhaps 15,000 warriors sailed for Kaua‘i from O‘ahu aboard a fleet of about 2,500 war canoes, which stretched for many miles across the Kaua‘i Channel.

After reaching Kaua‘i the following morning at daylight, the invaders secured a beachhead at Maha‘ulepu without opposition. Opposing Kalaunui in defense of Kaua‘i were two separate armies.

The first, under King Kukona’s personal command, consisted of 10,000 Kaua‘i warriors concealed in the then-wooded hillsides beyond Maha‘ulepu. Another Kaua‘i army lay in wait aboard a fleet of nearly 1,000 canoes at Hanapepe Bay, several miles to the west.

Kukona’s plan was to launch a two-pronged counterattack, one by land and the other by sea. His sea force would sail from Hanapepe and destroy Kalaunui’s canoes, thus denying Kalaunui’s army the means of retreat by sea. The land force would attack down from the hills by surprise, cutting Kalaunui’s army into pieces. The battle began when Kukona drew the invaders inland by boldly showing himself in full battle dress on the summit of a nearby ridgeline above Maha‘ulepu. When the invaders saw him, they went after him, but before they reached the ridge, Kukona had quickly moved to another ridge farther inland.

The next morning at daybreak, Kukona’s men swept down from the hills and cut Kalaunui’s warriors into pieces. Meanwhile, Kukona’s second force sailed eastward toward Maha‘ulepu. To meet this second attack, Kalaunui dispatched one of his ablest commanders, Kualu, with 3,000 warriors.

Kualu’s force attacked Kukona’s canoes in the surf along 300 to 400 yards of beach at Maha‘ulepu. The sea turned red with blood. Finally, Kukona’s canoe-borne force was annihilated, but at a terrible cost to Kualu. Less than 300 of Kualu’s 3,000 warriors survived the battle.

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