Island History

William Nordmeier’s account of Ko‘olau

In 1939, George Toda of The Garden Island interviewed longtime Kekaha resident William Nordmeier to hear what Nordmeier had to say about the leper Ko‘olau, his wife Piilani, and their only child Kaleimanu, all of whom Nordmeier had known personally.

By all accounts including Nordmeier’s, theirs is the story of Ko‘olau’s flight from government authorities into Kalalau Valley to prevent his deportation to the leper settlement at Kalaupapa, Molokai. In Kalalau Valley with his wife and son, Ko‘olau had killed Sheriff Louis Stolz, held off a company of soldiers and survived for three years before succumbing to leprosy.

But Nordmeier’s version of events also differs from other accounts, including Waimea Judge Christopher B. Hofgaard’s highly regarded 1916 publication “The Story of Piilani.”

For one, Nordmeier states that Kaleimanu contracted the disease at Kekaha before Koolau did, not afterwards in Kalalau Valley.

Nordmeier also told Toda that Ko‘olau, Piilani and Kaleimanu did not flee directly to Kalalau Valley, as is otherwise recorded, but first hid in a cave mauka of the old Knudsen residence, “Waiawa,” then situated at the foot of the pali a mile west of Kekaha.

And Kaleimanu did not die of leprosy in Kalalau Valley, according to Nordmeier. Instead, he’d secretly returned to Kekaha and lived there for several years before he died. Never seen during the day, Nordmeier had passed by him one night near the site of today’s Kekaha School.

Nordmeier also explained that he’d met Piilani and her second husband later at Mana, where she’d given him a drink of okolehao she called, “Kalalau water.” She then told Nordmeier that she and Koolau had climbed to the Kilohana of Kalalau during their flight and had seen Nordmeier and others on guard blocking their escape. Ko‘ olau had then asked, “I wonder what Willie is doing here?”

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