Koaiʻa of Kapalilua, Kona, Hawaiʻi

Summary and quotes compiled from information found in the book “Kamehameha and His Warrior Kekūhaupiʻo” by Stephen L. Desha; Frances Frazier, translator/editor.


Koaiʻa, a master in the martial art of lua, resided in Kapalilua, Kona, Hawaiʻi and was the senior trainer and instructor to Kekūhaupiʻo (who would later serve as trainer and close confidant to Kamehameha ‘Ekahi).  Kekūhaupiʻo had been training with his father Kohāpiʻolani from a young age.  By twelve years old, he had already demonstrated potential to be a great warrior with strong physical skills.  Kohāpiʻolani saw that his son learned these skills quickly, and sought out new teachers for his son. 


Courtesy of the artist, Brook Parker from the cover of He Moʻolelo Kaʻao no Kekūhaupiʻo.
Kekūhaupiʻo, the champion warrior of Kamehameha the Great preparing for battle with other aliʻi warriors.


Under the training of Laʻamea, a famous warrior known for his profession of teaching body-strengthening techniques for battle, Kekūhaupiʻo excelled in the skills of a warrior.  After some time, Laʻamea approached Kohāpiʻolani for permission to take Kekūhaupiʻo to Koaiʻa, La‘amea’s older cousin, for further training. Koaiʻa was feared and respected for his bone-breaking and wrestling skills. Upon seeing the 15-year old Kekuhaupi‘o for the first time, Koaiʻa the senior lua master-- not known to give praise easily -- uttered these words about the young aliʻi haumana:

“Eh my cousin Laʻamea, the warrior is a moa lawa, he is sufficiently well made to prevail in combat and the names of his teachers will live through him for here we see his body full of strength and his opponent will be harmed if he approaches closely.  This perhaps will be my last pupil whom I teach and make an adept by (eating) the eye of the man-eating niuhi shark of the ocean. I shall teach him all the strokes of my profession, reserving perhaps one for myself, lest I might die by him in my old age.”

Most notably, Koaiʻa wanted to be sure that the skills of lua were not used to harm others. In this light, we see that Koaiʻa expected his student, Kekūhaupiʻo to understand and apply ethical values of respect and discipline.

“Your words are good, it is known by the pāpālua of the hair upon my head. The profession of bone-breaking of men was taught me, however this knowledge was not to rob the weak of their lives, and because of this the lua deity (ʻaumakua lua) loves me and has lengthened my life. You shall become my pupil and perhaps I shall show the numerous strokes which will enable you to become a famous warrior in the future. The hearing of the instruction and care for the kapu of the ʻaumakua lua are what are to be learned.”

Koaiʻa began teaching this young aliʻi the skills of lua, and as was the custom, reserved one stroke so that Koaiʻa would not die at the hands of his student.  By the time several months of intense training had passed, Kekūhaupiʻo had proven himself to Koaiʻa with his readiness and the fiery speed of his hands. Koai‘a pitied the person who might come against Kekūhaupiʻo’s clever, quick grasp and advanced skills.  With much anticipation, Koaiʻa advised Kekūhaupiʻo to prepare for the ʻailolo ceremony of killing and eating the eye of a fierce predator, the niuhi, the tiger shark. The ʻailolo ceremony is a final test that marks the readiness of a student and would confirm this beloved aliʻi haumana as having fully completed his training under Koai‘a, the revered master of Kapalilua, Kona.


Courtesy of the artist, Robert L. Bates.
According to the story, Koaiʻa supervises from the waʻa kaulua above and instructs Kekūhaupiʻo on the right moment to strike.