Standing six foot two, the muscular, handsome, and charismatic aliʻi Kaʻiana has been described as “surely the most famous Hawaiian in the world when he was killed in the battle of Nuʻuanu in 1795.”* He had traveled to China, the Philippines, and the northwest coast of North America. His travels were chronicled in subsequent books and tales, so his fame spread wide. He was even said to have worn his malo and ʻahuʻula while striding through the streets of Canton/Guanzhou with his ihe in hand. Stories such as these ensured he was the person many foreign voyagers had heard of and would seek out when they came to Hawaiʻi.
Kaʻiana was a Kauaʻi chief, but when his ship returned to Hawaiʻi, he heard that Kaʻeo, the chief of Kauaʻi, bore him ill will, so he went on to Hāna and then Kealakekua. When he returned to Hawaiʻi Island, he was welcomed by Kamehameha upon a fleet of twelve canoes. He became a great favorite of Kamehameha’s, and even led the famed Mahi battalion for a time.
As Kamehameha and his forces sailed to Oʻahu for what would become the Battle of Nuʻuanu, Kaʻiana found himself shut out from Kamehameha’s war council. Accounts vary as to why this took place, from the chiefs merely disagreeing with Kaʻiana’s strategies to Kamehameha’s jealousy over the handsome Kaʻiana’s interactions with Kaʻahumanu.
What the sources, Hawaiian-language and English agree upon, is that Kaʻiana then decided to switch sides and join up with Kalanikūpule of Oʻahu. When he told his wife Kekupuohi what he planned, she tearfully told him that she would remain loyal to Kamehameha, and they parted ways.
Here is the account of his death from the August 24, 1906 issue of the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ka Naʻi Aupuni, followed by a rough translation:
Ua hū aʻela nā pūʻali kaua o Hawaiʻi a me ko Oʻahu nei; me he mea lā ʻo ka hora 9 paha ia o ka lā i hoʻouka ʻia ai ke kaua kaulana ʻo Nuʻuanu. Ua hoʻomaka ʻia aʻe kēia kaua ma nā kī pū kuniahi ʻana a pēlā hoʻi me nā kī pū kau poʻohiwi ʻana ma waena o nā ʻaoʻao ʻelua. A i loko o kēia hoʻouka kī pū pōkā ʻana o nā ʻaoʻao ʻelua, ua ʻoi loa aku ka mākaukau o nā kī pū ʻana a ko Kamehameha mau koa ma mua o ka mākaukau o nā koa o Kalanikūpule; a no ia mea ua nui ka make o ko Oʻahu nei poʻe koa. Aia nā aliʻi wāhine o Hawaiʻi ke kū lā ma ke kahua kaua me kā lākou mau pū kau poʻohiwi a hoʻolele hala ʻole akula i nā pōkā i waena o nā koa o Kalanikūpule.
Aia hoʻi ʻo Kaʻiana me kona akamai nui ke hoʻoneʻe maila i kona mau koa kī pū i mea e hoʻoʻauheʻe ʻia ai ka papa kī pū o nā aliʻi wāhine o Hawaiʻi. A ma waena o ia poʻe aliʻi wāhine ʻo Kekupuohi kekahi, ka wahine a ke aliʻi Kaʻiana.
I loko o kēia neʻe ʻana o ke kaua kī pū ma waena o ka papa koa o Kaʻiana a me nā aliʻi wahine o Hawaiʻi, he mau anana wale nō ke kaʻawale ma waena o Kaʻiana a me kāna wahine, ʻo Kekupuohi, e hāʻawi ana i kona ikaika a pau a me ka ʻeleu nui nō hoʻi a me ke koa wiwo ʻole ma ka ʻaoʻao o Kamehameha, kona haku a ʻo kona aliʻi hoʻi i pili ai kona mau iwi no ke ola a no ka make piha.
Ia wā, ua kū akula ʻo Kaʻiana ʻekolu pōkā ma kona umauma. A me ka wiwo ʻole a me ka makaʻu ʻole nō hoʻi, ua holo maila ʻo ia i mua a hopu lima maoli maila ʻo ia i ka pū a Kuhimana. A ma ia wā ua kī akula ʻo Kalino i kāna pū a kū akula ʻo Kaʻiana ma ka ʻūhā hema (?), a hina ihola ua ʻalihi kaua nui nei o Kalanikūpule. Eia naʻe ʻaʻole ʻo ia i make.
I kēlā wā i ka ʻike ʻana ʻo Kekupuohi, ua hina ihola ʻo ia a hāpai aʻela i ke poʻo o ke kāne; a me nā waimaka e hiolo ana ma kona mau pāpālina, honi ihola ʻo ia (Kekupuohi) i ka ihu o ke kāne. A ʻo ka manawa ia i lele loa aʻe ai ke aho o Kaʻiana, ʻoiai e waiho ana kona poʻo i luna o nā ʻūhā o kāna wahine.
[‘The forces of Hawaiʻi and Oʻahu swelled forth; this was perhaps around 9 o’clock on the day that the famous battle of Nuʻuanu commenced. The battle began with the two sides exchanging volleys of cannon‑ and musket‑fire. And within this clash of gunfire, the skill of Kamehameha’s forces greatly surpassed that of Kalanikūpule’s soldiers, meaning that there were many more casualties among Oʻahu’s people. The aliʻi women of Hawaiʻi were arrayed on the battlefield with their rifles, unerringly firing their bullets into Kalanikūpule’s forces.
Kaʻiana, with his great ingenuity, was moving his infantry so that the firing lines of the chiefly women from Hawaiʻi could be broken. And among these aliʻi wahine was Kekupuohi, his wife.
While the gun battle continued between the ranks of Kaʻiana and the aliʻi women of Hawaiʻi, there came to be only a few armlengths between Kaʻiana and his wife, Kekupuohi, who was giving all of her strength, energy, and courage to the side of Kamehameha, her lord and chief, to whom she had dedicated her bones in life and in death.
It was then that Kaʻiana’s chest was pierced by three bullets. Bravely and without fear, he ran forward and grabbed the gun of Kuhimana. And then Kalino fired his gun, striking Kaʻiana in the left thigh, and Kaʻiana, this war leader of Kalanikūpule’s, collapsed. He did not, however, die.
When Kekupuohi saw Kaʻiana fall, she flung herself to the ground and lifted the head of her husband, and with tears tumbling down her cheeks, she pressed her nose against his. And it was at this moment that Kaʻiana’s last breath took flight, while his head lay resting upon his wife’s ʻūhā, her lap.’]
*quote from David Miller’s article from vol 22 of the Hawaiian Journal of History