Memorial at Kuamoʻo
He was the son of Kamehameha's younger brother Keliʻimaikaʻi and Kamehameha's half-sister Kiʻilaweau. After Kamehameha died in 1819, Keaoua rebelled against Kamehameha's successor, his son Kamehameha II. Keaoua's rebellion was brief; he was killed in battle about 21 December 1819.
The ʻAi Noa
After Kamehameha died, on 8 May 1819, power was officially assumed by Kamehameha's son Liholiho. Liholiho, at the urging of powerful female chiefs such as Kaʻahumanu, abolished the kapu system that had governed life in Hawaiʻi for centuries. Henceforth, men and women could eat together, women could eat formerly forbidden foods, and official worship at the stone platform temples, or heiaus, was discontinued. This event is called the ʻAi Noa, or free eating.
As the historian Gavan Daws points out (Daws, 1967, pp. 54–59), this was a decision taken by the chiefs, and it primarily affected the state religion. Commoners could still worship their family protective deities, their aumakua; hula teachers could make offerings to Laka and Big Island Hawaiians could make offerings to the goddess Pele.
Nonetheless, some of the chiefs felt that if they were to abandon the kapus and the services at the heiaus, they would lose the religious justification and support for their rule. Liholiho, they felt, was courting disaster, and must be opposed, lest he take down everyone with him.
Keaoua Kekuaokalani was a Big Island noble. He was the son of Kamehameha's younger brother and if Liholiho were to die or be overthrown, would have a good claim to the throne. He was outraged by the abandonment of the old sacred traditions and withdrew from the royal court, then staying at Kailua-Kona, on the Big Island, and retired to Kaʻawaloa at Kealakekua Bay. Many opponents of the ʻAi Noa joined him in his self-imposed exile and urged him to try for the throne, saying, "The chief who prays to the god, he is the chief who will hold the rule." (Kamakau, 1961, p. 226) Some of the Hawaiians living in Hamakua, on the north coast of the Big Island, rebelled outright and killed some soldiers sent against them. The situation was perilous.
The king, Liholiho, and his chiefs took counsel and decided to send emissaries to Keaoua, asking him to abandon his defiance, return to Kailua, and join in the free eating again. Keaoua received the emissaries with apparent deference and said he was ready to return to Kailua the next day, but would not join in the free eating. The emissaries retired to rest, thinking the problem solved.
According to Kamakau, Keaoua's supporters spent the night arguing with their leader, urging him to kill the emissaries and mount a decisive rebellion, Keaoua forbade any assassinations but the next morning, when he and his followers were to board canoes for the return to Kailua, he refused. He said he and his men (drawn up in ranks, in warrior regalia) would go by land.
Again, he had not declared war outright — but this was tantamount to war. Liholiho sent forces under Kalanimoku to intercept Keaoua. Their forces met at Kuamoʻo, just South of Keauhou Bay. Keaoua fought bravely, but was eventually killed by rifle fire. His wife Manono, sister of Kalanimoku and former wife of Kamehameha I, who had been fighting at her husband's side, begged for mercy but was shot down as well. The rest of Keaoua's army scattered and the victory for Liholiho was complete.
This was the only armed rebellion in favor of the old religion.
The gymnasium at Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area is named in his honor.
- Daws, Gavan, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, University of Hawaii Press, 1967
- Kamakau, Samuel M., Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii, Kamehameha Schools Press, 1961 (a collection of newspaper articles written by Kamakau, in Hawaiian, during the 1800s)
- Kalakaua, David (King of Hawaii), The Legends and Myths of Hawaii: The Fables and Folk-lore of a Strange People, Charles L. Webster & Co., 1887 Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=cAIuAAAAYAAJ&dq
- Hiram Bingham I, A Residence of Twenty-one Years in the Sandwich Islands, Sherman Converse, New York, 1848 Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=pcOLBv6g9KcC