Until recently, the cultural lore of the ancient warriors of Hawaii was considered lost. This absorbing history documents the complex customs and military traditions of the ancient koa warriors, and the deadly tools they used in battles among the rival chieftains and kings. The warriors employed a wide array of deceptively simple but brutally effective weaponry, much of it unique to the islands and utilizing local materials such as shark teeth. Featured here are the main types used in combat from ancient times until the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778, including spears and daggers, slings, tripping weapons, stone pikoi weapons, strangling cords, and others, along with detailed explanations of how these enchanting but quite lethal weapons were employed. Many rare color photos of the actual weapons, combined with information regarding techniques, strategies, and construction, are included in this vivid and comprehensive history.
THE KOA WARRIOR'S LIFE AND TIMES
Hawaii's natives have always called themselves "Ka poe Hawaii"—"the Hawaiian people" and many of the terms expressed in this work will use the language that are in accordance with the way the islanders described or conveyed their meaning in ancient times. The glossary in the back of this text will be especially helpful should to encounter difficulty in understanding these interpretations or wish to gain more clarity of their meaning.
Suffice it to say that since this book's primary purpose of this reference is to feature and depict the cultural weapons and warrior arts (strategy and tactics) of ancient Hawai'i, there will be very little mention of the daily life, culture and traditional customs of life and times of Ka poe Hawaii in general. That will be my endeavor in another book of similar size and content at another time.
But at the outset of this monumental work I will begin by stating that the koa warrior's development in the fighting traditions began in childhood, with sports that helped strengthen his body and promoted dexterity, quickness and flexibility. This strenuous training also included bare-fisted boxing, hand and body wrestling.
In the process, he became adept at striking an opponent's chest with open palms to unbalance him, interlocking index fingers or clasping thumbs with an opponent to pull or push him into submission, and, from a seated position, pushing his opponent over with his feet. To enhance his ancillary skills, there were long-distance foot races to teach him endurance, and races in cartwheels and somersaults to teach him balance and agility.
Since ancient times, long before the arrival of the British in 1778, the Hawaiian warrior's life was one of devoted service to the ali'i nui (high chief), and demanded rigorous physical training to maintain his specialized offensive and defensive skills. Though he was a commoner with no royal or noble distinction, the young adolescents were groomed, first, for battle to protect his island against attack and invasion from rival kingdoms. However, he also had occasion to demonstrate his fighting skills in more peaceful settings like in mock warfare competitions on the athletic playing fields of the annual Makahiki celebrations. These ceremonial displays of fierceness and ruthlessness were performed to impress chiefs and commoners alike.
As with any culture, the preservation of its society was contingent on the ability to defend or ward off threat or invasion with the force and might of its warriors. Regional island entities and ali'i that failed or ignored this basic precept were destined to lose their domain.
Austerity or lower-class status was not necessarily a way of life for the koa (warrior). He was highly respected and treated with the utmost of courtesy. He was never one to be taken for granted or slighted and his dignity was to never be questioned or doubted.
Seasoned condition and fighting prowess of the warriors of the Hawaiian Islands were of paramount importance to the kingdom in general. In order to condition and make the warrior fit for battle, the Hawaiian koa warrior trained from childhood in sports that developed strength, agility, quickness and endurance.
In ancient times, a warrior chief was called 'a'ama kua lenalena-"rock crab with yellow back"-because of his agility, swiftness and the brightly colored feathered cape that covered his shoulders. He was likened to the fierce 'ahi fish, the powerful shark and the eel, in that he fought bravely to survive. Likewise, warriors in combat were compared to gaming cocks with razor-sharp spurs; in phalanx formation, they were powerful ocean currents, sweeping over the battlefield and leveling the opposing army.
He learned the use of implements that improved coordination and judgment. Wooden spears were for fencing, parrying and hurling at targets such as cut.