THE Red Mouth Gun is the name given by the Hawaiians to the great canoe battle fought off Waipio, Hawaii, in the year 1791, according to Fornander. This was the first naval battle in which guns were the prominent weapons used by the Hawaiian chiefs.
Ka-meha-meha I, in 1789, had gained the adherence of the noted chief Kaiana, who had already visited China and purchased guns and ammunition. This was probably the best stroke of diplomacy exercised by him during all his great work of welding the scattered islands into a united kingdom. Kaiana's real relations were with Kauai rather than Hawaii. In transferring Kaiana's arsenal from Kauai to Hawaii Ka-meha-meha secured an advantage over all the other chiefs of the islands. The man who has material at hand is equipped for any emergency. The possession of this armament led Ka-meha-meha to seize the two white men, Isaac Davis and John Young in
the year 1790. These two men were the second great factor in the consolidation of the islands. With arms and ammunition and men skilful in gunnery and wise in counsel Ka-meha-meha was practically invincible.
From this time he dated victories instead of defeats. During the year 1790 he overran Maui and Molokai and subdued a serious rebellion on his own island, Hawaii.
During this conflict at home the high chiefs of the other islands held consultation concerning their common enemy and the best way to overthrow him. They had guns and here and there a white man who had been kidnapped or persuaded to desert from the few ships already visiting the islands. By combining forces it seemed easy to overthrow the high chief of Hawaii. The king of Kauai and the king of Oahu were brothers. Kahekili, the ruler of Oahu, was also the high chief of Maui, which he had placed under the control of his son, Ka-lani-kupule. Therefore the entire northern group of islands was able to combine against Hawaii. It was Ka-meha-meha and one island against the rest of the group.
The natives had used large shells for trumpets. They had a famous war shell known as the "kihapu." Anything, therefore, which gave out an explosive noise when blown into was called "pu." When they saw a white man holding a gun to the shoulders, with the resulting smoke and explosion,
they gave to the death-dealing magic trumpet the name "pu-waha-ulaula"--the trumpet with the red mouth. Pu became the name for a gun.
The chiefs had massed their forces on Maui. Here Ka-eo-ku-lani, the chief of Kauai, took the leadership of the expedition and, looking upon Maui as redeemed from the victorious inroad of Ka-meha-meha, assumed the island as one of his perquisites of the campaign. Fornander suggests that his older brother, Kahekili, king of Oahu, might have agreed to give him land or even the island as a reward. But here the chiefs of Maui interfered. They were not willing to have the island disposed of in that way. A quarrel arose and the Kauai men attempted to take by force the lands which their high chief claimed and had promised them. Spears were seized, war clubs swung and oval, double-pointed stones dropped into the slings. For a little while there was an exchange of blows. One of the sons of Kahekili, king of Oahu, withstood a large number of Kauai men, holding them at bay unaided. Evidently the quarrel was smoothed over. The Kauai chiefs were never able to again lay any claim to Maui.
The two brothers separated their forces. One fleet of canoes under the Kauai king rendezvoused his boats at Hana, an old and well-known harbour on Maui just across the channel from Hawaii. Hana was the home of some of the most ancient Polynesian legends when applied to the Hawaiian
[paragraph continues] Islands. The demi-god Maui is said to have noticed how close the sky or clouds came to the earth, and then pushed the sky up until his mother could have room to dry the cloth she was making and the plants have space in which to grow.
When Ka-eo-ku-lani, chief of Kauai, climbed the hills above the seaport he carried his war spear. Standing among the ruins of an ancient fort he threw his spear far up toward the clouds above. Referring to the legends, he cried: "It is said of old that the sky comes close to Hana, but I find it very high. I have thrown my spear and it did not pierce the clouds. I doubt if it will strike Ka-meha-meha. But listen, O you chiefs, warriors and kindred! Be strong and valiant and we shall drink the water of Waipio and eat the taro of Kunaka."
After a little rest the Kauai fleet swept across the channel and passed down the eastern side of Hawaii. The winds of the ocean climb the mountains of Hawaii from the northeast. As they touch the cold surface of the lofty mountain slopes they let fall in heavy showers their burden of waters borne from the sea. Great gulches, bordered by enormous growths of tropical luxuriance, are rapidly formed. Waterfalls hundreds of feet in height shake the falling streams into clouds of spray. Of all these gulches and noted falls on Hawaii, Waipio stands supreme. It was the pride of kings, the sacred home of priests, and the place
for the bountiful food supply of royal retinues.
Here the Kauai chief became vandal. He evidently cared but little for the preservation of this, one of the most ancient places on Hawaii. His followers ravaged the taro patches and fish ponds. They seized whatever they wanted for present use and then destroyed the growing plants and broke down protecting banks and walls. To show their contempt for Hawaii they were permitted, and probably commanded by their chief, to tear up and destroy very old and sacred portions of the heiaus, or temples. The ancient palace of Hawaiian kings was supported by sacred posts of pepper tree. These were burned. The palace, of course, was only a large thatched house and could be easily replaced, but the posts, consecrated by the blood of human sacrifices and cared for through many generations, were irretrievably lost.
The natives of Hawaii have a special class of deities known as au-makuas. These are the ghosts of the ancestors watching over the place known in this earthly life, and the family of which they were the progenitors. They were supposed to punish severely any injuries received by those under their care. The people of Hawaii claimed that the Kauai king suffered sorely for his impiety.
Soon Kahekili, chief of Oahu, with the Oahu and Maui war canoes, was driven by Ka-meha-meha from the northwestern coast which they had been devastating. They fled to Waipio and united
with the Kauai fleet. Ka-meha-meha had been able to secure some small cannon, which he placed on some of his larger canoes. Isaac Davis and John Young took charge of this portion of battle array. The other canoes were well supplied with firearms. The fleet of the invading army formed in battle array out in the deep waters off the Waipio coast. Here the canoes of Ka-meha-meha found their foes.
In former years a naval battle meant the clash of canoe against canoe, the heavy stroke of war clubs against war clubs and clouds of hurled javelins and spears. The conflict was largely a matter of taunts and shouts, broken canoes and drowning warriors. But in this fight the opposing parties combined the rattle of firearms and the roar of small cannon with the usual war of words. Boats were shattered and the sea filled with swimming men.
The people on the bluffs saw the red flashes of the guns and noted the increasing noise of the artillery until they could no longer hear the voices of men. As the clouds of smoke crept over the sea the battle became, in the view of the watchers, a fight between red mouth guns, and they shouted one to another the news of the progress of the conflict according to the predominance of flashing muskets and cannon. It was soon seen that the invaders were being defeated. The man who had the best arms and the best gunners won the victory.
The Kauai and Oahu kings fled with their scattered fleets to Maui. Ka-meha-meha soon followed them, and during the next three years, step by step, passed over the islands until the kingdom was his.
The death rate during these years of devastating warfare was beyond all calculation and thus came a tremendous decrease in the Hawaiian population.
In the eyes of the old Hawaiians the ghost-gods had avenged themselves in the battle of "the red mouth guns."