In 1864, during the season of Makalapua, a beautiful girl named Piʻilani was born to Hoona and Kepola in Kekaha, Kauaʻi. When she grew into womanhood, Piʻilani joined in sacred marriage with a fellow ʻōiwi of Kekaha: Kaluaikoʻolau, also known as Koʻolau. The following year, they had a son named Kaleimanu.

When Kaleimanu was only ten years old, the family discovered that he and Kaluaikoʻolau had the disease known then as leprosy. The people had dubbed the illness “ka maʻi hoʻokaʻawale,” the separating sickness, because families were being forcefully torn apart. Swearing to do whatever it took to stay together, Koʻolau, Piʻilani and Kaleimanu went into hiding in Kalalau valley, on the north side of Kauaʻi. The people of Kalalau helped the little family by giving them sanctuary.

Shortly after the Provisional Government (PG) seized power from Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893, the PGs sent out armed forces to arrest Kaluaikoʻolau. Koʻolau vowed never to be taken alive and became a powerful symbol of resistance for many Hawaiians in the years following the overthrow. In June 1893 Koʻolau shot and killed a sheriff and two Provisional Government soldiers who had been sent to arrest him.

Piʻilani later told of their family’s courage in resisting capture and in maintaining their bonds of aloha with one another. Her story was first published in Hawaiian in 1906. An English translation was later done by Frances Frazier. Frazier describes Piʻilani in this way: “At a period when foreigners in the community were terrified of this dread, incurable disease, she accompanied her family and cared for them with no thought of harm to herself.” Piʻilani, ka wahine i molia i ke ola.

Piʻilani's story remains as a first-hand account of the ways the overthrow of legitimate Hawaiian government impacted the lives of everyday people. Perhaps more importantly, she told her story as a lesson in of the power of aloha. She is an example of how commitment to maintaining the bonds of ʻohana and lāhui can result in triumph over terrifying and violent attempts to separate us.

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