Umialīloa was one of the greatest chiefs of ancient Hawai‘i. Umi’s father was Līloa, the mo‘i, or ruler, of Hawai‘i Island, a fact Umi didn’t learn until he was a boy of nine or ten. When he did learn the truth, Umi set out on a pilgrimage to introduce himself to his father, passing through numerous villages and taking many young boys under his wing as he traveled. When Umi finally met his father in Waipi‘o valley, he introduced his hānai sons, the boys he had adopted along the way, and Liloa recognized the characteristics of a true leader. Ultimately, Liloa passed over his high-ranking older son Hākau to make Umi the mo‘i—an act that set Hawai‘i Island apart, according to geographer Dr. Kamana Beamer.
“That’s something really unique about Hawai‘i Island, our chiefs recognized that genealogy and lineage got you so far but sometimes even people of high birth weren’t necessarily the best fit to rule and didn’t need to.”
Umi unified all the moku, or districts, of Hawai‘i Island and he is remembered for the incredible aloha he had for the people, as well as his humility, strength and fearlessness. The mo‘ōlelo tell that Umi ruled until his death and that he died a very old man with long white hair, having fathered many, many children.
“In the writings of Samuel Kamakau he makes a playful joke where he says there’s not a single Hawaiian alive today who’s not a descendant of Umi—and if they think they’re not, they just don’t know.”