Kamehameha the Great
by Jourdan Cameron
Kamehameha the Great the first king of Hawaii, born during what is generally believed to be 1758. Although his exact birth date is unknown, 1758 is usually accepted as the year of his birth, because it was foretold that there would be a great king who would unite the islands of Hawaii, and the sign that he was born would be a comet. During 1758, Halley’s Comet could be seen over Hawaii, and this led to the assumption that he was born shortly after it was sighted.
In ancient Hawaii, although there was a twelve month lunar calendar, the years were not recorded. Thus, we can only speculate as to the exact age of Kamehameha. His name means “the one set apart”, and indeed, he was one set apart in accomplishments.
He was very well known for instituting mamalahoe, or the “Law of the Splintered Paddle”, which protected the lives of civilians worldwide during wars, and for the unification of Hawaii.
He was born on the Big Island of Hawaii as Paiae, meaning “Hard-Shelled Crab” His parents were Keoua and Keku`iapoiwa. His father, Keoua, was a high priest, and his mother, Keku`iapoiwa, was the daughter of King Alapai. The kahunas, or priests, witnessed a comet, and foretold it to be the sign of a coming slayer of chiefs. As a result, Alapai ordered the slaughter of all male infants. Little Paiae was carried away to the mountains, to be raised by a couple without children. Paiae sorely missed his family, and it is because of this he changed his name to Kamehameha, or, “The Lonely One”.
Later in his life, he was placed under the guidance of his uncle Kalaniopu'u, who was Chief of the Big Island. Because of Kamehamehas fighting skills, he was named keeper of the war god when his uncle died in 1782, thus placing him second in command to Kalaniopu'u's son, Kiwaloha. As a youth, Kamehameha was extraordinarily strong.
“Kamehameha knew that this could be a day of death, or great fame. If he failed in what he proposed to do, then the kahuna of the Hilo king might drown him, strangle him, or beat him to death this very afternoon for violation of a mortal kapu.
The test in the minds of both Kamehameha and his tutor was whether this sturdy, brown-skinned youth with the solemn face and the dignified bearing of the Alii was going to be able to move the giant black lava boulder called the Naha Stone…That giant boulder of pitted puka-puka or “hole-hole” cooled lava flow was as heavy as the King’s giant, forty-man dugout canoe… This, the Naha Stone, was as mammoth an object as any one man might conceivably dream of moving by himself.”(Tregaskis 2)
A massive test lay before Kamehameha, moving a massive boulder. Yet, he set about to do it. He cried “Hail to Lono”, shortly before this gargantuan task, and did this because the priests of Lono were considered the incarnates of the god during the Maka-hiki, making a nearby kahuna feel venerated. With this, he set about to moving this titanic rock.
He started. With massive effort, he felt success! The stone moved, and he was now a hero! Until he took a closer look. The stone moved but a few inches. A kahuna began approaching him, carrying an image of the god Ku-kaili-moku on a pole, mother-of-pearl eyes reflecting the sun. Kamehameha knew that this could the end of him. Thus, he renewed his grasp on the Naha Stone, and with much effort, got the boulder to leave the ground, and he moved it about five feet. He stopped to catch his breath. Naeole, his tutor, was smiling proudly. But this victory wasn’t enough for young Kamehameha.
“This time, he would not only life the end, but bring the whole end of the rock straight up, and heave it onto the other side. This time he lifted his end of the rock higher, with the leverage of his own weight, and with all the adroitness of a surfer scrambling into the curl of a big booming wave, he began to force his way up the slope of the rock until it stood almost upended…. He summoned the extra muscular effort from the depths of exhaustion and fatigue, and pushed the boulder over the top of the arc so that it fell with a crunching thud, and a splashing of ground-water on the far side.”
Young Kamehameha, not content with simply rolling the stone over, went a few extra miles and pushed it all the way over a cliff!
Shortly after, there was a feud most unfortunate, and Kiwaloha, the firstborn of the (deceased) Alapai (Kiwaloha was supposed to take the throne) was killed. Kamehameha was now King of the Big Island. Because of his ancestry, Kamehameha originally had the right to the throne, however, due to Alapai, he couldn’t claim his throne at the risk of death.
After some years, ‘white men’ showed up to their island. The year was 1779, and the captain of the ships, or “floating heiaus” was none other than Captain Cook, the famed explorer. He quickly engaged in trade with the people, trading things like yams and puaa (pigs) for iron scraps, which the ‘Indians’ as Cook called them, valued. He took note of the helmets certain individuals wore, which were extremely similar to those the Spanish conquistadors wore (in fact, eons ago, the Spanish had visited Hawaii, and when they mapped it, gave the correct latitude, but erroneous longitude) but the Hawaiians wore helmets with long feather plumes and instead of being made of iron, they were composed of woven plant materials.
Unfortunately for Cook, the Hawaiians valued the iron much more than he had bargained for, and began to swim under his ship and remove nails! To counter this, he had guards posted with birdshot, so as not to kill anybody, but to serve as a warning. Despite it, various thefts occurred, and not too long after Cook left the island, he ran into quite a storm, and his ship was in need of repair. When he returned to the island, and went for repairs, he received more than he bargained for. One of the boats attached to his ship, his ‘cutter’ as it was called, was taken (and later burned for iron) in a daring exploit, and this being the last straw for him, he went ashore, peaceably, but heavily armed. In a massive flurry of activity, he and his marines were attacked by a mob, being beaten, stoned, and stomped to a violent, brutal death. Cook’s men had abandoned his body on the beach. The king, when he learned what happened, was furious. Not only was he disgusted over the theft, but at what happened to Cook, and ordered that his body be returned to his men for a proper burial. However, his remains were scattered, what was left of him was horribly dismembered, each part scattered throughout the island. His men searched, but mostly in vain, having found a single piece of hip. More violence followed.
“Captain Clerke and the captain came through with a quick decision: He ordered the ship’s guns to give the natives a good dose of what-for. He also told the crew something they had been dying to hear. Clerke was planning to send a party ashore to replenish the water casks as if nothing untoward were happening… In a short time the big guns were loaded, but the hustle and bustle of the preparations to fire, the scurrying around, the trundling of the bags of gunpowder and the cannonballs and the commands were sufficient to alert the villagers near the coast. They accordingly took shelter behind walls and rock features. But even so, the gunners did well enough with their targets of opportunity- which were any large groups of people. The guns thundered. The gunners saw the cannonballs smashing into the soft houses and sending them down in showers of thatch and splintered bamboo.”(125,126 Tregaskis)
This attack killed several Alii and severely injured Kamehameha. Yet, Kamehameha survived, and after a couple other minor skirmishes, he managed to once again be at peace with the English, and bid them farewell.
Law of the Splintered Paddle
The Law of the Splintered Paddle (or chewed-up paddle), or Mamalahoe, was created by Kamehameha after his foot was about to attack some fisherman for their large catch, but got his foot caught in a rock, and he was struck in the head with a paddle by fishermen fearing for their lives, and the life of a child. They struck him so hard that the paddle broke. He was saved by some of his men in a canoe, but Kamehameha remembered the lesson he learned that fateful day. Thus, Kamehameha thus instituted mamalahoe, or the “Law of the Splintered Paddle. It states: "Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety".
Thus, he protected those not involved in combat. A version of Mamalahoe was added to the state constitution of Hawaii in HYPERLINK "http://www.hawaiihistory.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=ig.page&year=1978" 1978.
Mamalahoe has also served as a model for the protection of noncombatants the world over, likely saving countless innocent lives.
For Kamehameha, this was only the beginning of a long, long road. He did much fighting, and he took advantage of European firearms, using guns, and canons. He blazed a trail through the various islands of Hawaii, earning the title “The Warrior King”, and remained faithful to Mamalahoe.
“Now that the flame of war was finished with its scorching path in Maui, Hawaii, Oahu, Lanai and Molokai, he encouraged the farmers toward record crops. One great assist he game was to proclaim the Law of the Splintered Paddle as an inviolable statute. This provided that no soldier or group of soldiers could appropriate anything from any farmer or other civilian without proper governmental authority.”(275 Tregaskis)
After accomplishing much conquest, he used Lahaina, in Honolulu as a trade center with the British, receiving the usual firearms, and in 1802, he received a powerful new ally.
The British gave him “long-eared and oversized dogs”, or horses, and in 1803, prepared to invade Kauai. Unfortunately, his men were hit with a terrible, fatal plague. Mai okuu, meaning it comes with squatting, was referring to the diarrhea that it begins with, and it probably came in from traders. With the exception of William Pitt, it killed all his primary counselors, and half of Oahu was wiped out.
In 1804 the plague loosened its grip on the kingdom, and life could resume as normal. The sandalwood trade began thriving and in 1816, the trade was about $400,000 annually.
A year prior, however, Somebody attempted to take away that all away. Anton Schäffer arrived November of 1815, and claimed to be a representative of the Russian government, a doctor, and naturalist. He was there to recover a ship that was lost on a reef, off the coast of Kauai. Upon reaching Kauai, he came across Kaumu-alii, who was still intent upon usurping Kamehameha! Schäffer, unfortunately, was an “opportunistic feeder”, and he made a pact with Kaumu-alii- one to overthrow Kamehameha with the aid of the Russian government, giving Kaumu-alii the throne, and Russia half of Oahu and the entire sandalwood market.
The English likely realized his ploy, and disgusted, spurred the people to destroy any structures he built, yet Schäffer didn’t leave. He attempted to get the backing of the Russian government, and he even built fortifications. But assistance never came, and in 1816, Otto von Kotzubue arrived at Kailua, and informed Kamehameha (already well aware of this grandiose, ambitious plan) that the Russian government was opposed to Schäffer’s idea, and Kamehameha banished both conspirators, Schäffer and Kaumu-alii.
On May 7th, 1819, Kamehameha fell ill, and at midnight, he was carried to the eating house, where his breathing worsened, and they rushed him back to his sleeping house, where he slipped out of consciousness, and May 8th, 1918, his breathing stopped forever. The Warrior King of Hawaii, Kamehameha I, had passed away.
But this was by no means the end of a united Hawaii, as Kamehameha wasn’t the only one helping bring about change. One of his wives, Kaahumanu, had begun to fight against the kapus, or rules that were put in place, because some of them were ridiculous, and could put somebody in an early grave, sacrificed for mere accidents. She worked to eliminate one in particular: the kapu stating that women must not eat with men, a kapu that one of her various “husbands” was killed over. She received support from Kamehamehas primary wife, Keopulani, along with much support from the Haoles, those from Europe coming to Hawaii.
In November 1819, Kamehameha II, persuaded by the two queens, publicly violated the eating kapu, shocking his guests, and likely scared them senseless when he declared all kapus null and void. The old kapu system was abolished, which would have likely made Kamehameha I very proud! Thus, Kamehameha I lived on through the actions of his son.
From my standpoint, Kamehameha was a great ruler. He protected the lives of the innocent, unified a group of islands into what is now known as Hawaii, and was a great ruler. He truly cared for the well being of his people, and saw to it that not only they were treated properly, but that they treated others properly as well. Thus, he not only enforced laws to letter, but to spirit, or the very principle of a law, which can be a much more powerful force. By creating a way of thinking, you create a way of living. Kamehameha did just that. I am quite sorry for him in that his childhood didn’t quite work out as he had planned, yet, despite the difficulties, he grew into a wise, benevolent king. I think that if more leaders followed the example set by Kamehameha, the world would be a better place.
I think that his passions truly drove him forward, and unfortunately, led him sometimes in the wrong direction. He likely understood the problems created by the system of the kapus, having suffered firsthand because of them. But, he had to uphold them, because he was blinded into thinking it would help Hawaii.
But his passions, though sometimes misguided, helped him still. Had not been impatient with those fisherman, he would have never conceptualized Mamalahoe, which could have cost many innocent lives simply brushed aside as casualties of war. Through combat, he conquered and unified the islands of Hawaii, which might have been impossible if he wasn’t so passionate. While the war cost quite a few people their lives, it likely protected thousands more from oppression at the hands of the Europeans and Americans, and made for much simpler diplomacy, creating a strong, independent, and much more respectable nation.
Tregaskis, Richard. The Warrior King Hawaii’s Kamehameha the Great. New York, N.Y., Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1973.
Kamakau, Samuel Manaiakalani. Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Honolulu H.I., Kamehameha Schools Press, 1962
http://www.hawaiihistory.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=ig.page&PageID=398 Kamehameha I – Hawaii History – Monarchs
King Kamehameha – America’s Library
http://www.biographybase.com/biography/Kamehameha_I_of_Hawaii.html Kamehameha I of Hawaii – Biography Base
The Mediadrome – History – King Kamehameha
The Northern Kohala Coast – Tied to the Past