Kamehameha I

Kamehameha I
King of the Hawaiian Islands (more...)
Reign c. 1782 – May 8, 1819
Successor Kamehameha II
Spouse Kaʻahumanu
Kalākua Kaheiheimālie
Namahana Piʻia
Kahakuhaʻakoi Wahinepio
Kānekapōlei (unmarried)
Liholiho (Kamehameha II)
Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III)
Kīnaʻu (Kaʻahumanu II)
House of Kamehameha
Father Keōua
Mother Kekuiapoiwa II
Born c. 1758
Kapakai Kokoiki Heiau, Kohala, Hawaiʻi Island
Died May 8, 1819(1819-05-08) (aged 61?)
Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi island
Burial unknown

Kamehameha I (Hawaiian pronunciation: [kəmehəˈmɛhə]; ca. 1758 – May 8, 1819), also known as Kamehameha the Great, conquered the Hawaiian Islands and formally established the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1810. By developing alliances with the major Pacific colonial powers, Kamehameha preserved Hawaiʻi's independence under his rule. Kamehameha is remembered for the Kanawai Mamalahoe, the "Law of the Splintered Paddle", which protects human rights of non-combatants in times of battle. Kamehameha's full Hawaiian name is Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea.


Legendary birth

Although there is some debate as to the precise year of his birth, Hawaiian legends claimed that a great king would one day unite the islands, and that the sign of his birth would be a comet. Halley's comet was visible from Hawaiʻi in 1758 and it is likely Kamehameha was born shortly after its appearance. Other accounts state that he was born in November 1737.

He was known as Paiʻea, which means "hard-shelled crab" that was found by the Waimea Bay.[1] His father by blood was Keōua. His mother was Chiefess Kekuʻiapoiwa of the Kohala district on the island of Hawaiʻi.

His father Keōua was the grandson of Keaweikekahialiʻiokamoku, who had once ruled a large portion of the island of Hawaiʻi. When Keaweikekahialiʻiokamoku died, war broke out over succession between his sons, Kalani Kama Keʻeaumoku Nui and Kalaninuiʻamamao, and a rival chief, Kahekili II.

When Kamehameha (Paiʻea) was born, Alapaʻi ordered the child killed. One of his priests (kahuna) had warned him that a fiery light in the sky would signal the birth of a "killer of chiefs". Alapaʻi, nervous at the thought of this child eventually usurping his rule, decided to take no chances. Paiʻea's parents, however, had anticipated this. As soon as he was born, he was given into the care of Naeʻole, another noble from Kohala, and disappeared from sight. Naeʻole raised Paiʻea for the first few years of his life. Five years after his birth, Alapaʻi, perhaps remorseful of his actions, invited the child back to live with his family. There under the guidance of his kumu (teacher), Kekuhaupiʻo, he learned the ways of court diplomacy and war. Kekuhaupiʻo remained a faithful and trusted advisor to Paiʻea until the accidental death of the loyal kahu during a sham battle.

Another story says the name Paiʻea was given to Kamehameha after he first distinguished himself as a warrior in a battles between Maui and Hawaiʻi island in 1775–1779.[2]

Paiʻea is said to have had a dour disposition, and acquired the name he is best known for today: Ka mehameha, from the Hawaiian language for "the lonely one".[3]

Unification of Hawaii

When Alapaʻi died, his position was succeeded by his son Keaweaʻopala. Kalaniʻōpuʻu, Alapaʻi's great-nephew, challenged his rule, and was backed by his nephew Kamehameha. In fierce fighting at Kealakekua Bay, Keaweaʻopala was slain and Kalaniʻōpuʻu claimed victory. For his loyal service to his uncle, Kamehameha was made Kalaniʻōpuʻu's aide.

In 1779, Kamehameha again traveled with Kalaniʻōpuʻu to Kealakekua Bay. This time he, among other young chiefs accompanying their senior chief, met with Captain James Cook. Cook was perhaps mistaken by some Native Hawaiians to be Lono, the Hawaiian god of fertility. Cook's ship was the HMS Resolution ; Kamehameha may have stayed on board at least one night. It was Kamehameha's first contact with non-Hawaiians.

First: the Big Island of Hawaii

Raised in the royal court of his uncle Kalaniʻōpuʻ, Kamehameha achieved prominence in 1782, upon Kalaniʻōpuʻu's death. While the kingship was inherited by Kalaniʻōpuʻu's son Kiwalaʻo, Kamehameha was given a prominent religious position, guardianship of the Hawaiian god of war, Kūkaʻilimoku, as well as the district of Waipiʻo valley. There was already bad blood between the two cousins, caused when Kamehameha presented a slain aliʻi's body to the gods instead of to Kiwalaʻo. When a group of chiefs from the Kona district offered to back Kamehameha against Kiwalaʻo, he accepted eagerly. The five Kona chiefs supporting Kamehameha were: Keʻeaumoku Pāpaʻiahiahi (Kamehameha's father-in-law), Keaweaheulu Kaluaʻapana (Kamehameha's uncle), Kekūhaupiʻo (Kamehameha's warrior teacher), Kameʻeiamoku and Kamanawa (twin uncles of Kamehameha). Kiwalaʻo was soon defeated in the battle of Mokuʻohai, and Kamehameha took control of the districts of Kohala, Kona, and Hamakua on the island of Hawaiʻi.[4]

Kamehameha then moved against the district of Puna in 1790 deposing Chief Keawemaʻuhili. Keōua Kuahuʻula, exiled to his home in Kaʻū, took advantage of Kamehameha's absence and led an uprising. When Kamehameha returned with his army to put down the rebellion, Keōua fled past the Kilauea volcano, which erupted and killed nearly a third of his warriors from poisonous gas.[5]

Questioning a kahuna on how best to go about securing the rest of the island, Kamehameha resolved to construct a temple (heiau) to Kūkaʻilimoku, as well as lay an aliʻi's body on it.

When the Puʻukoholā Heiau was completed in 1791, Kamehameha invited Keōua to meet with him. Keōua may have been dispirited by his recent losses. He may have mutilated himself before landing so as to make himself an imperfect sacrificial victim. As he stepped on shore, one of Kamehameha's chiefs threw a spear at him. By some accounts he dodged it, but was then cut down by musket fire. Caught by surprise, Keōua's bodyguards were killed. With Keōua dead, and his supporters captured or slain, Kamehameha became King of all Hawaiʻi island.[5]

Kamehameha's wider ambition: all the islands

Naha Stone at the Hilo Public Library

According to legend, Kamehameha lifted the 5,000 pound stone at age 14, and was the only person to ever lift it. The legend that goes with this particular stone is that the man who lifted it was the legendary warrior who would unite all of the islands. The prophecy was meant to be with Kamehameha. The Naha Stone now rests in front of the Hilo Public Library on the island of Hawaiʻi.

Kamehameha's dreams included far more than the island of Hawaiiʻi; with the counsel of his favorite wife Kaʻahumanu, who became one of Hawaiiʻi's most powerful figures, he set about planning to conquer the rest of the Hawaiian Islands. Help came from British and American traders, who sold guns and ammunition to Kamehameha. Two westerners who lived on Hawaiiʻi island, Isaac Davis and John Young, became advisors of Kamehameha and trained his troops in the use of firearms.

With his new army, Kamehameha felt confident enough to move on the neighboring islands of Maui and Oʻahu, already weakened by a war of succession that had broken out between King Kahekili II's son and brother. Kamehameha may or may not have known that his rival, King Kalanikupule, also possessed firearms, and was planning a move against him when the aliʻi nui of Hawaiʻi invaded those islands.

In 1795, Kamehameha set sail with an armada of 960 war canoes and 10,000 soldiers. He quickly secured the lightly defended islands of Maui and Molokaʻi at the Battle of Kawela. The army moved on the island of Oʻahu, landing his troops at Waiʻalae and Waikīkī. What Kamehameha did not know was that one of his commanders, a high-ranking aliʻi named Kaʻiana, had defected to Kalanikupule. Kaʻiana assisted in the cutting of notches into the Nuʻuanu Pali mountain ridge; these notches, like those on a castle turret, would serve as gunports for Kalanikupule's cannon.[5]

In a series of skirmishes, Kamehameha's forces were able to push back Kalanikupule's men until the latter was cornered on the Pali Lookout. While Kamehameha moved on the Pali, his troops took heavy fire from the cannon. In desperation, he assigned two divisions of his best warriors to climb to the Pali to attack the cannons from behind; they surprised Kalanikupule's gunners and took control of the weapons. With the loss of their guns, Kalanikupule's troops fell into disarray and were cornered by Kamehameha's still-organized troops. A fierce battle ensued, with Kamehameha's forces forming an enclosing wall. By using their traditional Hawaiʻian spears, as well as muskets and cannon, they were able to kill Kalanikupule's forces to a man. Over 400 men were forced off the Pali's cliff, a drop of 1,000 feet. Kaʻiana was killed during the action; Kalanikupule was captured some time later and sacrificed to Kūkaʻilimoku.

Kamehameha was now ruler of all the Hawaiian Islands from Oʻahu to the east, but the western islands of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau continued to elude him. Using Honolulu as a base, he had a forty-ton ship built. When he attempted to invade the western islands in 1796, Kaʻiana's brother Namakeha led a rebellion on Hawaiʻi island against his rule, and Kamehameha was forced to return and put down the insurrection.[6]

In 1803 he tried again, but this time, disease broke out among his warriors; Kamehameha himself fell ill, though he later recovered. During this time, Kamehameha was amassing the largest armada Hawaiʻi had ever seen - foreign-built schooners and massive war canoes, armed with cannon and carrying his vast army. Kaumualiʻi, aliʻi nui of Kauaʻi, watched as Kamehameha built up his invading force and decided he would have a better chance in negotiation than battle. He may also have been influenced by foreign merchants, who saw the continuing feud between Kamehameha and Kaumualiʻi as bad for the sandalwood trade.

In 1810, Kaumualiʻi became a vassal of Kamehameha, who therefore emerged as the sole sovereign of the unified Hawaiian islands.[7]

First King of Hawaii

"E naʻi wale no ʻoukou, i ke kupono aʻole au" which roughly translated is, "Prevail/continue my just deeds, they are not yet finished" -final words for his people

As king, Kamehameha took several steps to ensure that the islands remained a united realm even after his death. He unified the legal system and he used the products he collected in taxes to promote trade with Europe and the United States. Kamehameha did not allow non-Hawaiians to own land; they would not be able to until the Great Mahele of 1848. This edict ensured the islands' independence even while many of the other islands of the Pacific succumbed to the colonial powers.

In fact, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi that Kamehameha established retained its independence, except for a five-month British occupation in 1843, until it was annexed by the United States in 1898. It was this legacy that earned Kamehameha the epithet "Napoleon of the Pacific."[5]

Kamehameha also instituted the Mamalahoe Kanawai, the Law of the Splintered Paddle. Its origins derived from before the unification of the Island of Hawaiʻi, in 1782, when Kamehameha, during a raid, caught his foot in a rock. Two local fisherman, fearful of the great warrior, hit Kamehameha hard on the head with a large paddle, which actually broke the paddle. Kamehameha was stunned and left for dead, allowing the fisherman and his companion to escape. Twelve years later, the same fisherman was brought before Kamehameha for punishment. King Kamehameha instead blamed himself for attacking innocent people, gave the fisherman gifts of land and set them free. He declared the new law, "Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety". This law, which provided for the safety of noncombatants in wartime, is estimated to have saved thousands of lives during Kamehameha's campaigns. It became the first written law of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, was included in the state constitution, and has influenced many subsequent humanitarian laws of war.[8]

Although he ended human sacrifice, Kamehameha was to the last a follower of the Hawaiian religion and Hawaiian traditions (such as Lua). He believed so strongly in his religion and culture that he would execute his subjects for breaches of the strict rules called kapu. Although he entertained Christians, he did not appear to take them seriously.

Later life

After about 1812, Kamehameha spent his time at Kamakahonu, a compound he built in Kailua-Kona.[9] It is now the site of King Kamehameha's Beach Hotel, the starting and finishing points of the Ironman World Championship Triathlon.

As the custom of the time, he took several wives and had many children, although he would outlive about half of them.[10]

When Kamehameha died May 8, 1819, his body was hidden by his trusted friends, Hoapili and Hoʻolulu. The mana, or power of a person, was considered to be sacred. As per the ancient custom, his body was buried hidden because of his mana. His final resting place remains unknown.


The statue in Kapaʻau decorated with floral leis on Kamehameha Day
Statue in bronze and gold leaf by Thomas Ridgeway Gould stands in Honolulu across from ʻIolani Palace


Five major statues exist, where each of the statues vary slightly from each other in details such as having different weaponry, gilding or painting:

  • The original cast: the ship, bound for Honolulu on which it was being shipped from Europe sank off the Falkland Islands but in 1912 the original was salvaged, repaired and erected in Kapaʻau on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi;
  • One is located in Hilo, Hawaiʻi at the north end of the Wailoa River State Recreation Area, where it enjoys a view of Hilo Bay;
  • One of smaller size is located in an outdoor Polynesian shopping center, across from the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada; and

Other legacy

  • In 1871 Kamehameha V decreed a holiday, Kamehameha Day, in his honor. This holiday is still celebrated annually on June 11.
  • Kamehameha Schools were founded in the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, at the time of her death in 1884 the heir of the Kamehameha estate. Her intention was to bring education and thus hope for a future to the rapidly declining number of native Hawaiians. The first school opened in 1887.
  • The defences of the entrance to Pearl Harbor were named Fort Kamehameha in 1909.[12]
  • In the introduction to the manga Dragonball, creator Akira Toriyama said that he named Goku's energy attack after Kamehameha after visiting Hawaii on vacation and seeing a statue of the king.
  • The PC game Civilization V includes Kamehameha as a downloadable leader to play as.


House of Kamehameha family tree

Kekuʻiapoiwa II
Kamehameha I
(The Great)
(died 1819)
Kalākua Kaheiheimālie
Kamehameha II
Pauli Kaʻōleiokū
Kamehameha III
Elizabeth Kīnaʻu
Kaʻahumanu II
Laura Kōnia
Abner Pākī
Keaweaweʻulaokalani I
Keaweaweulaokalani II
Queen Emma
Alexander Liholiho
Kamehameha IV
Lot Kapuāiwa
Kamehameha V
Victoria Kamāmalu
Kaʻahumanu IV
Ruth Keʻelikōlani
Charles Reed
Bernice Pauahi
Prince Albert
William Pitt
Keolaokalani Davis



  1. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of paiʻea ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. http://wehewehe.org/gsdl2.5/cgi-bin/hdict?j=pk&l=en&q=pai%27ea&d=. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  2. ^ Samuel Kamakau (1992). "Chapter VII: Hawaii Under Ka-lani-ʻopuʻu". Ruling chiefs of Hawaii. Kamehameha Schools Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-87336-014-1. http://www.ulukau.org/elib/cgi-bin/library?e=q-0chiefs-000Sec--11en-50-20-frameset-search-pai%27ea-1-010escapewin&a=d&d=D0.9.7&toc=0. 
  3. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of mehameha ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. http://wehewehe.org/gsdl2.5/cgi-bin/hdict?j=pk&l=en&q=mehameha&d=. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ Stephen L. Desha (2000). Kamehameha and his warrior Kekūhaupiʻo (Moolelo kaao no Kuhaupio ke koa kaulana o ke au o Kamehameha ka Nui). Translated by Frances N. Frazier (Revised ed.). Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press. ISBN 0-87336-056-7. http://www.ulukau.org/elib/cgi-bin/library?c=elibrary&l=en. 
  5. ^ a b c d Herbert Henry Gowen (1977) [1919]. The Napoleon of the Pacific:Kamehameha the Great. Revell, republished AMS Press. ISBN 9780404142216. 
  6. ^ Diane Lee Rhodes and Linda Wedel Greene. "Chapter 4: Founding of the Hawaiian Kingdom". A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island. National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/kona/history4.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  7. ^ Norris Potter (2003). History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Bess Press. ISBN 1573061506. 
  8. ^ Michael Hoffman. "Thematic Essay on the Law of the Splintered Paddle: Compass Point for Hawaiian Leadership in International Humanitarian Law". http://coe-dmha.org/Liaison/Vol_2No_3/Lia03.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  9. ^ "Kamakahonu". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=180&ResourceType=Site. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  10. ^ Christopher Buyers. "The Kamehameha Dynasty Genealogy (Page 6)". Royal Ark web site. http://www.royalark.net/Hawaii/hawaii6.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  11. ^ Paul K. Neves. "Kamehameha Hall Nomination form". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/93000426.pdf. 
  12. ^ Gregg K. Kakesako (October 27, 1997). "Fort Kamehameha looks nothing like it did in 1920: The post used to guard Pearl Harbor's entrance but is now part of Hickam". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. http://archives.starbulletin.com/97/10/27/news/story4.html. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Hawaii State Quarter - 2008". The United States Mint. http://www.usmint.gov/historianscorner/?action=coinDetail&id=29572. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 

External links

Kamehameha I
Born: ? 1738/1759 Died: May 8 1819
Royal titles
Kingdom created King of the Hawaiian Islands
Succeeded by
Kamehameha II with regent Kaʻahumanu
Preceded by
Ruler of North Hawaiʻi
Succeeded by
himself as King of the Hawaiian Islands
Preceded by
Ruler of the Island of Maui and Oʻahu
Preceded by
Ruler of the Island of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau

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