Kamehameha I

Kamehameha I was born in the center of these walls (constructed in modern times to secure what remains of the birth place). Legend has it that he was hidden after birth, to protect him from Ali'i (Chiefs) who were looking for him to kill him. In a tale much like that of Jesus, it is said that all the male babies of that time were killed in an effort to exterminate him.

During his life he personnally witnessed the arrival of Westerners, even meeting Captain James Cook, who took notice of him. Later, a group of chiefs picked Kamehameha as a compromise leader to cement a coalition which later was to take over the Islands. They had been given guns by the British Captain, Vancouver (who was looking for a stable trading partner, instead of many unstable ones), which gave them a distinct advantage over opponents with traditional weaponry.

Even after getting weapons, success did not come immediately. It was not until a young Hawaiian who had crewed on Western ships for a number of years, was pressed into service training the troops that Western weapons led to victory. Thus, by acquiring Western weapons and cooperating with the British, Kamehameha became the first King of all of Hawaii.

Kamehameha was known as a fierce and ruthless enemy, and my neighbor, Fanny Burns (Last living member of Queen Lliliuokalani's court) once told me that she did not like the way Kamehameha had pushed his enemies over the cliff at the Pali (on Oahu) after they had surrendered. Pockets of dislike for Kamehameha still exist, most notably in the district of Kau (Big Island) where the annual Kamehameha Day holiday sees little fanfare.

Elsewhere, Kamehameha is celebrated. During his reign he was known as a fair administrator. An example often cited was his "Law Of The Splintered Paddle," in which he acknowledged wrongfully attacking commoners and made clear that this was not to be done again. Facing an entirely new system and worldview, as the world impinged upon Hawaii, Kamehameha did well in picking administrative help, and his foreign helpers efficiently managed the financial affairs of the kingdom (in distinct contrast to some later monarchs and their friends).

On his death bed Kamehameha expressly forbid the age old practice of executing the slaves of a monarch upon their death. Kamehameha was buried secretly, and to this day no one knows where...

The Bishop Estate (derived from the estate of ali'i Bernice Pauahi Bishop) runs a school for children of Hawaiian ancestry, Kamehameha Schools named after him.


by Michael Moriarty