Kamehameha I (; Kalani Paiea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiikui Kamehameha o Iolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea; – May 8 or 14, 1819), also known as Kamehameha the Great, was the founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii
. A statue of him
was given to the National Statuary Hall Collection
in Washington, D.C. by the state of Hawaii as one of two statues it is entitled to give.
Birth and childhood
Paternity and family history
Kamehameha (known as Paiea at birth), was born to Kekuʻiapoiwa II
, the niece of Alapainui
, the usurping ruler of Hawaii Island who had killed the two legitimate heirs of Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku
during civil war. By most accounts he was born in Ainakea, Kohala, Hawaii
. His father was Keōua Kalanikupuapa'ikalaninui
; however, Native Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau
states that Maui monarch Kahekili II
'' adopted (traditional, informal adoption) Kamehameha at birth, as was the custom of the time. Kamakau believes this is why Kahekili II is often referred to as Kamehameha's father. The author also tells of how Kame'eiamoku
, (one of the royal twins and father of Hoapili
), told Kamehameha I that he was actually the son of Kahekili II
, saying, "I have something to tell you: Ka-hekili was your father, you were not Keoua's son. Here are the tokens that you are the son of Ka-hekili." King Kalakaua wrote that these rumors are scandals and should be very properly dismissed as being the offspring of hatred and jealousies of later years. Regardless of the rumors, Kamehameha was a descendant of Keawe through his mother Kekuʻiapoiwa II; Keōua acknowledged him as his son and he is recognized as such by all the sovereigns
and most genealogists.
Accounts of Kamehameha I's birth vary but sources place his birth between 1736 and 1761, with historian Ralph Simpson Kuykendall
believing it to be between 1748 and 1761. An early source is thought to imply a 1758 dating because that date matched a visit from Halley's Comet
, and would make him close to the age that Francisco de Paula Marín
estimated he was. This dating, however, does not accord with the details of many well-known accounts of his life, such as his fighting as a warrior with his uncle, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, or his being of age to produce his first children by that time. The 1758 dating also places his birth after the death of his father. Kamakau published an account in the ''Ka Nupepa Kuokoa
'' in 1867 placing the date of Kamehameha's birth around 1736. He wrote, "It was during the time of the warfare among the chiefs of he island of
Hawaii which followed the death of Keawe, chief over the whole island (Ke-awe-i-kekahi-aliʻi-o-ka-moku) that Kamehameha I was born". However, his general dating has been challenged as twenty years too early over issues involving Kamakau's inaccuracy of dating and the accounts of foreign visitors. Regardless, Abraham Fornander
wrote in his book, "An Account of the Polynesian Race: Its Origins and Migrations": "when Kamehameha died in 1819 he was past eighty years old. His birth would thus fall between 1736 and 1740, probably nearer the former than the latter". ''A Brief History of the Hawaiian People'' by William De Witt Alexander lists the birth date in the "Chronological Table of Events of Hawaiian History" as 1736. In 1888 the Kamakau account was challenged by Samuel C. Damon
in the missionary publication; ''The Friend'', deferring to a 1753 dating that was the first mentioned by James Jackson Jarves
. Regardless of this challenge, the Kamakau dating was widely accepted due to support from Abraham Fornander
At the time of Kamehameha's birth, Keōua and his half-brother Kalaniʻōpuʻu
were serving Alapaʻinui
, ruler of Hawaiiʻs island. Alapaʻinui had brought the brothers to his court after defeating both their fathers in the civil war that followed the death of Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku. Keōua died while Kamehameha was young, so Kamehameha was raised in the court of his uncle, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. The traditional ''mele'' chant of Keaka, wife of Alapainui
, indicates that Kamehameha was born in the month of ''ikuwā'' (winter) or around November. Alapai had given the child, Kamehameha, to his wife, Keaka, and her sister, Hākau, to care for after the ruler discovered the infant had survived.
On February 10, 1911, the Kamakau version was challenged again by the oral history of the Kaha family, as published in newspaper articles also appearing in the ''Kuoko''. After the republication of the story by Kamakau to a larger English reading public in 1911 Hawaii, this version of the story was published by Kamaka Stillman
, who had objected to the Nupepa article.
Unification of the islands
thumb|left|upright|The god Kū-ka-ili-moku was left to Kamehameha I by his uncle Kalaniʻōpuʻu
Kamehameha was raised in the royal court of his uncle Kalaniʻōpuʻu. He achieved prominence in 1782, upon Kalaniʻōpuʻu's death. While the kingship was inherited by Kalaniʻōpuʻu's son, Kīwalaʻō
, Kamehameha was given a prominent religious position, guardianship of the Hawaiian god of war, Kūkāilimoku
, as well as control of the district of Waipio Valley
. The two cousins' relationship was strained, caused when Kamehameha made a dedication to the gods instead of Kīwalaʻō. Kamehameha accepted the allegiance of a group of chiefs from the Kona district.
The other story is after the prophecy was passed along by the high priests/priestesses and high chiefs/chieftesses. The fulfilling of the prophecy by lifting the Naha Stone
, singled out Kamehameha as the fulfiller of the prophecy. Other ruling chiefs, Keawe Mauhili, the Mahoe (twins) Keoua, and other chiefs rejected the prophecy of Ka Poukahi. The high chiefs of Kauai supported Kiwala`o even after learning about the prophecy. The five Kona chiefs supporting Kamehameha were Keeaumoku Pāpaiahiahi
(Kamehameha's father-in-law/grand uncle), Keaweaheulu Kaluaāpana
(Kamehameha's uncle), Kekūhaupio (Kamehameha's warrior teacher), and Kameeiamoku
(twin uncles of Kamehameha). They defended Kamehameha as the unifier Ka Na`i aupuni. High Chiefs Keawe Mauhili and Keeaumoku were by genealogy the next in line for ali`i nui. Both chose the younger nephews Kīwalaʻō and Kamehameha over themselves. Kīwalaʻō was soon defeated in the first key conflict, the Battle of Mokuōhai
, and Kamehameha and his chiefs took over Konohiki responsibilities and sacred obligations of the districts of Kohala, Kona, and Hāmākua on Hawaii island.
The prophecy included far more than Hawaii island. It went across and beyond the Pacific Islands to the semi-continent of Aotearoa
(New Zealand). He was supported by his most political wife Kaahumanu
and father, High Chief Keeaumoku. Senior counselor to Kamehameha, she became one of Hawaii's most powerful figures. Kamehameha and his council of chiefs planned to unite the rest of the Hawaiian Islands. Allies came from British and American traders, who sold guns and ammunition to Kamehameha. Another major factor in Kamehameha's continued success was the support of Kauai chief Ka`iana and Captain Brown, who used to be with Kaeo okalani. He guaranteed Kamehameha unlimited gunpowder from China and gave him the formula for gunpowder: sulfur
, and charcoal
, all of which are abundant in the islands. Two westerners who lived on Hawaii island, Isaac Davis
and John Young
, married native Hawaiian women and assisted Kamehameha.
In 1789, Simon Metcalfe
captained the fur trading vessel the ''Eleanora'' while his son, Thomas Humphrey Metcalfe
, captained the ship along the Northwest Coast. They were to rendezvous in what was then known as the Sandwich Islands
. ''Fair American'' was held up when it was captured by the Spanish and then quickly released in San Blas
. The ''Eleanora'' arrived in 1790, where it was greeted by chief Kameʻeiamoku
. The chief did something that the captain took offense to, and Metcalfe struck the chief with a rope's end. Sometime later, while docked in Honuaula, Maui, a small boat tied to the ship was stolen by native townspeople with a crewman inside. When Metcalfe discovered where the boat was taken, he sailed directly to the village of Olowalu
. There he confirmed the boat had been broken apart and the man killed. He had already fired muskets into the previous village where he was anchored, killing some residents. Metcalfe now took aim at Olowalu. He had all cannons moved to one side of the ship and began his trading call out to the locals. Hundreds of people came out to the beach to trade and canoes were launched. When they were within firing range, the ship fired on the Hawaiians, killing over 100. Six weeks later, ''Fair American'' was stuck near the Kona coast
of Hawaii where chief Kameʻeiamoku was living. He had decided to attack the next foreign ship to avenge the strike by the elder Metcalfe. He canoed out to the ship with his men, where he killed Metcalfe's son and all but one (Isaac Davis) of the five crewmen. Kamehameha took Davis into protection and took possession of the ship. ''Eleanora'' was at that time anchored at Kealakekua Bay
, where the ship's boatswain
had gone ashore and been captured by Kamehameha's forces because Kamehameha believed Metcalfe was planning more revenge. ''Eleanora'' waited several days before sailing off, apparently without knowledge of what had happened to ''Fair American'' or Metcalfe's son. Davis and ''Eleanora's'' boatswain, John Young, tried to escape, but were treated as chiefs, given wives and settled in Hawaii.
Death of Keōua Kuahuula
In 1790 Kamehameha advanced against the district of Puna
deposing Chief Keawemauhili
. At his home in Kaū, where he was exiled, Keōua Kūahuula
took advantage of Kamehameha's absence and began an uprising. When Kamehameha returned, Keōua escaped to the Kīlauea
volcano, which erupted. Many warriors died from the poisonous gas emitted from the volcano.
When the Puukoholā 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 render himself an inappropriate 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 Hawaii island.
Maui and Oʻahu
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
at the Battle of Kawela
. He moved on to the island of Oahu
, landing his troops at Waialae and Waikīkī
. Kamehameha did not know that one of his commanders, a high-ranking ''alii'' named Kaiana, had defected to Kalanikūpule
. Kaiana assisted in cutting notches into the Nuuanu Pali
mountain ridge; these notches, like those on a castle
turret, were to serve as gunports for Kalanikūpule's cannon. In a series of skirmishes, Kamehameha's forces pushed Kalanikūpule's men back until they were cornered on the Pali Lookout
. While Kamehameha moved on the Pali, his troops took heavy fire from the cannon. He assigned two divisions of his best warriors to climb to the Pali to attack the cannons from behind; they surprised Kalanikūpule's gunners and took control. With the loss of their guns, Kalanikūpule'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. Using traditional Hawaiian spears, as well as muskets and cannon, they killed most of Kalanikūpule's forces. Over 400 men were forced over the Pali's cliff, a drop of 1,000 feet. Kaiana was killed during the action; Kalanikūpule was later captured and sacrificed to Kūkāilimoku.
In April 1810, Kamehameha I negotiated the peaceful unification of the islands with Kauaʻi
. His court genealogist and high priest, Kalaikuʻahulu
was instrumental in the monarch's decision not to kill Kaumualiʻi
the ruler of that island, when he was the single member of the aliʻi council to agree with Kamehameha's own reluctance to do so. The other aliʻi continued with the plan to poison Kaumualiʻi when Isaac Davis
warned him, making the ruler cut his trip short and return to Kauaʻi, leaving Davis to be poisoned by the aliʻi instead.
Aliʻi nui of the Hawaiian Islands
As ruler, Kamehameha took steps to ensure the islands remained a united realm after his death. He unified the legal system. He used the products collected in taxes to promote trade with Europe
and the United States
The origins of the ''Law of the Splintered Paddle
'' are derived from before the unification of the Island of Hawaii. In 1782 during a raid, Kamehameha caught his foot in a rock. Two local fishermen, fearful of the great warrior, hit Kamehameha hard on the head with a large paddle, which broke the paddle. Kamehameha was stunned and left for dead, allowing the fisherman and his companion to escape. Twelve years later, the same fishermen were brought before Kamehameha for punishment. The king instead blamed himself for attacking innocent people, gave the fishermen 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 influenced many subsequent humanitarian laws of war.
Young and Davis became advisors to Kamehameha and provided him with advanced weapons that helped in combat. Kamehameha was also a religious king and the holder of the war god Kuka ilimoku. Vancouver noted that Kamehameha worshiped his gods and wooden images in a heiau
, but originally wanted to bring England's religion, Christianity
, to Hawaii. Missionaries were not sent from Great Britain because Kamehameha told Vancouver that the gods he worshiped were his gods with ''mana
'', and that through these gods, Kamehameha had become supreme ruler over all of the islands. Witnessing Kamehameha's devotion, Vancouver decided against sending missionaries from England.
After about 1812, Kamehameha spent his time at Kamakahonu
, a compound he built in Kailua-Kona
. As was the custom of the time, he had several wives and many children, though he outlived about half of them.
Final resting place
When Kamehameha died on May 8 or 14, 1819, his body was hidden by his trusted friends, Hoapili
, in the ancient custom called ''hūnākele'' (literally, "to hide in secret"). The ''mana'', or power of a person, was considered to be sacred. As per the ancient custom, his body was buried in a hidden location because of his ''mana''. His final resting place remains unknown. At one point in his reign, Kamehameha III
asked that Hoapili show him where his father's bones were buried, but on the way there Hoapili knew that they were being followed, so he turned around.
Kamehameha had many wives. The exact number is debated because documents that recorded the names of his wives were destroyed. Bingham lists 21, but earlier research from Mary Kawena Pukui
counted 26. In ''Kamehameha's Children Today'' authors Ahlo, Johnson and Walker list 30 wives: 18 who bore children, and 12 who did not. They state the total number of children to be 35: 17 sons and 18 daughters. While he had many wives and children, his children through his highest-ranking wife, Keōpūolani
, succeeded him to the throne. In ''Ho`omana: Understanding the Sacred and Spiritual'', Chun stated that Keōpūolani supported Kaʻahumanu's ending of the Kapu
system as the best way to ensure that Kamehameha's children and grandchildren would rule the kingdom.
Kamehameha Schools Biography of Kamehameha
Category:Royalty of the Hawaiian Kingdom
Category:House of Kamehameha
Category:House of Līloa
Category:Monarchs of the Hawaiian Islands
Category:Hawaiian military personnel
Category:Hawaiian adoptees (hānai)