Kamehameha I

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Kamehameha I
Kamehameha I.png
Portrait of King Kamehameha The Great
Supreme Aliʻi Nui of the unified Hawaiian Islands
Reign July 1782 – May 8, 1819
Successor Kamehameha II
Born c. 1736
Kapakai, Kokoiki, Moʻokini Heiau, Kohala, Hawaiʻi Island
Died May 8, 1819(1819-05-08) (aged 82-83) [1]
Kamakahonu, Kailua-Kona, Kona, Hawaiʻi island
Burial Unknown,?
Spouse Kaʻahumanu
Kalākua Kaheiheimālie
Nāmāhāna Piʻia
Kahakuhaʻakoi Wahinepio
Manono II
Issue Liholiho (Kamehameha II)
Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III)
Kīnaʻu (Kaʻahumanu II)
Kahōʻanokū Kīnaʻu
Kānekapōlei II
Full name
Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kauʻi Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea
House Kamehameha
Father Keōua
Mother Kekuʻiapoiwa II

Kamehameha I (Hawaiian pronunciation: [kəmehəˈmɛhə]; c. 1736? – May 8 or 14, 1819[2]), also known as Kamehameha the Great, full Hawaiian name: Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kauʻi Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea, conquered most of the Hawaiian Islands formally establishing 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 Kānāwai Māmalahoe, the "Law of the Splintered Paddle", which protects human rights of non-combatants in times of battle.

Birth and early life

There are differing versions of Kamehameha I's birth. Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau published an account in the Ka Nupepa Kuokoa in 1867, which was widely accepted until February 10, 1911. The version written by Kamakau and held by Fornander was challenged by the oral family history of the Kaha family as published in a series of newspaper articles also appearing in the Kuoko. After the republication of the story by Kamakau to a larger English reading public in 1911 Hawaii, another version of the story was published by Kamaka Stillman, who had objected to the Nupepa article. Her version is verified by others within the Kaha family.[3]


Kamehameha is considered the son of Keōua, founder of the House of Keoua, and Kekuʻiʻapoiwa II. Keōua and Kekuʻiʻapoiwa were both grandchildren of Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku, Aliʻi nui of the island of Hawaiʻi, and came from the district of Kohala.[4][5] Hawaiian genealogy notes that Keōua may not have been Kamehameha's biological father, suggesting instead Kahekili II of Maui. Either way, Kamehameha was a descendant of Keawe through his mother. Keōua acknowledged him as his son and this was recognized in the official genealogies.[4][6]

Birth, concealment, childhood

The traditional mele chant of Keaka, wife of Alapainui, indicates that Kamehameha was born in the month of ikuwā (winter) or around November.[7] Alapai had given the child, Kamehameha, to his wife, Keaka, and her sister, Hākau, to care for after the ruler discovered the boy had lived.[8][9] Samuel Kamakau, in his newspaper article writes "It was during the time of the warfare among the chiefs of [the 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.[10] Abraham Fornander writes in his publication, "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".[11] "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.[12]

At the time of Kamehameha's birth, Keōua and his half-brother Kalaniʻōpuʻu were serving Alapaʻinui, ruler of Hawaiʻi 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.[4]

Unification of Hawaiʻi

Prophecy has it that the man (child) who moves the Naha Stone[13] would be the one to unite the islands. Many have tried and failed to get the stone to move from its original spot and those who have tried were of high ranking "naha’’ blood line. Kamehameha was of the ʻaupiʻo descent and Ululani believed Kamehameha was not worthy of attempting to move the stone. There is also another story found at the Hilo Library, that Ululani High Chiefess of Hilo wife of Keawemauhili and other High Chiefs/Chiefesses High Priests was brought together by High Priest Kai o kunui a kanaele of Kawaihae to prophecy over the child Kamehameha, Ululani then introduces her son Keawe I Kahikona of Keaau Village (the only other Chief that ever lifted the NAHA stone) as the younger brother to Kamehameha so later they would not fight, in the gathering of the Ohana for Unity, Keawe I Kahi Kona chooses the side of Kamehameha I over his father Keawe Mauhili. Kamehameha ignored all negativity and in the end, not only had he moved the stone but legend says the stone had been overturned. Kamehameha went on to unite the islands through a series of hard fought battles.[14]

Hawaii Island

The god Kū-ka-ili-moku was left to Kamehameha I by his uncle Kalaniʻōpuʻu

Raised in the royal court of his uncle Kalaniʻōpuʻu, Kamehameha 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, Kūkāʻilimoku, as well as the district of Waipiʻo valley. There was already hatred between the two cousins, caused when Kamehameha presented a slain aliʻi's body to the gods instead of to Kīwalaʻō. When a group of chiefs from the Kona district offered to back Kamehameha against Kīwalaʻō, he accepted eagerly. The other story is after the Prophecy was passed along by the High Priests and Priestesses High Chiefs and Chiefesses. The fulfilling of the Prophecy, by lifting the NAHA Stone, sealed Kamehameha as the fulfiller of the Prophecy, but other ruling Chiefs, Keawe Mauhili, the Mahoe (twins) Keoua and other Chiefs were defiant of the Prophecy of Ka Poukahi and the High Chiefs of Kauai and supported Kiwala`o even after knowing about the Prophecy. While the five Kona chiefs supporting Kamehameha were: Keʻeaumoku Pāpaʻiahiahi (Kamehameha's father-in-law/grand Uncle), Keaweaheulu Kaluaʻāpana (Kamehameha's uncle), Kekūhaupiʻo (Kamehameha's warrior teacher), Kameʻeiamoku and Kamanawa (twin uncles of Kamehameha) knowing the Prophecy was true defended Kamehameha as the Unifier Ka Na`i aupuni. The High Chiefs Keawe Mauhili and Keeaumoku were by genealogy the next in line for Ali`i Nui, both chose the younger nephews Kiwala`o and Kamehameha over themselves, great Uncles. Kīwalaʻō was soon defeated in the first key conflict, the battle of Mokuʻōhai, and Kamehameha and His Chiefs took over Konohiki responsibilities and sacred obligations of the districts of Kohala, Kona, and Hāmākua on the island of Hawaiʻi.[15]

Kamehameha's prophecies included far more than the island of Hawaiʻi it went across and below the Pacific Islands to the semi continent of Aotearoa; with the counsel of his favorite wife Kaʻahumanu and father High Chief Keeaumoku Senior Counselor to Kamehameha, She became one of Hawaiʻi's most powerful figures, Kamehameha and his Council of Chiefs set about planning to unite the rest of the Hawaiian Islands. Allies came from British and American traders, who sold guns and ammunition to Kamehameha. Major factor in Kamehameha continued success o the prophecy was the addition of the Kauai Chief Ka`iana and Captain Brown, who used to be with Kaeo okalani, guaranteed Kamehameha unlimited gunpowder from the Chinese Connection and the formula for gunpowder sulfur, saltpeter/potassium nitrate and charcoal abundant here in the Islands. Two westerners who lived on Hawaiʻi island, Isaac Davis and John Young, became Ohana by marriage and hanai of Kamehameha and trained his troops in the use, maintenance and repairing of firearms.[16]

Olowalu Massacre

In 1789. Simon Metcalfe captained the fur trading vessel the Eleanora while his son, Thomas Humphrey Metcalfe, captained the ship Fair American 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 one of the crewmen inside. When Metcalfe discovered where the boat was taken, he sailed directly to the village called Olowalu. There he was able to confirm the boat had been broken apart and the man killed. After already having fired muskets into the previous village where he was anchored, killing a number of people, Metcalfe took aim at this small town of native Hawaiians. He had all cannons moved to one side of the ship and began his trading call out to the locals. The people came out in the hundreds to the beach to trade, and canoes were launched to answer the call to begin trading. When they were within firing range, the ship opened up large and small shot at the Hawaiians, massacring over 100 people at once. 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 western ship over the offense of being struck by the elder Metcalfe, and canoed out to the ship with his men, where he killed Metcalfe's son and all but one of the five crewmen, Isaac Davis. Kamehameha took Davis into protection and also took possession of the ship. The ship Eleanora was at that time anchored at Kealakekua Bay, where the ship's boatswain had gone ashore and been swiftly captured by Kamehameha's forces, because Kamehameha believed Metcalfe was planning more revenge. Eleanora would wait several days before sailing off, almost assuredly 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 cared for well enough to become comfortable with their fate and their lives in Hawaii.[17]

Maui and Oʻahu

Kamehameha then moved against the district of Puna in 1790 deposing Chief Keawemaʻuhili. Keōua Kūʻahuʻula, 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 Kīlauea volcano, which erupted and killed nearly a third of his warriors from poisonous gas.[18]

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 Hawaiʻi island.[18]

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 Kalanikūpule. 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 Kalanikūpule's cannon.[18]

In a series of skirmishes, Kamehameha's forces were able to push back Kalanikūpule'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 Kalanikūpule's gunners and took control of the weapons. 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. By using their traditional Hawaiian spears, as well as muskets and cannon, they were able to kill most of Kalanikūpule's forces. Over 400 men were forced off the Pali's cliff, a drop of 1,000 feet. Kaʻiana was killed during the action; Kalanikūpule was captured some time later and sacrificed to Kūkāʻilimoku.[citation needed]

Kamehameha wanted to win the hearts of the people. After the victory at Nuʻuanu, Kamehameha not only cared for his own warriors but for the warriors of his opposition. He helped replenish the island of Oʻahu by repairing ‘‘kalo’’ patches and planting more sweet potatoes.[19]

In April 1810, Kaumualiʻi, king of Kauai became a vassal of Kamehameha, who therefore emerged as the sole sovereign of the unified Hawaiian islands.[20] Angry over the settlement, a number of chiefs plotted to kill KaumualiʻI with poisoning at the feast in his honor. Isaac Davis got word of this and warned the King who escaped unharmed quietly before the dinner. The poison that was meant for the king is said to instead have been given to Davis, who died suddenly.

Aliʻi Nui of the Hawaiian Islands

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

The origins of the Law of the Splintered Paddle are 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 fishermen, 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." It has influenced many subsequent humanitarian laws of war.[21]

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 Kukaʻ ilimoku. Vancouver noted that Kamehameha would worship his gods and wooden images in a heiau, but he originally wanted to bring England's religion, Christianity, to Hawaiʻi. But 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 the devotion Kamehameha had, Vancouver decided against sending missionaries from England.[22]

Later life

Kamehameha I in later life. Portrait by Louis Choris

After about 1812, Kamehameha spent his time at Kamakahonu, a compound he built in Kailua-Kona.[23] It is now the site of King Kamehameha's Beach Hotel, and 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.[citation needed]

Final resting place

When Kamehameha died on May 8 or the 14th, 1819,[2][24][25] his body was hidden by his trusted friends, Hoapili and Hoʻolulu, 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 hidden 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.[26]


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 wives.[27] In their book, Kamehameha's Children Today, authors Charles Ahlo and Jerry Walker list 30 wives: 18 that bore Kamehameha children, and 12 that did not. They state the total number of children to be 35: 17 sons, and 18 daughters.[28] While he had many wives and children, it was his children through his highest ranking wife, Keōpūolani, that would succeed him to the throne.[29] In his book, Ho`omana: Understanding the Sacred and Spiritual, Malcolm Naea Chun is of the opinion 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.[30]

Pedigree chart


  1. Incorrect calculation 1736 to 1819 is more than 60-61 years
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mookini, Esther T. (1998). "Keopuolani: Sacred Wife, Queen Mother, 1778-1823" (PDF). Hawaiian Journal of History. Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society. 32: 1–24. hdl:10524/569.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. William DeWitt Alexander (1912). "The Birth of Kamehameha I". Annual Report. Hawaiian Historical Society: 6–8. hdl:10524/11853.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 George H. Kanahele; George S. Kanahele (1986). Pauahi: The Kamehameha Legacy. Kamehameha Schools Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-87336-005-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Norris Whitfield Potter; Lawrence M. Kasdon; Ann Rayson (2003). History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Bess Press. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-1-57306-150-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Sheldon DIBBLE (1843). History of the Sandwich Islands. [With a map.]. Press of the Mission Seminary. pp. 54–.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Hawaiian Historical Society (1936). Annual Report of the Hawaiian Historical Society. The Society. p. 15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. I-H3, Halawa Interchange to Halekou Interchange, Honolulu: Environmental Impact Statement. 1973. p. 483.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. albert pierce taylor (1922). under hawaiian skies. p. 79.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Kamakau 1992, p. 66.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Fornander, Abraham (1880). Stokes, John F. G. (ed.). An Account of the Polynesian Race: Its Origins and Migrations, and the Ancient History of the Hawaiian People to the Times of Kamehameha I. 2. London: Trübner & Company. p. 136.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. William De Witt Alexander (1891). A brief history of the Hawaiian people. American Book Co. p. 324.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Naha Stone". Retrieved November 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. ‘‘The Legend of the Naha Stone.’’ Donch website, 15 November 2013. Retrieved on 4 December 2013 [1]. Archived July 27, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  15. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Boatswain John Young: his adventures in Hawaii recalled" (PDF). New York Times archive. February 14, 1886.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Ralph Simpson Kuykendall (1 January 1938). The Hawaiian Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 24–. ISBN 978-0-87022-431-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Herbert Henry Gowen (1977) [1919]. The Napoleon of the Pacific: Kamehameha the Great. Revell, republished AMS Press. ISBN 978-0-404-14221-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Desha Stephen, ‘’Kamehameha and his warrior Kekuhaupiʻo (Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 1921), 418-419.
  20. Norris Potter (2003). History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Bess Press. ISBN 1-57306-150-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Michael Hoffman. "Thematic Essay on the Law of the Splintered Paddle: Compass Point for Hawaiian Leadership in International Humanitarian Law". Archived from the original on September 16, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-23. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Kamakau 1992, pp. 180-181.
  23. "Kamakahonu". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-04-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Ross H. Gast (2002). Agnes C. Conrad (ed.). Don Francisco De Paula Marin: The Letters and Journals of Francisco De Paula Marin. University of Hawaii Press. p. 71. ISBN 0-945048-09-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. P. Christiaan Klieger (1 January 1998). Moku'Ula: Maui's Sacred Island. Bishop Museum Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-58178-002-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Norris Potter (2003). History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Bess Press. ISBN 1-57306-150-6.
  27. Jon M. Van Dyke (2008). Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai_i?. University of Hawaii Press. p. 360. ISBN 978-0-8248-3211-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Charles Ahlo; Jerry Walker (2000). Kamehameha's Children Today. J. Walker. pp. 2–80.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Sarah Vowell (22 March 2011). Unfamiliar Fishes. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-101-48645-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Malcolm Naea Chun (1 January 2007). Ho`omana: Understanding the Sacred and Spiritual. CRDG. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-58351-047-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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