Kamehameha I

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Kamehameha I
Kamehameha I.png
Portrait of King Kamehameha The Great
King of the Hawaiian Islands
Reign July 1782 – May 8, 1819
Successor Kamehameha II
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 House of Kamehameha
Father Keōua
Mother Kekuʻiapoiwa II
Born c. 1758
Kapakai, Kokoiki, Moʻokini Heiau, Kohala, Hawaiʻi Island
Died May 8, 1819(1819-05-08) (aged 60 or 61)
Kamakahonu, Kailua-Kona, Kona, Hawaiʻi island
Burial Unknown

Kamehameha I (Hawaiian pronunciation: [kəmehəˈmɛhə]; c. 1758 – May 8 or 14, 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 Kānāwai Māmalahoe, 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 kauʻi Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea.

Birth and concealment[edit]

Traditional chants indicate he was born in the month of ikuwā (winter) or around November. According to Hawaiian historians Samuel Kamakau[1]:66–69 and later Abraham Fornander[2]:136, Kamehameha was born in 1736, but this date has been widely contested by earlier Hawaiian historians such as James Jackson Jarves, eyewitness observations on the age of the king from contemporary sources, and modern historical consensus.[3][4][5] Current consensus considers 1758 as the most probable date of birth and is supported by the stories of a bright star that appeared the year of his birth corresponding with Halley's Comet that was visible from earth that year.[6] He was known as Paiʻea, which means "hard-shelled crab".[7]

Parentage controversy[edit]

His father Keōua and his mother Chiefess Kekūʻiapoiwa of the Kohala district on the island of Hawaiʻi may not have been his parents.[8] His father by blood is said to be Kahekili. Until February of 1911, the version written by Kamakau and held by Fornander was accepted. Kamaka Stillman published accounts that were verified by others within the family.[9]

Alapaʻinui, who was the king of Hawaiʻi at that time, was angry when the kahuna (priest) told him that the child born would become "the slayer of chiefs", and he had, according to custom, two houses built that day, one for the child that would be hunted and killed and the other of the kahuna's. Kaha, who was one of Alapaʻi's kahunas and was knowledgeable of the prophecy and the killing, went to Kekuʻiapoiwa and told her to give the child to Naeʻole, who was a famous runner of chiefs (kūkini), and he ran from Kokoiki to Pali Hulaʻana at ʻĀwini, the third valley from Waipiʻo where he was raised by the chiefess Kahaʻōpulani (who by some accounts was the sister of Naeʻole and a cousin of Kekuʻiapoiwa) along with her own mother, Hikuʻikekualono, daughter Kuakāne.[10]

Another story says the name Paiʻea was given to Kamehameha after he first distinguished himself as a warrior in a battle between Maui and Hawaiʻi island in 1775–1779.[1]:84

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".[11]

Naha Stone[edit]

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 prophesied warrior who would unite all of the islands. The Naha Stone now rests in front of the Hilo Public Library on the island of Hawaiʻi.

Legend has it that the man who moves the stone 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 (high-ranking chiefess of Hilo) believed Kamehameha was not worthy of attempting to move the stone. 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.[12]

Unification of Hawaiʻi[edit]

Hawaii Island[edit]

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 five Kona chiefs supporting Kamehameha were: Keʻeaumoku Pāpaʻiahiahi (Kamehameha's father-in-law), Keaweaheulu Kaluaʻāpana (Kamehameha's uncle), Kekūhaupiʻo (Kamehameha's warrior teacher), Kameʻeiamoku and Kamanawa (twin uncles of Kamehameha). Kīwalaʻō was soon defeated in the battle of Mokuʻōhai, and Kamehameha took control of the districts of Kohala, Kona, and Hāmākua on the island of Hawaiʻi.[13]

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.[14]

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.[14]

Maui and Oʻahu[edit]

Kamehameha going into battle

Kamehameha's dreams included far more than the island of Hawaiʻi; with the counsel of his favorite wife Kaʻahumanu, who became one of Hawaiʻi'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 Hawaiʻi island, Isaac Davis and John Young, became advisers of Kamehameha and trained his troops in the use of firearms.[15]

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.[14]

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 not only to conquer the islands but to win the hearts of the people. After the victory at Nuʻuanu, Kamehameha showed his true leadership qualities. He 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.[16]

In April 1810, Kaumualiʻi became a vassal of Kamehameha, who therefore emerged as the sole sovereign of the unified Hawaiian islands.[17]

King of Hawaii[edit]

"E naʻi wale nō ʻoukou, i kuʻu pono ʻaʻole pau" 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 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 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"[14] (Napoleona o ka Pākīpika in the Hawaiian language).

Kamehameha also instituted the Māmalahoe Kānāwai, 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 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.[18]

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 noticed that Kamehameha would worship his gods and wooden images in heiau and he wanted to spread the religion in England to Hawaiʻi. The reason missionaries were not sent to Hawaiʻi from Great Britain is because Kamehameha told Vancouver that the gods he worshiped were his gods with ‘‘mana’’ and through these gods, Kamehameha became supreme ruler over all of the islands. Witnessing the devotion Kamehameha had, Vancouver decided not to send missionaries from England.[19]

Later life[edit]

After about 1812, Kamehameha spent his time at Kamakahonu, a compound he built in Kailua-Kona.[20] 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.[citation needed]

Final resting place[edit]

When Kamehameha died May 8 or 14, 1819,[21][22] 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.[23]


Family tree[edit]

Kalaniʻōpuʻu (k)
Kalola (w)
Keōua (k)
Kekuʻiapoiwa II (w)
Kānekapōlei (w)
Kekuiapoiwa Liliha
Kamehameha I
(The Great)
(died 1819)
Kalākua Kaheiheimālie
Kamehameha II
Pauli Kaʻōleiokū
*Kamehameha I saved Pauli after the Battle of Mokuʻōhai and is said to have claimed him as a son. Whether that is of natural or adopted status is not known.
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
Albert Kamehameha
John William Pitt Kīnaʻu
Keolaokalani Davis


Name Lifespan Mother Notes
Pauli Kaʻōleiokū[24] 1767 -
February 19, 1818
Kānekapōlei Information is conflicting about whether Pauli is a natural of Kalaniʻōpuʻu and the adopted son of Kamehameha I, but his mother is Kanekapolei. Pauli married three times and had issue, including Queen Pauahi
Maheha Kapulikoliko[24] unknown -
Peleuli Married Kalimakahilinuiamamao.[25]
Kahōʻanokū Kīnaʻu[24] unknown- 1809 Married Kahakuhaʻakoi Wahinepio and had issue
Kaikoʻolani[24] unknown -
c. late 1820s[26]
Married Haʻaheo, but had no issue
Kalani Kiliwehi-o-Kaleikini[24] unknown -
c. late 1820s[26]
Possibly mother of Leleiohoku I
Liholiho-i-Kawi-o-Kamehameha[27] c. 1795[28] -
Kalākua Kaheiheimālie Mentioned as "Kamehameha Iwi" by Samuel Kamakau as their only son.[24] John Papa ʻĪʻī, the only historian to mention more than three children with Kaheiheimālie, refers to three sons born on Oahu, the eldest he referred to as "Kekūāiwa [also known as Lunalilo or Kamehameha" survived past infancy.[29] In 1992, Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa mentions three children of which the only son was named "Kamehameha Kapuaiwa Iwi."[30]
Kekūāiwa (or Lunalilo) Kamehameha unknown
Kapuaiwa Kamehameha c. 1801[28] -
Kamāmalu[24] c. 1802 -
July 8, 1824
Married Kamehameha II, but had no issue
Kīnaʻu[24] c. 1805 -
April 4, 1839
Married three times and had issue, including Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V
Aliʻipalapala unknown He was born on Oahu after Kekūāiwa and probably died young. Second oldest of the three sons mentioned by John Papa ʻĪʻī.[31]
Kamoakupa unknown He was born on Oahu after Aliʻipalapala and probably died young. Youngest of the three sons mentioned by John Papa ʻĪʻī.[31]
Nanaula 1809[citation needed] Died as an infant on Oahu. Youngest of the two daughters born on Oahu mentioned by John Papa Īī. The older daughter born on Oahu was Kīnaʻu.[31]
Alexander Stewart[32] unknown -
after 1801
unknown Lost at sea or brought to England. The only mention of this alleged son comes from the narrative of Captain Amos Delano in A Narrative of Voyages and Travels.[32]
Kapapauai[24] unknown one of his wahine pālama Kamehameha's last child either by Kekāuluohi or Manono II
Kapulikoliko unknown -
July 12, 1836
"a plebeian woman" Mentioned by Lucy Goodale Thurston as a chiefess who wished to adopt her daughter Persis.[33]:88
ʻIolani Liholiho[24] 1797 -
July 14, 1824
Keōpūolani Ascended the throne as Kamehameha II; married his half-sister (see above), but had no issue
Kauikeaouli[24] August 11, 1813 -
December 15, 1854
Ascended the throne as Kamehameha III and had two short-lived sons and two illegitimate, one who survived till 1902
Nāhiʻenaʻena[24] March 17, 1814 -
December 30, 1836
Married two times and had one short-lived son



  1. ^ a b Samuel Kamakau (1991). Ruling chiefs of Hawaii (Revised ed.). Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press. ISBN 0-87336-014-1. 
  2. ^ Abraham Fornander (1880). John F. G. Stokes, 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. Volume 2. Trübner & Co. 
  3. ^ Hawaiian Historical Society (1936). "Report to the Hawaiian Historical Society by its Trustees Concerning the Birth Date of Kamehameha I and Kamehameha Day Celebrations". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaiian Historical Society): 6–18. hdl:10524/50. 
  4. ^ John F. G. Stokes (1933). "New Bases for Hawaiian Chronology". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaiian Historical Society): 6–65. hdl:10524/70. 
  5. ^ Maud W. Makemson (1936). "The Legend of Kokoiki and the Birthday of Kamehameha I". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaiian Historical Society): 44–50. hdl:10524/50. 
  6. ^ John H. Chambers (2006). Hawaii. Interlink Books. pp. 65–. ISBN 978-1-56656-615-5. 
  7. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of paiʻea ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  8. ^ Norris Whitfield Potter; Lawrence M. Kasdon; Ann Rayson (2003). History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Bess Press. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-1-57306-150-6. 
  9. ^ Hawaiian Historical Society (1903). Annual Report of the Hawaiian Historical Society. Hawaiian Historical Society. pp. 4–. 
  10. ^ William DeWitt Alexander (1912). "The Birth of Kamehameha I". Annual Report (Hawaiian Historical Society): 6–8. hdl:10524/11853. 
  11. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of mehameha ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  12. ^ , ‘‘The Legend of the Naha Stone.’’ Donch website, 15 November 2013. Retrieved on 4 December 2013<http://www.donch.com/lulh/naha.htm>.
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ a b c d Herbert Henry Gowen (1977) [1919]. The Napoleon of the Pacific: Kamehameha the Great. Revell, republished AMS Press. ISBN 978-0-404-14221-6. 
  15. ^ "Boatswain John Young: his adventures in Hawaii recalled" (PDF). New York Times archive. February 14, 1886. 
  16. ^ Desha Stephen, ‘’Kamehameha and his warrior Kekuhaupiʻo (Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 1921), 418-419.
  17. ^ Norris Potter (2003). History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Bess Press. ISBN 1-57306-150-6. 
  18. ^ Michael Hoffman. "Thematic Essay on the Law of the Splintered Paddle: Compass Point for Hawaiian Leadership in International Humanitarian Law". Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  19. ^ Samuel Kamakau, ‘‘Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi (Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 1991), 180-181.
  20. ^ "Kamakahonu". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ P. Christiaan Klieger (1 January 1998). Moku'Ula: Maui's Sacred Island. Bishop Museum Press. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-58178-002-4. 
  23. ^ Norris Potter (2003). History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Bess Press. ISBN 1-57306-150-6.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kamakau 1991, p. 208.
  25. ^ Edith Kawelohea McKinzie (1986). Hawaiian Genealogies: Extracted from Hawaiian Language Newspapers, Volume 2. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-939154-37-4
  26. ^ a b Klieger 1998, p. 45.
  27. ^ Kapiikauinamoku (June 20, 1955). "The Story of Maui Royalty: Princess Kamamalu Was Kamehamehaʻs Daughter". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  28. ^ a b Christopher Buyers. "The Kamehameha Dynasty Genealogy (Page 6)". Royal Ark web site. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  29. ^ Īī, Pukui & Barrère 1983, p. 33, 70.
  30. ^ Kameʻeleihiwa 1992, p. 125.
  31. ^ a b c Īī, Pukui & Barrère 1983, p. 70.
  32. ^ a b Thomas G. Thrum (1916). "Was There A Lost Son of Kamehameha?". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaiian Historical Society): 44–51. hdl:10524/96. 
  33. ^ Lucy Goodale Thurston (1872). Life and Times of Mrs. Lucy G. Thurston: Wife of Rev. Asa Thurston, Pioneer Missionary to the Sandwich Islands. reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4325-4547-5. 


External links[edit]

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