In ancient Hawaii, legends told of a day when a great king would unite all the Hawaiian islands. The sign of his birth, kahuna (priests) claimed, would be a comet.
Birth of a King
And so it goes that Kamehameha was born in 1758, the year Halley’s Comet made an appearance over Hawaiian skies. Kamehameha was born in Paiea on the Big Island of Hawaii. His father was said to be Keoua, a grandson of Keaweikekahialiiokamoku, who once ruled a large portion of the island. Translated, Kamehameha means “the lonely one.”
Another legend tells of a kahuna who prophesized that the man who moved the 7,000-pound Naha Stone would become the greatest king of Hawaii. When Kamehameha was 14, the story goes, he moved the massive rock, and then lifted it and turned it completely over.
Rise to Power
Kamehameha grew up in the court of his uncle, Kalaniopuu. When Kalaniopuu died in 1782, his power was divided between Kamehameha and Kalaniopuu’s natural son, Kiwalao, who inherited his father’s throne. Civil war broke out, however, and Kamehameha emerged as the Big Island’s ruler.
Many more battles ensued. During one raid in Puna, Kamehameha slipped and caught his foot in a crevice of lava. Seeing this, one of his fleeing opponents returned and beat him on the head with a canoe paddle until it broke. As a result, Kamehameha proclaimed Mamalahoe Kanawai, or “Law of the Splintered Paddle,” providing protection to unarmed noncombatants in war. “Let the aged, men and women, and little children, lie down safely in the road,” his law decreed.
Uniting the Hawaiian Islands
Having gained control of his home island, Kamehameha turned to the other Hawaiian islands. Using weaponry purchased from American and European traders, the king conquered Maui and Molokai, then turned his attention to Oahu. In 1795, Kamehameha invaded the shores of Waikiki beach and led his army to Nuuanu, where a bloody battle with Oahu chief Kalanikupule ensued. Hundreds of Oahu’s warriors were killed, driven over the valley’s Pali cliffs.
In 1810, Kaumualii, the king of Kauai, peacefully surrendered his island to Kamehameha to avoid further bloodshed. With that, Kamehameha fulfilled his destiny of uniting all the Hawaiian islands under one rule.
The Hawaiian kingdom enjoyed a period of peace during Kamehameha’s reign. The king unified the legal system and used taxes to promote trade with the Americans and Europeans.
Kamehameha died in 1819, and his son, Liholiho, took the throne. Kamehameha’s bones were hidden by his kahuna. Today, his final resting place remains a mystery.