Some 200 years and four months ago, the powerfully built, square-jawed warrior King Kamehameha the Great completed the unification of the Hawaiian Islands. Ten years before, he conquered all of Maui, Lanai and Molokai.
When locals think of Kamehameha, we think of King Kamehameha III Elementary School named after his grandson, Kamehameha Avenue in Kahului, the famous
Kamehameha Schools and even the official Kamehameha Day state holiday in June. Few remember that a nuclear submarine was named for this Hawaiian
warrior, and that his statue is in a place of honor in the U.S. Capitol at Statuary Hall.
Kamehameha did not cut down a cherry tree, nor did he wear wooden false teeth, yet he could be considered the George Washington of these islands. If alive today, the great king would probably lash out at the comparison, since he was a great fan of Great Britain, who he considered a protector of these islands.
Kamehameha is worthy of a fresh look, not just because this is the bicentennial of unification. His decisions still shape Lahaina and Maui today.
His exploits are richly described in dozens of books by numerous illustrious historians — Lahaina’s David Malo included. For the locally born as well as newcomers, tapping these riches yields interesting clues on why the king truly could be called great, whether you agree or disagree with his methods.
Most everyone remembers that Kamehameha was born of ali‘i (kingly) heritage on Hawaii Island, unified the islands, was a fierce warrior and had the physique of a tall, muscular NBA player. The fascination is in the detail.
Kamehameha — his name means the one who is set apart — was destined for glory as the son of two high chiefs, including one of Oahu’s most powerful warriors, from the day of his birth.
Some believe the future king was born in 1758 at about the time of Haley’s Comet, the birth of a powerful king mentioned in prophecies.
The fledgling king already had mega mana (a word meaning acquired authority, power and prestige) derived from two royal parents that each had considerable mana in their own right. Mana was acquired by inheritance or heroics in battle. Battles were often fought to acquire more mana.
According to tradition, Kamehameha got more even more mana when he acquired the hair of the slain Captain Cook, explorer of much of the Pacific Rim. Hawaiians believed Cook also had a lot of mana.
The remains of the man who named these Sandwich Islands were divided up after his death on the beach near Kona. Kamehameha, an admirer of Cook, had visited his ships, even though he had nothing to do with the explorer’s demise. Historical facts complete the story.
Trained to be a fierce warrior, Kamehameha fought his first battle on Maui at 17 in an unsuccessful effort by a Hawaiian ali‘i (king) to conquer the island. Later, the powerfully built warrior with the fierce face set forth on his life work after moving a 5,000-pound stone called Naha, which legend said could be moved only by a man of destiny.
From Maui’s Iao Valley to Lahaina’s shoreline to the rough volcanic landscape of Hawaii Island, along the newly discovered harbor in Honolulu he decided was the ideal place to foster trade, Kamehameha returned again and again. Both epic and trivial, these journey’s transformed Hawaii.
In 1783, the man who was to become great launched his campaign to unify these islands. (To be continued.)
King Kamehameha I was trained to be a fierce warrior.