Friday, June 10, 2011

King Kamehameha the First

Not that Kamehameha...

Tommorow is one of the larger Hawaiian holidays (the largest being the Merry Monarch Festival, in my opinion), King Kamehameha Day! It is a state holiday honoring King Kamehameha I, the first ruler to unite the Hawaiian islands, as well as found the Kingdom of Hawaii. Since most people that have never lived in Hawaii, 'Kamehameha' only evokes an image on a spikey yellow-haired dude screaming a lot while blasting entire planets to smithereens with a ball of energy, I thought I'd write up a ramblingly brief history of the first King of Hawaii.

Kawaihae, site of King Kamehameha's birth. Its actually pretty desert-like.

King Kam's life sounds like the perfect basis for a Disney movie, reminding me a little of the Lion King, in an odd way. Hawaiian legend and history are interweaved when it comes to his life. Named Pai'ea (a hard-shelled crab), along with many other looong Hawaiian names, he was born under Haley's Comet, which was said to herald the chief who would kill all other chiefs, and unite the islands. His early childhood was tumultuous with inter-family fighting, following his grandfather's death and feuding among his father and uncles. An uncle emerged victorious, and fearing Pai'ea to be the child of the comet prophecy, ordered him killed. From birth a noble ally of Pa'ea's parents took him into hiding, and raised him for five years before his uncle became remorseful and invited him back to the village. He came to be called Kamehameha, meaning 'the lonely one', which probably matched his prickly, sour nature.

He went on to earn distinction in a rebel uprising battle as a teenager defending his cousin's rule of the Kealakekua Bay area against their second-cousin. He met the famous (or infamous, depending on who you speak to) Captain Cook, earned the role of kahuna of Kuka'ilimoku (the god of war), and was granted the beautiful Waipio Valley. Kamehameha gathered five
powerful allies in his family members and conquered nearly a third of the Big Island. However, he left an usurper at his back and had to retreat to confront the attacker, Keoua. When they met in battle, Keoua fled with his army across the Kilauea volcano which erupted
and killed half his forces with poisonous gas.

Pretty, but not stuff you should breathe on a long,
hard march with an enemy at your back.

Setting his sights on the rest of the Big Island, Kam was advised to build a great hei'au (temple) and honor Kuka'ilimoku with a sacrificial great chief. Being a total boss, Kam sent an invitation to his remaining arch-enemy on the island, Keoua, to the celebration of the completion of the temple. Keoua wasn't a fool, and knew exactly how rival chiefs 'cut the ribbon' at a grand opening ceremony of a war god's temple. However, instead of hopping in a canoe and paddling back to Polynesia, he steered his boat to the temple. When he arrived, its reported he mutilated himself, to make himself into an imperfect sacrifice. One of Kam's chiefs threw a spear at him, some say he dodged it, or he got spitted. Either way, he croaked and was made a sacrifice, completing Pu'ukohola Heiau and Kamehameha was the king of the Big Island.

Pu'ukohola Heiau

Silly tourists, what are you doing? The inset is an awesome
etched mirror-art of King Kam lifting this behemoth.

King Kam heroically lifted the 5,000 pound Naha Stone, fulfilling another prophecy that only the conqueror of all the islands could. He decided to team up with some whitey Englishmen traders to get guns and ammunition, and advisers to train his hands-on troops in the way of firearm combat. He set out with 960 canoes carrying 10,000 soldiers and quickly conquered the weakened-by-war Maui and Molokai.

A replica of a traditional close-combat Hawaii battle spear;
imagine 6 feet of this flying at you.

Kam moved on to Oahu, not knowing he was betrayed by a close chief, who defected to the Chief Kalanikupule and assisted him in preparing for the coming battle. King Kam was also unaware Kalanikupule also had firearms and cannons. In the Battle of Nu'uanu, he prevailed by splitting his forces and surrounding the rival army, pinning them down in the cliffs where they'd holed up, decimating them with firearms and good old fashioned spears. In a scene straight out 300, King Kam's men forced over 400 men to leap from the cliff of Pali, or straight up pushed them off. Kalanikupule was captured and sacrificed to the god of war.

The worst side to be on in a battle is the side getting shoved off the 980 ft cliff.

Stay tuned for the second part of King Kamehameha's rambling biography!


  1. amazing culture i didnt know it was THAT sophisticated

  2. Very nice pictures, I need to travel more ! :(

  3. I remember writing a report on him (albeit it for a friend that payed me to do his work.) Going up to Pali lookout wasn't really the same for me since then. And yet I still do a handstand on the edge.

  4. I have to visit Hawaii sometime :)

  5. seriously, Kamehameha king? :O
    who named him? a dragon ball fan? :P

  6. Ugh.. I travel so little. Perhaps I should go out into the world and actually see what it has to offer.

    Thank you for sharing this! :) It makes me want to go out and live!

  7. Nice to read, didn't know even half of that :D

  8. Wow thanks man, I never knew that much about Hawaii

  9. this is really cool, especially because I have no idea about anything to do with this culture. Very readable, thanks for sharing

  10. I feel like i learnt something ^_^

  11. damn, i got so excited when i saw kamehameha :(

  12. At one point, they were going to make a Kamehameha movie starring the Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, but there was concern that a Samoan playing the role would be disrespectful since Samoans and Hawaiians were historic enemies, and so without a 'star' the movie never got made. :(