Kamehameha The Great

Kamehameha I
King of the Hawaiian Islands
Reign July 1782 – May 8, 1819
Successor Kamehameha II
Spouse Kaʻahumanu
Kalākua Kaheiheimālie
Nāmāhāna Piʻia
Kahakuhaʻakoi Wahinepio
Manono II
Kānekapōlei (unmarried)
Liholiho (Kamehameha II)
Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III)
Kīnaʻu (Kaʻahumanu II)
Kahōʻanokū Kīnaʻu
Pauli Kaʻōleiokū (illegitimate)
Full name
Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea
House House of Kamehameha
Father Keōua
Mother Kekūʻiapoiwa 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, 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.

Legendary birth

Although there is some debate as to the precise year of his birth, Hawaiian legend claimed that a great king would one day unite the islands, and that the sign of his birth would be a comet. Halley's comet was visible from Hawaiʻi in 1758 and it is likely Kamehameha was born shortly after its appearance. Traditional chants indicate he was born in the month of ikuā (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]

He was known as Paiʻea, which means "hard-shelled crab".[6] His father by blood was Keōua. His mother was Chiefess Kekūʻiapoiwa of the Kohala district on the island of Hawaiʻi.

Keōua was the great-grandson of Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku, who had once ruled a large portion of the island of Hawaiʻi. When Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku died, war broke out over succession between his sons, Kalani Kama Keʻeaumoku Nui and Kalaninuiʻamamao, and a rival chief, Alapaʻinuiakauaua. Alapaʻi emerged victorious over the two brothers, and their orphan sons (including Kamehameha's father) were absorbed into his clan. Other accounts indicate that he was son of the king of Maui Kahekili II. This occurrence is common in ancient Hawaiian society and such children were called aliʻi poʻolua, double-headed chiefs, with two fathers.

Alapaʻinui, who was the present 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 daughter Kuakāne.[7] They raised Paiʻea for the first few years of his life. Five years after his birth, Alapaʻi, perhaps remorseful of his actions, invited the child back to live with his family. There under the guidance of his kumu (teacher), Kekūhaupiʻo, he learned the ways of court diplomacy and war. His father, thought to have been poisoned or prayed to death by Alapaʻi, died a few years later. Kekūhaupiʻo remained a faithful and trusted advisor to Paiʻea until the accidental death of the loyal kahu during a sham battle.

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, by saving his teacher's, Kekūhaupiʻo's, life, by blocking a blow from a pāhoa (dagger).

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".[8] The name "Kamehameha" was given to Paiʻea by Alapaʻi after he was brought into his court, Paiʻea was given that name, because for most of his childhood life, he lived in solitude at ʻĀwini.

Unification of Hawaii

When Alapaʻi died, his position was succeeded by his son Keaweʻōpala. Kalaniʻōpuʻu, challenged his rule, and was backed by his nephew Kamehameha. In fierce fighting at Kealakekua Bay, Keaweʻōpala was slain and Kalaniʻōpuʻu claimed victory. For his loyal service to his uncle, Kamehameha was made Kalaniʻōpuʻu's aide.

In 1779, Kamehameha again traveled with Kalaniʻōpuʻu to Kealakekua Bay. This time he, among other young chiefs accompanying their senior chief, met with Captain James Cook. Cook was perhaps mistaken by some Native Hawaiians to be Lono, the Hawaiian god of fertility. During Kamehameha's first contact with non-Hawaiians, he may have stayed aboard Cook's ship, the HMS Resolution, for at least one night.

Hawaii Island

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 Hamakua on the island of Hawaiʻi.[9]

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 Kilauea volcano, which erupted and killed nearly a third of his warriors from poisonous gas.[10]

Questioning a kahuna on how best to go about securing the rest of the island, Kamehameha resolved to construct a temple (heiau) to Kūkaʻilimoku, as well as lay an aliʻi's body on it.

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.[10]

Maui and Oahu

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.

With his new army, Kamehameha felt confident enough to move on the neighboring islands of Maui and Oʻahu, already weakened by a war of succession that had broken out between King Kahekili II's son and brother. Kamehameha may or may not have known that his rival, King Kalanikūpule, also possessed firearms, and was planning a move against him when the aliʻi nui of Hawaiʻi invaded those islands.

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.[10]

Main article: Battle of Nuʻuanu

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.


Kamehameha was now ruler of all the Hawaiian Islands from Oʻahu to the east, but the western islands of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau continued to elude him. Using Honolulu as a base, he had a forty-ton ship built. When he attempted to invade the western islands in 1796, Kaʻiana's brother Nāmākeha led a rebellion on Hawaiʻi island against his rule, and Kamehameha was forced to return and put down the insurrection.[11] After his first failed attempt, Kamehameha commissioned the mass construction of a fleet of war canoes called Peleleu, from the forests of Hilo and Puna. The project lasted from 1796 to 1801, and was superintended by the kahuna kālai waʻa, Kahaʻōpio Hūhā. During this time, a triple hull canoe (pūkolu), presumably the first of its kind in the islands, was built and named Kaenakāne, though it proved ineffective.

In 1803 he tried again, but this time, disease broke out among his warriors; Kamehameha himself fell ill, though he later recovered. During this time, Kamehameha was amassing the largest armada Hawaiʻi had ever seen – foreign-built schooners and massive war canoes, armed with cannon and carrying his vast army. Kaumualiʻi, aliʻi nui of Kauaʻi, watched as Kamehameha built up his invading force and decided he would have a better chance in negotiation than battle. He may also have been influenced by foreign merchants, who saw the continuing feud between Kamehameha and Kaumualiʻi as bad for the sandalwood trade.

In 1810, Kaumualiʻi became a vassal of Kamehameha, who therefore emerged as the sole sovereign of the unified Hawaiian islands.[12]

King of Hawaii

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.

In fact, 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"[10] (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". This law, which provided for the safety of noncombatants in wartime, is estimated to have saved thousands of lives during Kamehameha's campaigns. It became the first written law of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, was included in the state constitution, and has influenced many subsequent humanitarian laws of war.[13]

Although he ended human sacrifice, Kamehameha was a devout follower of the Hawaiian religion and Hawaiian traditions (such as Lua). He believed so strongly in his religion and culture that he would execute his subjects for breaches of the strict rules called kapu. Although he entertained Christians, he did not appear to take them seriously.

Later life

After about 1812, Kamehameha spent his time at Kamakahonu, a compound he built in Kailua-Kona.[14] 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.[15]

Final Resting Place

When Kamehameha died May 8, 1819, 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.[16] King David Kalākaua had also once attempted to search for Kamehameha's lost bones, and he found a man named Kapalu, who supposedly knew where Kamehameha's bones were buried, Kapalu said that the cave that houses Kamehameha's bones was called Kahikuokamoku (sometimes called Kahiku Okalani), this cave is supposedly located in the Kaloko-Honokōhau complex. Kalākaua found two bundles of bones, one supposedly belonging to Kamehameha and the other claimed to be the bones of ʻUmi-a-Liloa. Kalākaua had the bones taken to Oʻahu in the February of 1888, then, years later, Dr. Louis Sullivan of the American Museum of Natural History, examined both sets of bones, and concluded that neither set was of Kamehameha.[17] Though, there is a theory that Kalākaua actually found Kamehameha's bones, but kept his discovery secret. According to the curator of the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaiʻi, a direct descendant of Hoapili and Hoʻolulu, Kamehameha's bones are concealed in a cave off the coast of Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi located right off the shore of the old residence of ʻUmi-a-Liloa, which is supposedly in the hands of the QLCC (Queen Liliʻuokalani Children's Center) Trust.



Main article: Kamehameha Statue

Five major statues exist, where each of the statues varies slightly from each other in details such as having different weaponry, gilding or painting:

  • The original cast: the ship, bound for Honolulu on which it was being shipped from Europe sank off the Falkland Islands but in 1912 the original was salvaged, repaired and erected in Kapaʻau on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi;
  • One of smaller size is located in an outdoor Polynesian shopping center, across from the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada; and
  • One is located outside Sam's Anchor Inn Family Restaurant in Okinawa, Japan.

Other legacy

  • In 1871 Kamehameha V decreed a holiday, Kamehameha Day, in his honor. This holiday is still celebrated annually on June 11.
  • Kamehameha Schools were founded in the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, at the time of her death in 1884 the heir of the Kamehameha estate. Her intention was to bring education and thus hope for a future to the rapidly declining number of native Hawaiians. The first school opened in 1887.
  • The Kamehameha Wave, an iconic energy technique in the Dragon Ball franchise and the signature move of the protagonist Goku, along with some members for his family and allies, was named in honor of Kamehameha the Great.
  • A C-17 Globemaster III, P-153, was named the "Spirit of Kamehameha", while a Benjamin Franklin class submarine, launched in 1965 and decommissioned in 2002, was christened the USS Kamehameha.
  • The PC game Civilization V includes Kamehameha as a downloadable leader to play as.
  • Kamehameha I appears on the 1975 Hawaii license plate and the rainbow signifies his unification of the islands.


Family tree


Name Lifespan Mother Notes
Pauli Kaʻōleiokū[21] 1767 -
February 19, 1818
Kānekapōlei Illegitimate; married three times and had issue, including Queen Pauahi
Maheha Kapulikoliko[21] unknown -
Peleuli Married Kalimakahilinuiamamao.[22]
Kahōʻanokū Kīnaʻu[21] unknown- 1809 Married Kahakuhaʻakoi Wahinepio and had issue
Kaikoʻolani[21] unknown -
c. late 1820s[23]
Married Haʻaheo, but had no issue
Kalani Kiliwehi-o-Kaleikini[21] unknown -
c. late 1820s[23]
Possibly mother of Leleiohoku I
Liholiho-i-Kaiwi-o-Kamehameha[24] c. 1795[25] -
Kalākua Kaheiheimālie Mentioned as "Kamehameha Iwi" by Samuel Kamakau as their only son.[21] 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.[26]. In 1992, Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa mentions three children of which the only son was named "Kamehameha Kapuaiwa Iwi."[27]
Kekūāiwa (or Lunalilo) Kamehameha unknown
Kapuaiwa Kamehameha c. 1801[25] -
Kamāmalu[21] c. 1802 -
July 8, 1824
Married Kamehameha II, but had no issue
Kīnaʻu[21] 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.[28]
Kamoakupa unknown He was born on Oahu after Aliʻipalapala and probably died young. Youngest of the three sons mentioned by John Papa ʻĪʻī.[28]
Nanaula 1809 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.[28]
Alexander Stewart[29] 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.[29]
Kapapauai[21] 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.[30]:88
ʻIolani Liholiho[21] 1797 -
July 14, 1824
Keōpūolani Ascended the throne as Kamehameha II; married his half-sister (see above), but had no issue
Kauikeaouli[21] 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[21] March 17, 1814 -
December 30, 1836
Married two times and had one short-lived son




External links

  • Kamehameha Schools Biography of Kamehameha
  • GoHawaii biography of Kamehameha
  • The Story of Kamehameha
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
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