Kamehameha I, Uniter of the Hawaiian Islands

King Kamehameha the First was born on the Big Island of Hawaii somewhere around 1758, which is generally given as his Birthdate owing to the fact that Halley's Comet passed over the Islands that year, which was accepted as an omen of his impending greatness.

Whether the omen story has any truth to it or not, Kamehameha did, indeed, rise to greatness and would eventually conquer all of the Islands save Kauai by 1795, thereby creating the Hawaiian Kingdom. By 1810, to avoid certain conquer by the vastly superior forces under Kamehameha's control, Kauai would capitulate and enter the kingdom as a vassal state.

Kamehameha's early days were spent on the Hilo side of the big Island, where he is reputed to have lifted the Naha stone, which still exists today. As the stone weighs in at some 3 tons, it is highly doubtful that he actually lifted it, though quite likely was able to engineer a way to move it sufficiently to impress the locals, thereby acquiring the following of the faithful who believed him destined to be a great ruler. At 6'8" as over three hundred pounds, it would have been easy to believe that such a powerfully built man could have, indeed, moved the stone. Nevertheless, at the time  of the death of the Island's king, the will he left divided control of the Island between Kamehameha and his cousin Kiwala'o, who would, predictably, battle it out for total control of the Island with Kamehameha eventually winning out.

In the year 1779, Kamehameha would meet with British Sailing Captain and great explorer James T. Cook and, at first, greet him as a visiting god, giving him the title Lono, roughly equivalent to the word "god" in the Hawaiian language. Things soon turned sour between the locals and the visiting seaman and a couple of Hawaiians, in a midnight escapade, made off with one of Cook's shore boats. This angered Cook and he came ashore with a group of armed sailors to retrieve the boat. In the ensuing confrontation, Cook was killed, pretty much putting the lie to the "god" status accorded him in the eyes of the Hawaiians.

But King of the Big Island was not enough for Kamehameha and he soon marshalled the troops for some new prey. His capture of Maui, Molokai and Lanai sufficiently whetted his appetite and he would put together a war party of some 10,000 warriors fitted out in 960 canoes and head out for Oahu with his eyes on the big prize-total control of the Hawaiian chain. The fight would be fierce, but in the climactic battle, Kamehameha's forces backed the resistance all the way up through the Pali gap and, finally, over the cliff there, a drop of 1000 feet that killed every last one of his opposing forces.

So he had realized his dream of creating a Hawaiian Kingdom and so established it in 1795, with the lone holdout of the 90-mile-distant Kauai. It took 15 years for Kauai to come to the table, but they eventually saw the wisdom of doing so, as surely Kamehameha would have prevailed, had it ever come to actual confrontation.

Kamehameha would enact many laws and edicts as King, including one which basically survies to the present day and is embedded in the States 1978 constitution. Referred to as "The Law of the Splintered Paddle" which holds that the old and infirm or weak shall be accorded care and consideration.The law traces back to an incident in Kamehameha's earlier life in which, while doing battle with an adversary, his foot became stuck between some rocks, whereupon his foe cracked a canoe paddle over his head and left him for dead. Later passers-by freed him and gave him this notion of fairness that was later encodefied.

He was also a prolific surfer, and as being able to surf well was a greatly respected talent and would accord the performer additional social status; it led to the sport being referred to as "The Sort of Kings". He would eventually relocate the seat of the Hawaiian government to Waikiki, making it convenient for him to enjoy the surf while not performing his King job.

Today, if one travels the Hawaiian Islands, many reminders of Kamehameha can be seen almost every place you look. There is Kamehameha Schools, Kamehameha Highway and many companies named for him, including the Island's original aloha shirt manufacturer, The Kamehameha Garment Company.

A 'must-see' for any Island visitor is the King Kamehameha Statue located directly across from Iolani Palace. And June 10th is the Hawaiian holiday commemorating his birth, though no one really knows the actual date of his birth. Nevertheless, on this day, visit the statue and see it draped with more leis than you can imagine!


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