Saturday, December 19, 2015

Great Leaders: King Kamehameha I (Part 1): The Beginning

Kamehameha I
Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Islands of Hawaii hosted millions of vacationers in its paradise. But behind this paradise lies a chaotic past. A history of war that ravaged for centuries. An island divided into several chiefs and kings, each vying for supremacy and power over the others. But in the 18th century, one man put an end to it all and brought peace and unity to this archipelago– King Kamehameha the Great.

Hawaii – an archipelago in the middle of a vast ocean and made up of 6 major islands. The islands of Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and biggest – Hawaii – formed what is now known as Hawaiian archipelago. Because of its location, it had been isolated from the rest of the world for centuries. Nevertheless, the maritime people called the Polynesians migrated and inhabited the island. Afterwards, these people evolve into something different from their Polynesian neighbors and resulted to what became the Hawaiian Culture. Part of this culture was the growth of social structure as well as power over the people. For generations, rivalling chiefs known as ali’i rose up and waged war against their neighbors. Some succeeded and became higher chiefs or kings known as mo’i. By the middle of the 18th century, this situation continued and became the environment where Kamehameha grew up.

Kamehameha had a though childhood. His birthday has not yet been precisely dated but many suggest he was born in 1753 with the name of Pai’ea or “hard-shelled crab.” His parents were Keoua Kalani and Kekuiapoiwa, both came from powerful families. Keoua Kalani had been the stepson of the moi’i or King of the island of Hawaii – Alapai-Nui. Kekuiapoiwa, on the other hand, was the niece of the Moi’i of Maui – Kahekili. The birth of Pai’ea had been shrouded by prophecies. Prophecies that included a bright light in the sky hailed the birth of a boy that would slay all high kings and unite all the islands. And on the birth of Kamehameha, a bright comet indeed past in the sky, causing worry to the King of Hawaii Alapai-Nui. Fearing that one day the boy would depose and kill him, he made the decision to have the baby killed. But like Rhea saving Zeus from Cronos, Pai’ea’s mother Kekuiapoiwa hid the boy in the mountains under the care of her relatives – her cousin Kaha’opulani and Chief Nae’ole. They became Pai’ea’s foster parents for five years.

Eventually, Alapai-Nui for undetermined reasons rescinded his order for the death of Pai’ea. After living for five years with his mother’s relative, Pai’ea finally returned to Kohala. Upon returning, Alapai-Nui gave him the name Kamehameha or “the Lonely One.” He then received the training fit to a future chief. This included warrior skills, knowledge of traditions, diplomacy and reverence to numerous Hawaiian gods.

Seven years after his return to Kohala, Alapai-Nui had been succeeded by one of his step sons – Kalai’opu’u – who also was the brother of Kamehameha’s father Keoua. From that point, Kamehameha then received better training as a warrior under one of Hawaii’s best fighters – Kekuhaupi’o. Both men became friends as well as political allies later on. Kamehameha then got a chance to exemplify his skill from 1775 to 1779 when Kahekili, king of Maui, fought Kalani’opu’u in a war for the region called Hana in the east of Maui Island. Kamehameha got recognition from his fighting prowess during the battle of Kalaehohoa or known as “Forehead Beaten with Clubs.” During the battle, Kamehameha rescued his instructor Kekuhaupi’o from a counter attack launched by Kahekili. His daring rescue of his mentor earned him the respect of many. Although Kamehameha became a distinguished figure, the war turned sour for them. Kahekili, with the support from the islands of Oahu and Molokai defeated Kalani’opu’o in many battles. At one time, Kalani’opu’o almost got killed. With the string of defeats, Kalani’opu’o sued for peace.

During the war, Kamehameha also had his first cite of his later greatest allies – Europeans. On January 18, 1778, the great British explorer Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii during his search for a northern passage to return to Europe. He with his two ships, the Discovery and the Resolution landed in the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. His visit had awe struck the Hawaiian people. However, his first visit to Hawaii went short. Nevertheless, he named the islands after the Lord of Admiralty, Earl of Sandwich, hence, it became known as the Sandwich Islands. Cooks’ voyage for the northern passage, however, failed and a year later, in January 1779, Cook returned to the Sandwich Islands for provision before continuing his voyage.

He landed first in Maui but then moved to Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii Island. There Kamehameha, Kalani’opu’u and other Hawaiian received Cook with jubilation. They saw Captain Cook as their god of harvest, Lono, who according to religious tradition would return to Hawaii from the period of October to February (a period known as Makahiki) to bring wealth to the Hawaiians. Coincidently, Cook resembled the god Lono, who had been describe as white skin and had a triangular banner. The triangular banner came in form of Cook’s sails in his ship. Therefore, it strengthen the idea to Hawaiians that Cook was Lono. Cooks arrival in Hawaii caused a great fanfare, Hawaiian in their canoes traded with the Europeans. What they valued most was one particular object the Britain had a lot and the Hawaiians had none – Iron. And so, Europeans traded simple nails and other iron objects for immense goods such as pigs, chicken, taro, and other valuables to the Hawaiians. Iron was gold and even a diamond for the Hawaiians. On January 5, 1779, Kamehameha and Kalani’opu’u even met Cook. By then Kamehameha had struck curiosity among the Europeans. He stood six foot tall but silent in the sides of his uncle.

Eventually, before January ended, Cook left Hawaii to proceed with his voyage, but it faced difficulties when a storm caused severe damage in the Resolution and they had to return to Hawaii. On February 4, 1779, Cook returned with his ships to Kealakekua Bay for repairs and also resupply. Cook’s return, however, coincide with the season of the war god Ku. Indeed violence awaited Cook and his men. Hawaiians then checked on the situation of the Europeans. However, they began to question their “divinity’ when they notice a crew die on the deck of the ship. One thing went to their minds: Gods don’t die. From that point, they knew that Cook and his men were just like them – mortals. Afterwards, Hawaiian went berserk over the Europeans, forgetting how they trade peacefully just a month ago. Hawaiians stole the boats of Cook’s ship for its iron nails. Many went on board and stole whatever iron they saw from the Europeans. With the chaos, Cook used forced against the Hawaiians to protect themselves. He unleashed a weapon that Hawaiians never saw before – guns. Skirmishes followed. Cook wanted to teach the Hawaiians a lesson by kidnapping Kalani’opu’u. However, when they manage to capture Kalani’opu’u, multitudes of Hawaiians came and surrounded them. Fighting broke out. In the carnage, Kamehameha witnessed the chaos as well as the power of the guns that Europeans used. He never forget its power and he wanted to acquire that power. Kamehameha suffered injury from the chaos. Ultimately, it went terrible for Cook during his attempt to flee, Hawaiian killed the great explorer. After the death of Cooks, the remaining crew of Cook’s expedition made peace and left the island on February 21. But the Europeans left a strong impression in the mind of Kamehameha. He saw the Europeans as powerful especially for the weapons they wielded.

In 1782, Kalani’opu’u passed leaving his positon as King of Hawaii to his son Kiwala’o. Nevertheless, Kamehameha received a strong religious authority and position by receiving the command of the Hawaiian war go Kuka’ilimoku or simply Ku. The political and religious authority in Hawaii, however, went at odds. Both men possessed ambition and desire for power. In one incident, Kamehameha deviated from tradition by presiding over the sacrifice of a rebel chief to the war god, an honor reserve to the King. Kiwala’o felt insulted and furious. But he could not move against Kamehameha yet. Kahekili of Maui went to war against Kiwala’o for the Hana Region once again. For another 2 years, the war raged. Kiwala’o defended his position in the Hana region through the impregnable fortress of Ka’uiki. However, local information went to Kahekili’s ear that allowed him to cut off the water supply of Ka’uki, forcing him to give up the Hana region to Kahekili. Meanwhile, in Kohala, Kamehameha gained numerous powerful allies. More so after Kiwala’o’s defeat in the hands of a rival King, becoming a leading figure in Hawaii.

Conflict between the cousins intensify following a major redistribution of land. In ancient Hawaiian culture, for every death of a king, lands were redistributed to different chiefs. Kiwala’o left most of the land distribution affair to his influential chief adviser, Keawema’uhili. As Kamehameha and his allies discovered the new distribution of lands, they found themselves landless. This eventually caused a rebellion in the side of Kamehameha’s allies. Civil war rocked the island of Hawaii. At the start, Kamehameha suffered defeats. However, in the summer of 1782, at the Battle of Moku’ohai, Kamehameha won and even managed to kill his rival Kiwala’o. Keawema’uhili sued for peace following the fall of the Mo’i. In order to maintain peace, Kamehameha decided to divide Hawaii into three. First, Keoua, Kiwala’o’s brother took Ka’u and parts of Puna. Second, Keawema’uhili took Hilo, Hamakua, and parts of Puna. And third, Kamehameha took over Kona, Kohala, and Northern Hamakua. Hence, at the end of civil war, Hawaii faced division.
McGregor, Davianna Pomaika'i. Na Kua'aina: Living Hawaiian Culture. Hawaii: University of Hawai'i Press, 2007.

Oaks, Robert. Hawai'i: A History of the Big Island. Chicago, Ilinois: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

Potter, Norris, et. al. History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bess Press, 2003.

Wong, Helen, & Kayson, Ann. Hawaii's Royal History. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bess Press, 1987.

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