Thursday, December 24, 2015

Great Leaders: King Kamehameha I (Part 3): Unifying the Hawaiian Islands

Kamehameha as depicted in Civilization V
After the fall of Kiwala’o in 1782, Hawaii’s geopolitical situation dramatically changed. The once united island kingdom of Hawaii had been divided into three kingdoms ruled by Kamehameha, Keoua, and Keawema’uhili. Beyond the island of Hawaii, conditions also changed significantly. After centuries of brutal fighting between numerous higher chiefs, a single leader emerged as the most prominent. Kahekili – King of Maui Island – took control over Molokai, Lanai, Oahu, and indirectly ruled Kauai, through his brother’s assistance. Kamehameha’s destiny as prophesied during his birth seemed slipping away and taken by Kahekili. How Kamehameha turned things around and became the unifier of Hawaiian Archipelago?

Many prophecies hailed Kamehameha as the killer of the chiefs and the unifier of the Hawaiian Islands. During the time of his birth, a prophecy said that a bright light would signal the birth of Hawaii’s chief slayer. And truly enough, a bright comet shined across the Hawaiian skies at Kamehameha’s birth, which resulted to his early seclusion from his birth town. Besides this, another famous prophecy described the unifier of Hawaii as a strong man who had the capability of moving a huge boulder called the Naha Stone in the island of Hawaii. Indeed, at the age of 14, Kamehameha had been reported to have done so, raising up expectation on him as the great conqueror of Hawaii.

Kamehameha began his unification campaign in 1785. On that year, Kahekili left Maui to consolidate his power in the island of Oahu. Kamehameha saw his absence as an opportunity to retake the Hana Region in the Maui Island. He placed his brother Kalanimalokulokuikepo’olani in charge of an invasion force to retake the Hana Region. Kalani succeeded in doing so, and ruled the area with his best ability. The people of Hana appreciated and respected him, giving him the name Keli’imaika’i or the Good Chief or Good Hearted Chief. The people of Hana loved him so much that when Kalanikapule, son of Kahekili, launched a counter offensive, they assisted him in his escape out of the island.

For five years, Kamehameha delayed to retaliate due to political fighting within the island of Hawaii. Skirmishes between the three rulers distracted Kamehameha’s attention. Nevertheless, he kept planning on how to proceed with the unification of the Hawaiian Islands.

A game changer arrived in Hawaii in 1790. After the publication of the voyage of Captain James Cook, many foreigners began to visit the island. On that year, an American ship, the Eleanor arrived in Hawaii. Their relation with the natives, however, ended sour and led to a massacre of Hawaiians by foreigners in Honuaula. But even with this tragic event, Kamehameha witnessed once more the power of guns and cannons and its capability to provide superior firepower advantage to whoever wielded. The last time he felt that way was during the violence in 1779 that left the great explorer Captain James Cook dead and Kamehameha injured. Following the Eleanor, another American ship, the Fair American, arrived in Hawaii. In retaliation to the massacre in Honuaula, Kamehameha had the ship ceased. Among the crew that the Hawaiian captured was an American sailor named Isaac Davis. Initially, he wanted to escape from Kamehameha but later on, agreed to help him in building up his military and became one of his best and trusted advisers. The Eleanor returned to Hawaii in search for the Fair American. They sent John Young to inquire for the whereabouts of the ship. But then the ship left Young, and he too suffered the same fate of Davis, wanting to escape but later became a good counsel to Kamehameha. Both men became an important factor in the development of Kamehameha’s army and his conquest.

The arrival of more foreigners to Hawaii signaled the intensification of conflict across Hawaii. Spears, clubs, and daggers had been the conventional weapon of choice for Hawaiians. But with the arrival of foreigners and their weapons, Hawaiian chiefs and kings began to procure cannons and guns to strengthen their armies. As a result, Hawaii became engulf in an arms race. Kamehameha took the cannons of the Fair American and outfitted it to suit the mountainous terrains of Hawaii. He hired Davis and Young to train his army in using western guns. Henceforth, Hawaiian warfare evolved from simple hand to hand combat and into a more bloody and sophisticated warfare.

Kamehameha restarted his conquest of unifying Hawaii in 1790. With the acquisition of western arms, Kamehameha launched a bold invasion of Maui. With hundred and even thousands of canoes, Kamehameha’s invasion force arrived in a bay in Wailuku. There they faced Kapakahili, a warrior leader sent by Kalanikupule to prevent Kamehameha’s invasion. The two sides faced in one of the greatest battle in Hawaiian naval history – Kaua o Kawa’anui or the Battle of Great Canoes. Both sides had numerous canoes, which faced each other in battle for two days. In the end, Kamehameha unleashed his modern weapons onto the enemy, killing Kapakahili and landing in Maui.

Kamehameha then faced Kalanikapule in another battle in Maui. Kamehameha led his army to battle in the valley of Iao. The fight in Iao had been known as one of the most brutal battles in Hawaii, earning the name Kauai Kepaniwai o Iao or the Battle at the Dammed Waters of Iao. The battle was so intense and so bloody that bodies of countless Hawaiian warriors from both sides covered the river of Iao. At the end of the battle, Kamehameha stood victorious while Kalanikupule fled Maui for the safety of his father’s protection in Oahu. Kamehameha took control of Maui and followed by the island of Lana’i.

Kamehameha then proceed with the conquest of the island of Molokai. In Molokai, Kamehameha came in face to face with the mother of the deceased chief Kiwala’o – Chiefess Kalola. The Chiefess had been dying and as her last act, she forgave Kamehameha for the demise of his son. In addition, she also offered her two daughters to Kamehameha as his wives. One of her daughters, Keopuolani, became the mother of two future Kings of Hawaii.

Kahekili, on the other hand, responded aggressively against Kamehameha’s conquest. In 1792, He launched a campaign with a large army accompanied by a skilled gunner with a name of Mare Amara. From Oahu, they retook Molokai, Lanai and Maui and threatened to invade Hawaii itself. With an armada of canoes, Kahekili arrived in Waipi’o, Hawaii. Kamehameha, meanwhile prepared his own navy, including his double canoes armed with canons, and his prized ship, the Fair American. The two sides clashed in the battle that became known as Kaua o Kepuwaha’ula’ula or the Battle of the Red-Mouthed Cannon. Both sides had almost the same weaponry - guns and cannons. They also both had foreign support. At the end of the battle, no clear winner stood. But it resulted to the withdrawal of Kahekili from the coast of Hawaii Island, never again to threaten Kamehameha and Hawaii.

After the failed invasion of Kahekili, Kamehameha faced threats closer to home. War between the three factions in the island of Hawaii resumed. Keoua and Keawema’uhili fought each other with the former emerging as the victor and the latter falling dead in battle. For two years, Kamehameha waged a war to unify his home island before continuing to reunify the islands.

Kahekili passed away in 1794, leaving two rival factions, Ka’eoukulani and Kalanikupule, fighting for supremacy over the domains of the deceased ruler. On December 12, 1794, the battle between the two factions came into a climax with Kalanikupule winning over Ka’eokulani who perished in action. Kalanikupule won the battle due to the fact he acquired support from two foreign ships. Disagreement over the payment for service, however, led to the death of the two captains of the ships and Kalanikupule hijacked the ships to attack Kamehameha. But the surviving crew of the foreign ships succeeded in recapturing them, and took Kalanikupule a captive. They then drop Kalanikupule humiliatingly in Diamond Head in Oahu and then went to Kamehameha to tell their tale. Sensing Kalanikupule’s weakness after the event, Kamehameha saw it as an opportunity to make his destiny a reality.

Kamehameha launch another massive unification campaign on February 1795. Maui and Molokai fell immediately. However, after the conquest of Molokai, Kamehameha suffered a setback when one of his longtime ally, the Chief Kaina, defected to the side of Kalanikupule in Oahu. But even with defection, Kamehameha proceeded. In April 1795, Kamehameha and his army armed with traditional Hawaiian weapons as well as modern western weapons, landed in the beaches between Waikiki and Waialae. The two armies then clashed in the valley of Nu’uanu Valley. The battle became a notorious massacre. Kamehameha’s forces managed to trap Kalanikupule’s army in a cliff, forcing some either to fight or plunge to their death. Kalanikupule managed to escape into the jungles, only later to be killed near Waipio and his corpse sacrificed by Kamehameha to the war god Ku.

With the fall of Kalanikupule, most of Hawaii bowed to Kamehameha except for the farthest island in the archipelago, Kauai and Nihau under Kaumualii. Kamehameha attempted twice to invade it. First in 1795 with an armada of canoes and warriors who failed to land in the islands due to a violent storm. Second came in 1804 where a large fleet of canoes and modern schooner vessels suffered an epidemic that cancelled the whole invasion. Eventually, in 1810, Kaumualii chose to negotiate the surrender of the islands. Kamehameha agreed to make Kaumualii the governor of the two islands for life in exchange for their allegiance to him. After the agreement, Kamehameha ultimately succeeded in unifying the Hawaiian Islands. With this success, Kamehameha became known as Napoleon of the Pacific. 

After the conquest, Kamehameha then faced the challenge of becoming an administrator, a father, and a nation-builder of a unified Kingdom of Hawaii.

See also:
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.