Friday, December 25, 2015

Great Leaders: King Kamehameha I (Part 4): Ruling a United Kingdom of Hawaii

King Kamehameha I
After centuries of infighting, the islands of Hawaii (or at least majority of it) united under the rule of King Kamehameha. Through technology, divine intervention, and deception, he led his warrior to victory and finally ending generations of conflict. Uniting Hawaii was one part of Kamehameha’s story, the other part was about ruling a kingdom in peace. So how did Kamehameha made the transition from a war lord to a peaceful governing ruler? How Hawaii transformed from islands divided into several chiefdoms and into a united kingdom under one king?

The end of the unification campaign came in 1794 with the death of the last powerful rival mo’i or King Kalanikupule. After which, Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Oahu fell to the hands of Kamehameha. Only the far flung islands of Kauai and Nihau remained independent. Nevertheless, Kamehameha virtually ruled most of Hawaii and the island finally saw peace. Kamehameha then had to preside over the changing dynamics of his new united kingdom. He had to alter the administration of the kingdom to strengthen central control but still keeping high chiefs satisfied in order to prevent any rivalry and civil war. The flow of foreigners and their goods also started to change Hawaiian economy. Henceforth, the end of the unification war marked the beginning of a new Hawaii – a peaceful and transforming Hawaii – and Kamehameha had to make sure it benefited his rule and his people.

Administration was key in transforming Hawaii from divided islands and chiefdoms and into a united kingdom with Kamehameha as the central figure of power. For centuries Hawaiian Islands had been divided into different kingdoms with a mo’i or King ruling it. Then the King divided his land into ahupu’a, which were self-sustaining lands stretching from the mountains to the shores and ruled by an ali’i or a chief. Each ali’i commanded the people within each ahupu’a and conducted military campaigns against neighboring ali’I to extend their own power and territory. For Kamehameha, he had to alter this order to maintain the internal stability of his new Kingdom. To prevent various chiefs from waging wars against one another, he ordered them to reside next to him in the capital. This way, he monitored their activities, checked their loyalties, and most importantly cutting them off from their ahupu’a and effectively weakening their powers within their own holdings. In replacement to the chiefs in administering different lands, Kamehameha appointed and sent governors and deputies to monitor each localities. They had the task of collecting taxes and made sure that the people obeyed Kamehameha’s laws. In consolation to the chiefs and to prevent them from feeling deprivation, Kamehameha allowed them to send also their own deputies to their own ahupu’a, which became known as konohiki. Nevertheless, local power remained under Kamehameha’s governors, shifting the center of local power from chiefs to governors.

At the center of Hawaii, Kamehameha establish his central government. As the king of the unified Hawaiian Kingdom, he wielded enormous power. People can’t look even to the shadow of him. They saw him as a god on earth. Mere gaze to a king sometimes led to instant execution. But even as a great military leader, he still needed the help of advisers in governing the kingdom. He formed a council of advisers headed by a chief adviser who worked similarly to a prime minister in western governments. Kamehameha appointed Kalanimoku as his chief adviser. Kalanimoku wielded great power only next to the king off course. He served as the commander of the army. As a politician Kalanimoku had a great skill as a diplomat and a statesman. He assisted Kamehameha in transforming Hawaii into a prosperous Kingdom. Foreigners respected Kalanimoku and they dubbed him after the great Prime Minister of Great Britain at that time – William Pitt. They addressed Kalanimoku as the William Pitt of Hawaii or simply Billy Pitt.

When it came to laws, Kamehameha made a lasting impression in Hawaii and if not in legal history. In traditional terms, he respected and maintained the importance and significance of local kapu or prohibitions. At that time, radical changes in legal systems could not be made due to the fact that the kingdom transitioned from war torn islands to a peaceful kingdom. Any attempt to radically change local tradition might spark rebellions and other types of instability from conservative chiefs. Kamehameha, however, enacted one new law that brought him fame – the Kanawai Mamalahoe or the Law of the Splintered Paddle.

The Kanawai Mamalahoe or the Law of the Splintered Paddle was one of the greatest acts of Kamehameha. It had been hailed as a law that protected children, elderly, and women from harm. The law emerged from the brutality as well as act of forgiveness in part of Kamehameha. The background of the law dated around 1785 during the time that the island of Hawaii had been divided and each faction raided the lands of the other. On that year, Kamehameha sailed to Laupahoehoe. He prepared to land in Papai in the Puna coast. However, before Kamehameha arrived to the coast, he saw a group of fishermen and their families in the coastline. The people had been under Keawemauhili, a rival of Kamehameha. Kamehameha intended to capture as much as he can. And so he plunge to the water ahead of his canoe and rush in order to take the fishermen and their families down. Two fishermen faced him while the rest rushed inland and into safety. The two fisherman recognized Kamehameha and his skills as a warrior. In the ensuing fight, Kamehameha hit bad luck when his feet got trapped in an underwater crevice. One fisherman hit him with a paddle, which upon impact, splintered. One of the fisherman carried a baby at his back and when Kamehameha’s canoe came nearing, he convinced the other to withdrew and to escape to safety. Kamehameha remembered that event and even the face of the men who attacked him with a paddle. Twelve years later, returning to the coast where the incident happened, they came upon a village and searched for those men. Luckily, he identified them and the two fishermen remembered their previous action with fear of vengeance. Kamehameha had realized his past action had been wrong as he targeted the weak for political and military gains. And so, to the surprise of many and the two fishermen, Kamehameha declared an edict that anyone who harmed any elderly, women, or children during their course of travel would be punish by death. The edict became known as the Law of Splintered Paddle it came to be known as a milestone in legal history as it protected the rights of those who were innocent and incapable of fighting. This act of Kamehameha earned him the respect of his people as well as history.

As Kamehameha organized his government, the people turned their attention from war to economic activities. And even on this field, a great transformation occurred with the arrival of westerners. 

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.

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