Posted in Hawaii & South Pacific

Kamehameha Meets Captain Cook

While the young United States of America was fighting for its independence from Great Britain, Kamehameha the Great and other warriors moved their battle from the island of Maui to the island of Lanai. There they had their food and water supplies cut off by the local chiefs, and were reduced to eating the root of the wild kupala plant. Because of these conditions, they named the battle of Lani, Ka-moku-hi, the battle of the Loose Bowels. Finishing on Lanai as quickly as possible under the conditions, they returned to Maui and to fresh water and fresh foods to recover.

During this same time period, Captain Cook was leaving Christmas Island and making his first contacts with Oahu, Kauai, and Maui islands. In his journal on November 26, 1778, he wrote about meeting the natives, “We exchanged nails and bits of iron with the Sandwich Island natives for cuttlefish, breadfruit, taro, sweet potatoes, and pigs.” (Cook named it Sandwich Islands in honor of the Earl of Sandwich, his patron for the trip.) On November 30, 1778, they met Kamehameha the Great, but tried to Anglo-size his name, so it came out as Maihamaiha. Cook wrote, “As a savage looking face as I ever saw, it however by no means seemed an emblem of his disposition, which was good natured and humorous, although his manner showed somewhat of an overbearing spirit.”

 When Captain Cook traveled to the Big Island that he pronounced Owyhee, he was amazed at how high mountains where there. Mountain peaks were covered with snow, and a lot of the island had been “laid to waste by a volcano.” As has been well written, Captain Cook and his men wore out their welcome in Hawaii and were killed when the natives believed him to be a god who was never happy with the gifts they brought him, always wanting more. This is a story that has already been told in this blog, so we’ll move on.

Kamehameha was just a curious about Captain Cook and the white men on the H.S.S. Resolution. He climbed on board and was startled by Captain Cook’s blue eyes. He never saw eyes the color of the sea before. He soon became very curious about the white man’s guns and cannons, so curious that he would adapt these ways in his future Hawaiian battles. Through his liberal attitude toward Europeans with miraculous knowledge of ships, weapons, and technologies, he was the first to seek out and make friends with Europeans and Americans who could show him the way.

 Cite: The Warrior King: Hawaii’s Kamehameha, the Great by Richard Tregaskis

Posted in Hawaii & South Pacific

Kamehameha The Warrior

By 15, Kamehameha’s father had died, and Kamehameha had met his first love, Kane-kapo-lei, one of his uncle’s wives. She was 29, and gave birth to Kamehameha’s first son, Pali (as in the famous Pali Highway and Pali lookout). He was a healthy child so he was accepted by the uncle and the child’s mother as their own child, a common culture in the Polynesian communities of the time. Children with handicaps or other problems were considered bad fortune and were disposed of. Healthy children were considered good fortune and were kept by the family.

During the same time period, Kamehameha used all his ‘military war games’ experience with his first battle, the battle for Maui. It was in this, his first battle, that he received the nickname, Paiea, which means ‘hard-shelled crab.’ It was also during this battle period that a tall, white-haired, kahuna (wise man) named Holoae stated, “I predict that the waters of Ioa stream will run red with the blood of our enemies.” Seventeen years later, that prophecy came true in battles that would determine long-term Hawaiian royalty.

As word of the Maui battle reached Oahu, another kahuna stated another prophecy. Over burning kukui flames, he told of the greatest Hawaiian king who would usher in the golden age of peace throughout the islands after bringing fires and wars through Maui, Oahu, Lani, and Molokai. When asked who this king would be, he said, “Paiea, old hard-shelled crab, who has just finished his first battle in Maui”; thus the legacy of Kamehameha the Great had begun.

Details of the Maui battle can be found in the book cited below and, quicker details here:

Cite: The Warrior King: Hawaii’s Kamehameha, the Great by Richard Tregaskis

Posted in Hawaii & South Pacific

Kamehameha The Child

Kamehameha had been raised alone, then with a tutor, Naeole, and then with a military tutor, Kekuhaupio, who trained Kamehameha for war with the other Alii (noble) boys at King Alapai’s Court. Because he loved swimming and surfing, and because it was common practice to swim and surf naked, his skin was always darker than the other Aliis. His darker skin caused the other Aliis to question his Alii heritage, assuming some Kauwa blood and saying that Keoua was not his real father. Yes, even in 1700s Hawaii, it seems there was room for racial prejudice. When one particular Alii continued his rantings, Kamehameha ensured he was that boy’s competitor at the next set of games. Kamehameha caught two of Keauluholu’s spears, dodged the next two, and then threw three of his own spears so fast that Keauluholu was fatally wounded. Afterward, if the other Alii had anything to say about Kamehameha’s heritage, they said it out of his earshot. Kamehameha was 12 at the time.

By 14, Kamehameha was tall and powerful, taller than most other warriors, 6 feet by European measures. He challenged the Alii and Makaaians (commoners) to games of skill. The Aliis were always taller, like Kamehameha, while the Makaaians were always darker and shorter, similar to the Kauwa, the slave class.

Kamehameha was proficient in spear throwing and spear dodging, skills that would stay with him throughout his long life. He was also proficient in wrestling, and mokomoko (stiff-armed boxing). Finally, he was also proficient in swimming, surfing, and canoeing. Being an all-around natural athlete, Kamehameha was a favorite at the festival games, such as those at the Maka-hiki (rainy season) Festival, which was thrown when the Pleiades were high in the Hawaiian sky (New Year time).

Hawaii, like other places at the time, had a caste system. The highest was Pio, the child of a chief and his sister with the grandparents also being brother and sister. The second was the Niau-pio, the chief being brother and sister but grandparents were not. The third noble caste was Naha, a child of a chief and his half-sister. The fourth noble caste was the Wohi, a child of ruling cousins. Kamehameha’s parents were cousins who ruled on the Big Island of Hawaii. After the Wohi, came the Kukulua noble caste. Though all five caste systems were noble, the first three, Pio, Niai-pio, and Naha, had kapus (rules) against death by burning their nobles, whereas the Wohi and Kukulua nobles could be burned, and thus were looked down upon by members of the upper three castes.

So to summarize, Kamehameha started out life as a loner with a mentor who taught him to love the land and the sea. He was a natural athlete and tall because of his noble birth. He was then brought to Royal Court to learn about military and war and had killed someone by age 12. Though he was 4th in the caste system and looked down upon (“like dirt”), by the higher 3 caste system Alii boys, his natural talents, height, and good looks made him a favorite with the people and at the festivals.

If you are a haole like me, you probably need a list to keep track:


  • Haole – white (European or American) person living in Hawaii.
  • Alii – noble/royal
  • Alapai – King during Kamehameha’s childhood
  • Keoua – Kamehameha’s father and ruling chief of Big Island, married to his cousin
  • Naeole – Kamehameha’s tutor
  • Kekuhaupio – Kamehameha’s military tutor
  • Keauluholu – Kamehameha’s competitor
  • Makaaians – Commoners, not noble birth
  • Kauwa – Slaves, not noble birth


  • Hale – house
  • Ali’iolani Hale – house (palace) of the nobles and chiefs, where King Kamehameha’s statue stands guard in the front courtyard; more commonly known now as Hawaii Five-O headquarters for those who watch the show.

Caste System

  • Pio – top caste (child of brother (chief) and sister married; grandparents were also brother (chief) and sister)
  • Niau-pio – second caste (child of brother (chief) and sister)
  • Naha – third caste (child of brother (chief) and half-sister)
  • Wohi – fourth ruling caste; child of ruling cousins
  • Kukulua – fifth ruling caste
  • Makaaians – commoners, not noble birth
  • Kauwa – slaves, not noble birth


  • Maka-hiki – rainy season (usually after New Years, and we learned that pleiades (the 7 sisters) appears in the night sky  in Hawaii around New Years)
  • mokomoko – stiff-armed boxing
  • kapus –rules against, taboos

June 11 is King Kamehameha the Great Day in the islands. It’s a state holiday and includes decorating the statue of King Kamehameha complete with music and dancers and then the longest parade in Hawaii.  A fun day that I enjoy.

Cite: The Warrior King: Hawaii’s Kamehameha, the Great by Richard Tregaskis

Posted in Hawaii & South Pacific

Kamehameha The Great

The recorded history of Hawaii begins with the arrival of Captain James Cook on the island of Kauai on January 18, 1778, when the United States was less than 2 years old. Before that, the Hawaiian Islands used the lunar calendar with 12 equal months and a few days left at the end of the year for celebrations. (I like that idea.) Hawaiians did not count their years like the Christians and Muslims did. In Hawaii, before Cook, one year simply turned into another year. Because of this, the dates around King Kamehameha’s birth, being pre-Cook, are guesses as best, more myth and legend, than measurable by modern calendars. So, depending on which legend you follow, King Kamehameha was born sometime between 1735 and 1759. (I like this too, but I don’t think our current Social Security Administration would appreciate it if I stated that I was born sometime between 1959 and 1974.)

Why is this important, and why is there a statue of King Kamehameha in front of the Aliiolani Hale instead of statues of other kings? King Kamehameha the Great was the king that brought all the individual Hawaiian Islands together to create one territory by vanquishing kings of Maui, Lani, Kauai, Hawaii, Molokai, and Oahu. Depending on the birth year you choose, he either did that in his early 20s or when he was 2.

But if you use the earlier the birth date, then when King Kamehameha first met Captain Cook, he would have been in 40s, but Captain Cook called Kamehameha the Great a young man. And it would mean that King Kamehameha died in his 80s instead of his 60s, which friends say is more accurate. Why is this important? It isn’t. And that is the point of these opening paragraphs. If you are going to enjoy the story of King Kamehameha the Great, don’t get bogged down with the dates and the facts. (Note: There was a Kamehameha Nui who was an older man when Kamehameha the Great started his battles. My personal opinion is European historians got the two Kamehas mixed up along the way.)

Story 1: “Kamehameha the Great was a glorious warrior, a constructive and bright administrator, a diplomat who brought warring island tribes together for a long period of peace and plenty. He was a great surfer, swimmer, and warrior. He was an artful dodger of spears and the wrath of females, a prestigious lover of women, and a king who used European and American technology (muskets and cannons) to conquer and bring peace to the Hawaiian Islands.

Comparing him to another leader at the time, Kamehameha the Great, known by some as the Napoleon of the Pacific, stood 6’6’’, compared to Napoleon Bonaparte’s 5’. He weighed twice as much at his thinnest than Bonaparte did at his fattest. He was a natural athlete, linguist, and loved his Hawaiian Islands and their Polynesian ways. Even as an old man, he continued to swim, to surf, to pursue women, and enjoy the beauty of the islands.” And to quote a relative of mine. “King Kamehameha was a genuine Hawaiian badass.”

Cite: The Warrior King: Hawaii’s Kamehameha, the Great by Richard Tregaskis