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.
- 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