Photo Above: A double rainbow appears in the sky over the newly erected statue of King Kaumualiʻi, the last reigning Aliʻi Nui of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau. Rather than shed the blood of his people, Kaumualiʻi brokered peace with Kamehameha I. The statue is located at Pāʻulaʻula, Waimea, Kauaʻi. – Photo: ©TimDeLaVega.com

Kaumualiʻi Valued the Lives of His Subjects More Than His Kingdom

In 1810, Kaumualiʻi, the sovereign king of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, received intelligence that King Kamehameha I was on Oʻahu preparing his army for a third invasion.

Kamehameha’s two previous efforts to subdue the people of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, and to consolidate his political power across the pae ʻāina, had failed spectacularly.

In 1796, as Kamehameha’s warriors attempted to cross Kaʻieʻie Waho channel, they were set upon by a furious storm. Many of the war canoes were swamped and they were forced to turn back to Oʻahu. Kamehameha planned a second invasion in 1804, but before his troops left Oʻahu, a virulent epidemic swept through the island. This maʻi ʻōkuʻu (squatting sickness) – possibly dysentery, typhoid or cholera – killed thousands and his warriors were not immune.

Once again Kamehameha’s ambitions were thwarted.

Whether it was happenstance or strong prayers in fulfillment of prophecy that protected Kauaʻi, when Kaumualiʻi learned a third invasion was being planned in 1810, he decided to travel to Oʻahu and broker a peace treaty with the relentless Kamehameha for the sake of his people.

Before leaving Kauaʻi, Kaumualiʻi consulted with his kahuna who warned him that upon his arrival on Oʻahu, Kamehameha would offer him two stones – one black, one white – and that Kaumualiʻi was to select the white stone.

Photo: Painting of King Kaumualiʻi

As prophesied, when Kaumualiʻi reached Oʻahu Kamehameha presented him with a black stone and a white stone and asked him to choose one. Kaumualiʻi selected the white stone as his kahuna had counseled him to do. Taken aback by Kaumualiʻi’s selection of the white stone, Kamehameha offered to make Kaumualiʻi a vassal king – meaning he would retain his autonomy over the internal affairs of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, while deferring to Kamehameha in matters of foreign policy.

The significance of the stones is not known, but it is believed that, had Kaumualiʻi selected the black stone, Kamehameha would have had him killed.

It is irrefutable that Kaumualiʻi’s decision saved the lives of thousands of his people. But in the aftermath of the founding of the Kamehameha Dynasty and the unified Hawaiian Kingdom, over time the memory of the last king of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau was diminished in the minds of most of Kauaʻi’s people.

But not in everyone’s.

In the late 1990s, a group of Kauaʻi people joined together; their mission was to build a statue to honor King Kaumualiʻi. It was an informal group of like-minded folks who called themselves the Friends of King Kaumualiʻi.

Besides funding, the biggest problem that beset the Friends was that no one actually knew what the king looked like. No painting was made of Kaumualiʻi during his lifetime, and he passed away in 1824 – about two years before photography was invented. This conundrum caused some discord within the group, and its membership faltered. Eventually just two people remained: Aletha Kaohi and Barbara Bennett.

For years the Friends’ vision for a statue lay dormant.

But in 2012, Kaohi and Bennett met with Lee Croft, a professor and former Friends board member who had written a book called Arm Wrestling With Kamehameha about the exploits of the infamous Georg Anton Schaffer, a Bavarian doctor with Russian ties who, upon his arrival in Hawaiʻi in 1816, insinuated himself into Hawaiian politics.

Schaffer barely escaped from Hawaiʻi with his life; his outrageous behavior during his year in Hawaiʻi is detailed in Croft’s book. Despite his folly, his one noteworthy deed before being banished from the kingdom was designing a European-style “star” or “bastion” fort for Kaumualiʻi.

This style of fort evolved when cannons came into use in 15th century Italy, and is distinguished by its polygon shape (as opposed to a square or rectangle). Kaumualiʻi built the fort at Pāʻulaʻula on a promontory just east of the mouth of the Waimea River. A thousand Kānaka Maoli helped build the fort, including three aliʻi wahine: Kekaihaʻakülou, Naoa and Nāmāhana. Pāʻulaʻula Fort is commonly known today as the “Russian Fort.”

Pāʻulaʻula served as Kaumualiʻi’s fort until 1821 when he was kidnapped by Liholiho (Kamehameha II), taken to Oʻahu, and forced to marry Queen Kaʻahumanu, Kamehameha I’s widow and co-regent with Liholiho. This shrewd political manuever essentially shifted control of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau to the Kamehamehas.

As Kaohi flipped through the pages of Croft’s book, she came across a painting of a chief she had never seen before and stopped, her excitement mounting.

“I recognized that it must be a Kauaʻi aliʻi because the helmet was very low – not high like the Kamehameha helmets,” Kaohi recalled. “I asked him, ʻis this Kaumualiʻi?’ and he said yes! I told him ʻI’m having chicken skin!’”

The painting was by artist Brook Kapukuniahi Parker, and it was one of his recent works. Kaohi spoke to Parker and explained their vision for a statue of King Kaumualiʻi. She asked him how he had conceived the image of Kaumualiʻi.

“He told me that he went to the Bishop Museum where Kaumualiʻi’s cape, mahiole (helmet) and palaoa (whale-tooth pendant) are on display,” said Kaohi. “He spent hours there, sitting and meditating day-after-day. And then one day he went home, picked up his palette, picked up his brush, and that is what he painted. It’s a spiritual image to him.”

Parker gave Kaohi unlimited use of the image of Kaumualiʻi.

Inspired, Kaohi and Bennett reactivated the Friends of King Kaumualiʻi. When Maureen Fodale joined the team in 2013 as secretary, they began working in earnest to gain nonprofit status for the organization and raise funds towards building the statue.

However, Kaohi realized that the task ahead of them was bigger than fundraising for a statue. Kaohi, who is a descendant of Kaumualiʻi six generations removed, realized that an awareness program was needed before a statue was built.

Kaohi, who serves as president of the Friends of King Kaumualiʻi, often visited schools to teach Kauaʻi haumāna about King Kaumualiʻi. She talked about the incident that became her epiphany: “I was with a fourth grade class and I asked them ʻdoes anyone know who Kaumualiʻi is?’ And after a long while one child finally shouted ʻKaumualiʻi Highway!’ That was the breaking point. I thought to myself, is that all they know? That Highway 50 is Kaumualiʻi Highway?”

Determined, Kaohi and Bennett talked with Bill Arakaki, Kauaʻi DOE complex superintendent, to share their vision of an awareness program. With Arakaki’s support, Parker’s painting, and the largesse of the Hindu monestary in Wailua that loaned them their printing press, the Friends had hundreds of posters made of Kaumualiʻi, along with a historical timeline of his life, for distribution in every classroom at every school on Kauaʻi – public, private and charter.

But printing posters for Kauaʻi classrooms was only the beginning of their awareness campaign which aims to not only teach the entire community about King Kaumualiʻi, but to cultivate an appreciation of his leadership and sacrifice for his people. While their work in the community was placed on pause for the past year as they hunkered down like the rest of the world to wait out the pandemic, the Friends look forward to expanding their education efforts as things begin to open up again.

“We have always done programs for children in the schools. We shared stories, had an art contest, a banner contest, but it’s been hard with everybody under quarantine,” said Fodale.

As work on their nonprofit status progressed, and fundraising money began coming in, the reorganized and re-energized Friends reached out in 2014 to world-renowned sculptor Saim Caglayan, a native of Turkey and part-time resident of Kauaʻi who has a small shop in Hanapëpë. Caglayan was excited about the project, and initally wanted to carve the 8-foot statue from a single boulder, but eventually they agreed on a bronze statue.

Dr. Keao NeSmith, a director on the governing board of the Friends, modeled for the statue. “When I saw the painting I saw Keao NeSmith,” said Kaohi. Caglayan agreed and selected NeSmith to be his model. As an interesting side note, several years after modeling for the statue, NeSmith discovered that he is actually a descendant of King Kaumualiʻi when his ʻohana started working on their genealogy.

Before beginning work on the statue, Caglayan created a maquette, a 3-foot version of the statue that would serve as a “proof of concept” of the statue project that could be shared with the community.

The statue was finally completed at a foundry in Southern California in October 2020, and was escorted home to Kauaʻi by NeSmith. With community advocacy efforts supported by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), the Friends had already received approval for the statue to be erected at Pāʻulaʻula State Park, the site of Kaumualiʻi’s fort. However, a pā (enclosure) needed to be built at the site, so the Friends put out a kāhea to the community asking for their “time, talent or treasure” to kōkua with the final phase of the project.

They worried about asking for help when so many were struggling in the pandemic, but to their surprise and delight, some 60 people came out to help build the pā using rocks from the site, while hundreds more gave financially.

The Friends of King Kaumualiʻi became a nonprofit in 2016 and over the years, they have raised about $350,000, thanks to the generosity of hundreds of individuals and organizations, and a $220,000 Grant-in-Aid grant from the Hawaiʻi State Legislature in 2018. The Friends credit Kauaʻi Rep. Dee Morikawa with championing the grant on behalf of the Kauaʻi community. The names of all contributors will be placed in a time capsule in the pedestal below the statue.

On March 20, 2021, King Kaumualiʻi finally came home to Pāʻulaʻula.

He was welcomed with a statue dedication ceremony and unveiling that was shared online in observation of social distancing protocols so that all the Kauaʻi people who had contributed to the project over the years with their time, talent or treasure could enjoy the moment and see the fruit of their collective effort.

Acknowledging the effort and dedication of the Kauaʻi community to bring Kaumualiʻi back to his home at Pāʻulaʻula, Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Kauaʻi Trustee Dan Ahuna said, “This work not only honors our cultural traditions, our aliʻi and our ʻāina, but will stand for generations as a reminder of the unique history of Kauaʻi.”

While this might seem to be the happy ending to their story, it is only a milestone reached.

“Even though the statue has been erected, the journey doesn’t stop,” declared Kaohi. “We still need funding. My vision, my calling, is to create an endowment to maintain the statue, provide security and whatever else is needed. In two months I’ll be 91 – so I can’t stop!”

“The statue is up, but it’s not finished,” added Fodale. “We’re still working on the garden and certain areas and then there’s the whole issue of security. It’s also complicated by the fact that there is no WiFi or electricity up there.”

The Friends will share their story via a virtual “talk story” hosted by OHA on May 10 (see sidebar), and are planning a genealogy conference to bring Kauaʻi people together to discover their own personal connection to Kauaʻi’s history. Originally planned for last year, the conference had to be canceled due to the pandemic, but organizers hope to host the first Moʻokūʻauhau o ka Lāhui genealogy conference before the close of 2021.

“We hope that when we have [the conference] it will start the feeling of interconnectedness, like a family reunion – some sort of annual celebration that will awaken connections and grow the actual ʻohana of Kaumualiʻi,” said Fodale.

“I think it is time for Hawaiians to speak up if they are related to Kaumualiʻi,” said Kaohi. “The time may come when we create the House of Kaumualiʻi, where the descendants take on the kuleana of caring for the statue; I can’t say how long the Friends will be in existence.”

The connections are there, even if they are not yet known.

“Kauaʻi was a separate kingdom for a long time,” noted Fodale. Referring to Kauaʻi’s admirable legacy of peace that began with Kukona, was inherited by Manokalanipō, perpetuated by Kamakahelei, and passed on to Kaumualiʻi she added, “whether you want to call that strategy, physical access or spiritual prophecy, Kauaʻi has remained a little bit different.”

In the 14th century, Kukona wept for his people in the hills above Koloa, grief-stricken that their blood would be shed to turn back an invasion of their island. Centuries later, his descendant, Kaumualiʻi, pondered a similar fate.

In a 19th century newspaper series Kapiikauinamoku wrote: “Kaumualiʻi had naught to lose but his throne not half so precious to him as the blood of his subjects. He delivered his sovereignty to the invading Kamehameha. Few of this world’s monarchs can boast of so deep a concern for the welfare of their people.”


If your ʻohana is related to King Kaumualiʻi please contact the Friends at kaumualiiohana@gmail.com