A Few Thoughts About Kamehameha I

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Na Anakala Hinano Brumaghim

The State of Hawaiʻi celebrates Kamehameha I Day on June 11, an event which began on Dec. 11, 1871, as a day to celebrate the birthday of Kamehameha V with horseback riding and other sporting events.

At the time, it was agreed to make it an annual event but not on December 11 because of uncertain weather. Hence, a change was made to June 11 to honor Kamehameha I as well (Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs, p. 68).

Kamehameha I was born in 1736 during the Hawaiian month of Ikuwa, a month that coincides with February/March and a month which brings thunder and lightning (Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs, p. 210; Kamakau, Ke Kumu Aupuni, p. 2).

At his conception, his mother, Kekuʻiapoiwa, was intimate with two chiefs, Kalanikupuapaikalaninui Keoua and Kahekiliʻahumanu, making Kamehameha I “poʻolua,” and a descendant of two chiefly lines. In life, Kamehameha I had 21 wives and when he died on May 8, 1819, he left behind four widows: Kaʻahumanu, Keōpūolani, Kalākua and Namahana.

As his final kauoha (testament, decree), Kamehameha divided his legacy between his son Kalanikua Liholiho (Kamehameha II) who inherited the kingdom, and his nephew Kaʻoa Kekuaokalani, who inherited the war god Kukaʻilimoku.

Kamehameha further directed that Kaʻahumanu rule alongside his son as Kuhina Nui (Prime Minister), giving wāhine a place in government in 1819. In comparison, the U.S. did not pass the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women a place in government, until 1920.

Kamehameha I is famous for uniting the Hawaiian archipelago, but he was not the first to attempt it. In the year 1270, Hawaiʻi Island Chief Kalaunuiohua conquered Maui, Molokaʻi and Oʻahu before he was defeated at Poʻipū by Chief Kukona of Kauaʻi.

Then, five centuries later, Kamehameha I defeated Hawaiʻi chiefs Kalani Kauikeaouli Kīwalaʻō and Keōua Kūahuʻula, and Chief Kalanikūpule of Oʻahu. Subsequently, the chief of Maui, Kahekiliʻahumanu, died of old age and Chief Kaumualiʻi ceded Kauaʻi and Niʻihau to Kamehameha.

At his passing in 1819, Kamehameha was buried in North Kohala by his two closest friends, the high chiefs Hoʻolulu (1794-1865) and Hoapili (1776-1840). Then, at the passing of Queen Kaʻahumanu on June 5, 1832, the two high chiefs buried the queen in the secret place beside her mōʻī as Kamehameha had directed. No laila, Kamehameha I ruled justly, absolutely, and was a student of history, taking a lesson from Kalaunuiohua’s failure to unite the archipelago and following the wisdom of Līloa’s who divided his legacy between his sons, Hakau and ‘Umi.

For the record, the late curator of Mauna ʻAla, William Kaiheʻekai Mai-oho, a descendant of Hoʻolulu, was a humble man. He took my breath away when he told me that it was his family’s duty to “mālama i nā ali‘i.” Also, I wish to share that my tūtū wahine, Minnie Bailey Brede of Wailuku, was my first Hawaiian history teacher.


Photo: Hinano Brumaghim
Wayne Hinano Brumaghim is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools and the University of Maine where he earned a BA in mathematics/engineering. He served in the U.S. Air Force and lived on the continent until 1984 when he returned to Oʻahu to care for his mother. He retired from the Sheraton Waikīkī in 2005 and returned to school at UH Mānoa, earning both BA and MA degrees in Hawaiian studies in his 60s. He resides in Papakōlea.