Through purposeful mentorship and specialized training, Hawaiian youth are properly prepared for success in their designated endeavors. This is a Hawaiian cultural characteristic that has prevailed among all classes of society. Good leaders – good people – are influenced by those who teach and lead by example.
Young ali‘i were expected to model and emulate their mentors. They were provided with kahuna (specialists) specially chosen to teach them how to strategically and responsibly wield power, and how to control and mālama their resources. These skills were foundational for the proper care of one’s people.
This was the way Kamehameha I was trained in the court of his uncle Alapa‘inui for the first seven years of his life and later by the warrior ali‘i Kekūhaupi‘o. The following advice given to Kamehameha I during his early mentorship is attributed to Kekūhaupi‘o:
“‘O ke ali‘i i lilo i ka le‘ale‘a a mālama ‘ole i ke kanaka me ke kapu akua, ‘a‘ole ia he ali‘i e kū ai i ka moku.” [The chief who is taken with pleasure-seeking and cares not for the welfare of the people or the observation of the kapu of the gods is not a chief who will become a ruler.] (‘ōlelo No‘eau no. 2451)
This proverb has since become a famous ‘ōlelo no‘eau (wise saying) imparting that success comes not by seeking idle pleasure and superficial importance, but by living up to one’s beliefs and caring for the welfare of others.
Countless lessons passed on through mo‘olelo (stories) speak of ali‘i who epitomized good and honest leadership, hard work and genuine concern for the well-being of their people. However, just as many stories exist about the ‘ino ones: leaders who were selfish and cruel, and who did not care for the best interests of their people.
It is often remarked that after Kaleleake‘anae, the battle of Nu‘uanu, Kamehameha I immediately set about restoring the agricultural capabilities of the areas devastated by combat. He knew that the only way he could bring about peace and stability, and exemplify good governance, was to return life to the land and feed the people. Kamehameha also knew that he could not place the burden of feeding his large Hawai‘i Island armies on the people of O‘ahu. He had a responsibility as makua (father) to the newly-conquered population.
John Papa ‘ī‘ī, 19th-century Hawaiian historian, politician, judge, and close Kamehameha family kahu and advisor witnessed the personal participation of Kamehameha I in the large-scale planting efforts:
When Kamehameha went to Nu‘uanu, mounted on his horse, Kawaiolaloa, many of the children, including Ii, followed him with great interest. They found innumerable people all over the farming area, from down below the present road at Niuhelewai to the bend in the road where the houses of the Portuguese now stand…The men, scattered systematically from a spot on the upland side to a place on the seaward side, dug and beat on the banks with dried coconut-leaf stems. The next day they trampled in the wet patches and planted taro. [Mary Kawena Pukui trans.]
Reverend Stephen L. Desha also describes how Kamehameha I modeled for his Hawai‘i Island ali‘i what pono leadership would look like under his tenure. Desha illustrates in his newspaper serial, Moolelo kaao no Kuhaupio ke koa kaulana o ke au o Kamehameha ka Nui:
However, before he [Kamehameha] began his journey, he commenced the planting of kalo at the place called Kapālama and Niuhelewai …Not only did his warriors participate, but Kamehameha encouraged his ali‘i from Hawai‘i to enter into this work of farming on the land over which they had triumphed. [Frances Frazier trans.]
Kamehameha’s rule exemplified the practice of “e ‘ōpū ali‘i.” This practice emphasized being a kind and generous ruler by ensuring the security, protection and nourishment of the people. As part of this practice, Kamehameha secured Niuhelewai, Kapālama and Nu‘uanu Valley as his own personal farm lands. These famed lands were the starting point and resource base for his island circuit to provide manpower and food for his people.
In this season of elections, may we be fortunate enough to have leaders who will civically engage in their governing responsibilities with the same aloha for Hawai‘i and its people as did our ali‘i of the past.