Reflections on the Life of Kamehameha I

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Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

This month’s column is an adaptation of a speech that I delivered at the Kamehameha Statue Lei-Draping Ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C., on June 16.

Today, we gather to reflect on the life and accomplishments of our beloved monarch, King Kamehameha I. Known as Paiʻea, Kamehameha the Great, his legacy stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration for generations to come.

Photo: OHA leaders in Washington, D.C.,
OHA leaders in Washington, D.C., (l-r): Sr. Director of Hawaiian Cultural Affairs Hailama Farden, trustees Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Kalei Akaka and Keliʻi Akina, and CEO Stacy Ferreira. – Photo: Lehua Itokazu

Every June, we set aside this day to honor the farsighted leadership of our aliʻi, whose unwavering determination shaped the course of Hawaiian history. Kamehameha was not just a warrior king, but a visionary statesman who led our people with wisdom and grace. But what set him apart? Why does his legacy continue to resonate with us? Why was he honored as Kamehameha the Great?

At the core of his legacy lies the foundation of Ke Aupuni Hawaiʻi – the Hawaiian Nation. In a time marked by conflict and division, Kamehameha challenged the status quo, unifying our scattered islands under a single sovereign authority. Through a remarkable blend of strategy, military acumen, and diplomatic skill, he conquered adversity, culminating in his triumph at the battle of Nuʻuanu in 1795. This victory established him as the undisputed ruler of Hawaiʻi, laying the grounds for a period of unprecedented stability and prosperity.

But Kamehameha’s greatness extended far beyond the battlefield. His visionary leadership and statesmanship were evident in the reforms he implemented to centralize power, foster unity, and ensure the welfare of all his subjects. Through his legendary “law of the splintered paddle,” he ensured the protection of the weak and vulnerable, demonstrating his unwavering commitment to justice and fairness.

His administrative reforms transformed Hawaiian governance, streamlining operations, maintaining law and order, and ensuring the equitable distribution of resources. Moreover, his astute diplomatic engagements with foreign powers guarded Hawaiian sovereignty, paving the way for a strong and united Hawaiian nation.

Yet, perhaps Kamehameha’s most enduring legacy lies in his commitment to preserving and promoting Hawaiian culture, traditions, and values. Throughout his reign, he sought to uphold the rich heritage of our people, enacting laws to safeguard our land, resources, and time-honored customs. His support for traditional arts, crafts, and education fostered a sense of pride and continuity among Hawaiians, ensuring the transmission of our culture to future generations.

In conclusion, Kamehameha the great’s legacy is one of unity, resilience, and servant leadership. As we honor his memory today, let us embody the enduring spirit of aloha and unity that he embraced, striving to uphold the values he held dear. May his inspiring legacy continue to guide us as we navigate the challenges of the present toward a brighter future for Hawaiʻi and all its people.