Category Archives: Lahaina histroy

King Kamehameha the Great: Sample of 60 tales in my new book

POWERFULLY BUILT, SQUARE-JAWED WARRIOR King Kamehameha the Great completed the unification of the Hawaiian Islands. He was
a warrior, unifier, surfer, trader, and shaper of Maui. In this century a nuclear submarine was named for this Hawaiian and his statue is in a place of honor in the US Capitol at the National Statuary Hall.

Kamehameha did not cut down a cherry tree, nor did he wear wooden false teeth, yet he could be considered the George Washington of these islands.

If alive today, the great king would probably lash out at the comparison, since he was a great fan of Great Britain, a country he considered a protector of the islands. Kamehameha was born of ali‘i (kingly) Kamehameha. His name means the one who is set apart. He was destined for glory as the son of two high chiefs from the day of his birth. Some believe the future king was born in 1758 at about the time of Halley’s Comet and that he was the powerful king mentioned in prophecies.

The fledgling king already had mana (life force) derived from two royal parents that each had considerable mana in their own right. Mana was acquired by inheritance or heroics in battle. Battles were often fought to acquire more mana. According to tradition, Kamehameha got more even more mana when he acquired the hair of the slain Captain Cook, explorer of much of the Paci Rim. Hawaiians believed Cook also had a lot of mana.

The remains of the man who named these Sandwich Islands were divided up after his death on the beach near Kona. Kamehameha, an admirer of Cook, had visited his ships, even though he had nothing to do with the explorer’s demise. Historical facts complete the story.

Kamehameha fought his first battle on Maui at 17 in an unsuccessful effort by a Hawaiian chief to conquer the island. He returned again and again to Maui’s Iao Valley to Lahaina’s shoreline, to the rough volcanic landscape of the island of Hawaii, and to the newly discovered harbor in Honolulu he decided was the ideal place to foster trade. Both epic and trivial, these journeys transformed Hawaii.

In 1783, the man who was to become great launched his campaign to unify these islands. Kamehameha had fought his first battle on Maui at 17 in an unsuccessful efort by a Hawaiian ali‘i (king) to conquer the island. Later, after moving a 5,000-pound stone called Naha, which legend said could be moved only by a man of destiny, the powerfully built warrior with the fierce face set forth on his life’s work of conquest.
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Wars were declared by cutting down a coconut tree in another’s territory. Battles were fought according to rituals, traditions, and rules. Weapons of choice were the elau (short spear), pololu ihe (long spear), palau (cudgel), leiomano (club with sharks’ teeth), and later guns. War and weapons would be put aside with the unification of the islands.

A clear picture of what Kamehameha did, and how he did it, emerges by looking at his travels.

1778, Hana: Meets Captain Cook and discovers unique sticks that fire bullets. He has the foresight to see their potential in battle.

1783, Island of Hawaii: Starts campaign to unify islands by unsuccessfully attacking Hilo.

1785, Hilo: Hawaii A new attack.

1788, Kauai: Trades land he controls for guns, including a swivel cannon. Captures sailor John Young, kidnaps Isaac Davis, and then names them military advisors.

1790, Maui: Fights near Huelo and uses cannon for the first time in the Iao Valley. Blood and bodies clog the stream, giving it the name “Kepaniwai” (Damming of the Waters). Leaves before conquering Maui.

1791, Island of Hawaii: Builds Pu‘ukohola Heiau temple to win support of the gods for his unification effort. Uses swivel gun and cannon to win the battle and conquer the island.

1792–94, Period of peace.

1793, Befriends Captain George Vancouver, who was also acquainted with beautiful, Hana-born Ka‘ahumanu, a surfing partner who became the king’s first and favorite wife. Vancouver gives Kamehameha cattle, sheep, and goats. Ka‘ahumanu along the way deserted Kamehameha, after he flirted with Ka‘ahumanu’s sister. Vancouver is instrumental in bringing the two back together.

1794, Announces that Hawaiian people are to subject the laws of Great Britain and under its protection. Great Britain never agreed, but Vancouver gifts Kamehameha with a sailing ship with a Union Jack sail.

1795,Maui and Oahu: Destroys Lahaina and then conquers Maui, Lana‘i, and Moloka‘i in February. Sails to Oahu and wins Battle of Nu‘uunu on the windward side of Waikiki to control Oahu. Leader of Kauai eludes capture.

1796, Kauai: Invades Kauai for the second time.

1797, Takes a second wife in Keopuolani, who bears him a son, Liholiho, who succeeds Kamehameha as king. Ka‘ahumanu, though childless, would later rule as regent for the young Liholiho and become Hawaii’s rst “fem- inist,” ending the kapu (forbidden) system that banned kane and wahine (men and women) from eating together.

1802, Maui: Fleet lands in Maui to prepare to invade Kauai again. A storm overwhelms warriors and ends ex- pedition.

1803: Honolulu: Sends eet to new harbor and head- quarters there. Kamehameha believes the Oahu harbor
Polynesians, Kings and Queens: A Treacherous Tale
is better for loading ships (Lahaina harbor was too shal- low to permit docking of sailing ships). Becomes a trader, taking over the lucrative sandalwood trade and sending wood to China in exchange for worldly goods.

1810, Completes uni cation by acquiring Kauai by agreement with the ali‘i Kaumuali‘i without a fight.

1812–19, Kohala, Island of Hawaii: Returns to birth island. Engages in his favorite pastimes of sur ng, swim- ming, shing, and growing taro. Dies in 1819.

2019, Front Street, Lahaina: Kamehameha images grace annual parade. Each Kamehameha Day, horseback riders on the former King’s Highway pass within yards of where Kamehameha the Great once surfed, lived, and enjoyed the King’s Taro Patch.

Kamehameha, in a sense, was a man before his time. He recognized immediately the merits of western technology (guns, for example, which he rarely used).

He lived in three geographic areas like modern-day corporate types, learned a foreign language (English), and created what would become one of the world’s most pro- gressive monarchies. Add everything up, and no wonder he is called great.

Knowing Maui More: Where there is no smoke…


there is no fire. The iconic Pioneer Mill smokestack, refurnished after the close of West side sugar operations, stands as a sentinel marking the location of the historic town of Lahaina. Stories about the three people most influential in preserving the history of Lahaina appear in my new book Voices of Aloha on Magical Maui. 

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