Not many are recognized on their 250th birthday. Here’s the story of Queen Ka’ahumanu, one of 60 remarkable people profiled in Voices of Aloha on Magical Maui Hawaiian monarchs were among the most progressive ever. Scroll down for just one sample of 60 tales that go beyond the beach profiled in my new book.
HAWAII’S FIRST FEMINIST
WAS CONSIDERED BEAUTIFUL and sprightly. . She loved to paddle in canoes, swim, surf, and fly kites. She loved board games, especially checkers, and once beat 20 men on a ship. She once lived steps from the ocean in Lahaina and preferred white dresses like those worn by foreigners.(MORE)
The favorite of King Kamehameha’s 21 wives was born the same year Captain Cook arrived and transformed a kingdom just a few years after its unification by her great husband. Her gradual embrace of newly arrived missionaries paved the way for the new religion and literacy and ended kapu, changing the relationship between Hawaiian men and women.
This fascinating lady whose name means “bird of feathers” easily could be regarded as the first Hawaiian feminist (defined for those who did not grow up in the sixties as the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities).
It was Ka‘ahumanu who freed women, declaring the end of a practice under which women were forbidden to eat with men or live in the same dwelling with them.
Ka‘ahumanu’s greatest impact, however, was on religion and education. She embraced the new Christianity and insisted that all of her subjects learn to read the Bible—an action that helped make Hawaiians the most literate people in the world in the nineteenth century. Showing her prowess, Ka‘ahumanu learned to read in three days.
From this and other sources, we learn how Ka‘ahumanu lived and reigned as a regent for King Kamehameha II and for the missionaries, becoming their greatest advocate.
Ka‘ahumanu was Maui’s own. Born in a cave in Hana, she almost drowned as an infant when, swaddled in tapa cloth, she fell out of a canoe. Her parents predicted that she would one day become queen.
Her first claim to fame began when she became the favorite wife of King Kamehameha, who would eventually have 20 more wives. (Author Moore noted that a woman became a man’s wife if she slept with him just once overnight.
Ka‘ahumanu’s life with Kamehameha was a mixed blessing. Flirtatious Ka‘ahumanu was not above taking lovers, and the king assigned a small boy to keep an eye on her so she wouldn’t stray. She did, and the king had her lover strangled to death.
Luckily for Kamehameha, he had a friend who became a kind of a marriage counselor: renowned English navigator Captain George Vancouver. When the king and queen separated, Vancouver brought them back together. The reconciliation didn’t last. After 11 years together, Kamehameha later abandoned Ka‘ahumanu for his other wives.
The queen was so distraught that she contemplated suicide by drowning. The story goes that a small boy appeared who also was on the verge of drowning. Ka‘ahumanu saved him, and in the process saved herself, setting the stage for more great achievements.