Happy King Kamehameha Day, you mainland haole buggers. Today is a celebration of the first king of the unified Hawaiian islands (the Kingdom of Hawaii, to state the obvious), one Paiea Kamehameha, better known as Kamehameha the Great.

King Kamehameha united the isles through war with neighboring ali’i (chiefs). In doing so, he did indeed establish a kingdom, but it wasn’t such a good deal for all of his subjects:

With his new weapons, Kamehameha felt confident enough to move on the neighboring islands of Maui and O‘ahu, already weakened by a war of succession that broke out between King Kahekili’s sons. Kamehameha may or may not have known that his rival, Kalanikupule, also possessed firearms, and was planning a move against Kamehameha when the ali‘i nui of Hawai‘i invaded the western islands.

In 1795, Kamehameha set sail with an armada of 1,200 war canoes and 10,000 soldiers – an incredible number for an island chain whose population had never exceeded 300,000. Kamehameha quickly secured the lightly defended islands of Maui and Moloka‘i, and moved on the island of O‘ahu, landing his troops at Wai‘alae and Waik?k?. What Kamehameha did not know was that one of his commanders, a high-ranking ali‘i named Kaiana, had defected to Kalanikupule. Kaiana assisting the cutting of notches into the Nu‘uanu Pali mountain ridge; these notches, like those on a castle turret, would serve as gunports for Kalanikupule’s cannon.

When Kamehameha moved on the Pali, his troops took heavy fire from the cannon. In desperation, he assigned two divisions of his best warriors to climb to the Pali. Converging on the cannons from behind, they surprised Kalanikupule’s gunners and took control of the cannons. With the loss of their guns, Kalanikupule’s troops fell into disarray, and many were driven off the cliffs of the Pali. Kaiana was killed during the action; Kalanikupule was captured some time later and sacrificed to Kukailimoku.

Many of the enemy troops were deliberately forced or thrown from the cliffs, depending on the source, but it wasn’t pleasant.

There are other examples of vicious acts on the part of Kamehameha or his followers, among them the death by strangulation (among other means) of kapu violators, or people who violated taboo in any way. But he also established a system of laws to protect civilians during wartime and ended human sacrifice. It is knowing this stuff that caused me to think for a long time before deciding whether to celebrate his day. When I return to the land of 4 seasons from my current tropical abode, I plan to have a luau once a year to share my love of the islands with everyone else. I would have liked to celebrate some of the more genteel monarchs, but the calendar on the East Coast dictates otherwise. The birthdays of Queen Liliuokalani and Queen Emma (in September and January, respectively) are not very conducive to outside partying. Even if people disagree with what he did, King Kamehameha Day can still maintain significance as a celebration of the state and people of Hawaii and their beautiful culture. So King Kamehameha Day it is.

~ by kinshay on 2005-06-11.

No Responses Yet to “Holiday”

  1. murder, torture, willful use of firearms against an indigineous peoples, rampant destruction of beautiful mountains, conquering peacful nations, are you sure that King Kam wasn’t white ?

  2. I usually balk at reading anything even vaguely historical, but that was cool. Thanks man.

  3. Can I be in charge of decorating the Kamehameha Tree at your first annual luau? We can put a pineapple on top of it instead of a star. And can we sing Kamehameha Carols? I’m so excited…

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