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Friday is King Kamehameha Day in Hawai‘i. In this Kūkahekahe article, we celebrate Kamehameha – the namesake of our schools and great-grandfather of our founder, Princess Pauahi.

Kamehameha Paiʻea created a foundation for a thriving lāhui

Jun. 8, 2021

  • KS Ho‘okahua Cultural Vibrancy Group

This Friday, June 11, Hawai‘i will pay tribute to Kamehameha Pai‘ea, the namesake of our schools and great-grandfather of our founder Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. In this Kūkahekahe article, we celebrate the fearless king who unified the Hawaiian islands. Aloha Lā Kamehameha iā kākou!

Kaʻiwakīloumoku, “the ʻiwa bird that hooks the islands together," is one of the honorary names of Kamehameha. In campaigns that relied on both his military prowess and diplomacy, Kamehameha fulfilled the prophecies uttered by kāhuna at his birth by uniting the islands under his rule. To some of our lāhui, Kamehameha remains a conqueror. Yet his leadership also saw an era of lasting peace and growth, as well as the establishment of the aupuni (government structure).

Many of the moʻolelo of Kamehameha’s life serve as guides for us today. Kamehameha’s knowledge of tradition and his ability to innovate allowed him to guide the lāhui through transformations in Hawaiʻi. This deft navigation made Kamehameha successful in uniting the islands where others had failed.

Kamehameha grew in wisdom with the passage of time. As a young upstart warrior, he had attacked a fishing village in Puna, Hawai‘i. When his foot became caught in a crevice, a fisherman turned towards the chief and struck him over the head with a paddle which splintered. Reflecting back in later years, Kamehameha acknowledged his attack on innocent people and proclaimed ke Kānāwai Māmala Hoe – the “Law of the Splintered Paddle” – based on an ancient code of the great ruler Kualiʻi, committing himself and his chiefs to rule peacefully.

The law affirmed the rights of the people to live without harm from the aliʻi and articulates generations of Hawaiian cultural beliefs and good governance within Hawaiian society. The spirit of this law has served as a model for laws promulgated during the Hawaiian Kingdom, and even those that are in effect today within the state of Hawaiʻi. The ʻōlelo noʻeau “He aupuni ko Kamehameha – Kamehameha has a government,” was both a statement of admiration for the peace of Kamehameha’s reign and a warning not to disturb it.

It was the kuleana (reciprocal responsibility) of the aliʻi to mālama (to care for) the land and people. An aliʻi who was cruel or negligent could be deposed. The reign of a good aliʻi was marked by attributes that helped people to thrive: just laws and prudent decisions, the creation and maintenance of public works such as loko iʻa (fishponds), ʻauwai (field irrigation) and heiau (religious sites), as well as the maintenance of peace and prosperity.

After his war campaigns across the pae ʻāina and particularly his victory in the battle of Nu‘uanu in 1795, Kamehameha moved quickly to restore the agricultural capacity of the lands that had been damaged as a result of the fighting. Areas within the ahupua‘a of Kapālama and Nu‘uanu were chosen as his personal farm lands and were famed for their size, being likened to plantations. Reverend Stephen L. Desha writes in “Kamehameha and His Warrior Kekūhaupi‘o” the following:

“Before Kamehameha began his island circuit journey to instill peace and stability, he commenced the planting of kalo at Kapālama and Niuhelewai. He planted many huli kalo (kalo tops) in the kalo patches since they had been heedlessly pulled up during the time of war. In this he was greatly assisted by his warriors from Hawai‘i.” (Translation by Frances Frazier.)

Kamehameha also initiated several large-scale planting efforts to not only provide food for his army but to help return abundance and prosperity to all of O‘ahu. One such effort was an island-wide tour by which his warriors would visit each community and provide the manpower needed to restore its food production.

The history of his prudent and thoughtful leadership in these places reminds us of the connection between our schools, our namesake and the ʻāina under our care. Kamehameha spent his life creating the foundation of a nation from which our lāhui continues to rise, shaping our identity as Hawaiians.

This overlay shows the approximate areas of Niuhelewai, Kaiwi‘ula and Kapālama in relation to the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama campus. After the Battle of Nuʻuanu, Kamehameha and his warriors restored these areas by building and maintaining loʻi kalo and loko iʻa.

In addition to terraced loʻi kalo, 22 loko iʻa (fishponds) were recorded in Niuhelewai and Kapālama in the mid-nineteenth century. Kamehameha was responsible for many of these loko iʻa. Photo courtesy of the Hawaiʻi State Archives.

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