King Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great, is the king who in 1795 united the Hawaiian islands, minus Kauai and Niihau, under one rule. By 1810, Kauai and Niihau peacefully agreed to join the kingdom and Kamehameha became the first king of Hawaii.
It’s believed Kamehameha was born in 1758 because it was said he was birthed after a bright star lit up the sky. Historians believe that the “bright star” was actually Halley’s comet, which passed through the earth’s skies in 1758. Born to the daughter of a Kona chief, the royal baby was hidden from the time of birth as warring clans saw him as a potential threat.
Once able to fend for himself, Kamehameha returned to his family, where he trained with his uncle, King Kalani’opu’u, the ruler of the island of Hawaii to become a warrior. And a great warrior he became. Upon on his uncle’s death in 1782, the island of Hawaii was split between Kamehameha and his cousin, the king’s son, Kiwalao. They co-existed peacefully for a short time, but eventually, the two sides went to war and Kamehameha came out on top. It wasn’t long after Kamehameha took control of the island of Hawaii that he united, through war and negotiation, the rest of the islands.
In taking the island of Maui, Kamehameha fought what many believe to be the bloodiest war of his reign. The “Battle of Kepaniwai”, or the “Battle of the Dammed Waters”, was fought in 1790 in the Iao Valley. It’s been said the waters of the river turned red with blood and dead bodies dammed the river.
Once Kamehameha established rule over the entire of kingdom of Hawaii, he established a local leader for each island. Though he ruled following the traditionally harsh laws and punishments of his ancestors, he also established mamalahoe kanawai, “the law of the splintered paddle”. Mamalahoe kanawai, came about from a personal experience. While engaged with a warring faction, Kamehameha got his foot stuck in rocks on the coastline. While trapped, a fisherman smacked Kamehemeha so hard with his paddle that it split in half. As the fisherman was going in for another blow, a fellow fisherman convinced him to show mercy. Kamehameha was so taken by this action, that he enacted a law that gave protection to the defenseless and travelers. The spirit of this law, “aloha spirit”, was formally added to the state constitution in 1978.
King Kamehameha I died in 1819, leaving the Kingdom of Hawaii to his first born son, Kamehameha II.