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Mo`olelo O Na Ali`i

Roy Alameida

December 2008


In the last issue of NWHT, we read about the law Mamalahoe Kanawai (Law of the Splintered Paddle) and how that influenced the thinking and behavior of Kamehameha. We continue the mo‘olelo with his marriage to one of the most influential women in his life, Ka‘ahumanu.

Four years had passed since the battle at Moku‘ōhai where Kamehameha took part in the death of his cousin Kīwala‘ō who, at the time, had control of the governance of Hawai‘i island. But it was the bold appearance of a young woman who requested from the Ali‘i, including Kamehameha, that the body of Kīwala‘ō be her kuleana or responsibility to prepare for burial. Kamehameha was impressed with her confidence and fearlessness in asking such permission. Ka‘ahumanu was fourteen years old at the time.

Born at Ponahakeone near the hill of Ka‘uiki in Hana, Maui, Ka‘ahumanu was the daughter of Ke‘eaumoku Pāpa‘iaheahe, Kamehameha’s commander-in-chief at the battle of Moku‘ōhai in Ke‘ei, and Nāmāhanaikaleleonalani, a half-sister of Kahekili, Ali’i of Maui. Her grandfather was Kekaulike, Ali’i Nui (high chief) of Maui. Kīwala‘ō was her cousin through his mother Kalola, a half-sister of Nāmāhanaikaleleonalani. Thus, she was a descendant of high ranking Ali’i from Hawai‘i island and Maui. She spent some of her early childhood in Ka‘ū on Hawai‘i island.

Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau writes in Ruling Chiefs, “Ka‘ahumanu was the most beautiful woman in Hawai‘i in those days....A handsome woman, six feet tall, straight and well-formed was Ka‘ahumanu, without blemish, and comely. Her arms were like the inside of a banana stalk, her fingers tapering, her palms pliable like kukunene grass, graceful in repose, her cheeks long in shape and pink as the bud of a banana stem; her eyes like those of a dove or the moho bird (an extinct Hawaiian flightless bird); her nose narrow and straight, in admirable proportion to her cheeks; her arched eyebrows shaped to the breadth of her forehead; her hair dark, wavy, and fine, her skin very light.”

If the year 1736 is accepted as the year of Kamehameha’s birth, he was forty-nine years old when he took Ka‘ahumanu as his wife. Of the many Hawaiian women Kamehameha had married, she was his favorite. She was biologically related to and knew many of Kamehameha’s strongest allies. It was believed that once Kamehameha had unified the islands under one ruler, his long political control of the government was due to influence of Ka‘ahumanu. She understood what was at stake. And because of her status and influence, Holo‘ae, Kamehameha’s kahuna or personal spiritual adviser, believed that she could be the cause for any possible rebellion against her husband. Thus, he, Kamehameha, should protect her from being attracted to any other Ali‘i which could result in his lost of political control. According to Holo‘ae, “if your wife should be attracted to another Ali’i and she should love this new man, then she would turn and give the kingdom to this new man. Her uncles would also turn and help their niece, and you, e Kalani [Kamehameha] would be in trouble.”

Following the advice of Holo‘ae and heeding the warning that Ka‘ahumanu could possibly rebel against his rule Kamehameha placed a kapu (off limits) on her. He declared that any man, chief or commoner, who came in contact with his wife for any reason would be put to death. This law was tested as we will find out how in the next issue of the NWHT.

Ua ‘Ike Anei ‘Oe… (Did you know that…)

  • other accounts refer to possibly November 1758 as the year of Kamehameha’s birth based on the appearance of Halley’s comet.
  • Ka‘ahumanu means the “bird feather ahu‘ula or cloak;” a reference to Ka‘ahumanu’s mo‘okūauhau (genealogy) and her blood relations to many of the Ali‘i.
  • Ka‘ahumanu was childless with Kamehameha, but was kahu or guardian to his children from other wives.

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