Today's holiday honors King Kamehameha I, who united the islands into one kingdom and ruled benevolently by modifying the old ways to fit new conditions brought about by increased foreign influence. June 11, 1758, is believed to be the date of his birth.
Kamehameha the Great was about 30 years old when he met Capt. James Cook and first saw Western technology, including firearms, cannons and sailing ships. In 1790, Kamehameha began unifying the islands. He conquered all but Niihau and Kauai in five years, using superior military tactics, Western firepower and inspirational leadership. Kamehameha used a combination of diplomacy and threats to convince Kaumuali'i of Kauai to become part of the kingdom.
Kamehameha's foreign policy consisted largely of strengthening ties with England and keeping other powers from establishing a foothold in the islands during a time of European imperialism in the Pacific. The development of fur trade between North America and China made the islands an attractive midway supply and rest area. As early as 1789, certain Spanish and English officials were suggesting their countries annex the islands.
Kamehameha became known as a wise ruler and was much revered for ending nearly continuous interisland warfare and promulgating Mamalahoe Kanawai, the law of the splintered paddle, which protected commoners from being treated badly by regional rulers. The king also outlawed ritual human sacrifice while maintaining the harsh kapu system of his forefathers.
The capital of the kingdom was wherever Kamehameha was living. At first it was Lahaina. Although he maintained complete control, he appointed governors for each island and had American and European advisers. He created a governing system that survived peacefully until the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy. His favorite wife was Ka'ahumanu.
Kamehameha I died May 8, 1819, on the island of Hawaii. His last words were "E oni wale no'oukou i ku'u pono'a'ole pau." Endless is the good that I leave for you to enjoy.
(Note: This editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)
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