Captain James Cook arrives in Waimea and Hawaiʻi and will quickly be followed by waves of Explorers, Adventurers and Opportunists. Long isolated from western civilization, Hawaiʻi will become their Port of Paradise.
Kaumualiʻi was born either in 1778 or 1780. British Sea Captain George Vancouver reported seeing a very young Kaumualiʻi in 1778 when he landed on Kauaʻi as a junior officer under Captain Cook; the Reverend Hiram Bingham placed Kaumualiʻi’s birth as 1780 based on native information; University of Hawaiʻi Professor R.S. Kuykendall says probably 1780, but also seems to allow 1778 as possible. The difference notwithstanding, the future King of Kauaʻi was born at Holoholoku Heiau in Wailua, a birthplace favored among Chiefs as it was thought to be a site which conferred the highest lineage. His food was prepared at Ka Lae o ka Manu Heiau where, close by and more than 175 years later, the Coco Palms Hotel would be built.
He was born to Kamakahelei (w), Aliʻi Aimoku of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau and Kaeokulani (k) known as Kaeo, Regent of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau and brother of Kahekili of Maui.
Kamakahelei places her son, Chief Keawe, a boy, and half-brother to Kaumualiʻi, on the throne.
1786-1791: Kaeo replaces Keawe, as Regent over Kaumualiʻi
Sometime during this period Kaeo replaces Keawe, intending to serve as Regent over Kaumualiʻi.
King Kahekili, ruler of all the islands except Hawaiʻi, dies and his dominions are divided between his son Kalanikupule and younger brother Kaeo. The two soon disagree and Kaeo is killed in the ensuing battle. Coincidentally, Kamakahelei also dies the same year. The circumstances of her death differ: some say she died in battle with Kaeo; the family says she was not on Oahu with Kaeo. At any rate, Kamakahelei’s titles pass to Kaumualiʻi and he becomes Aliʻi Aimoku but is too young to rule. Chief Inamoo serves as Regent.
1796: A storm prevents Kemahameha from invading Kauaiʻi
Keawe wrests control of Kauaʻi from Kaumualiʻi but dies shortly afterwards. Kaumualiʻi is restored as King. In April Kamehameha sails from Oahu with a large expedition comprised of canoes, small vessels, guns, and foreign gunners to invade Kauaʻi. The invading fleet is hit by a severe storm. Many canoes are wrecked. In distress, the expedition turns back to Oahu.
Kamehameha again prepares to invade Kauaʻi, but an epidemic-maʻi o ku`u, possibly cholera or bubonic plague -ravages his army and Kamehameha, also stricken, calls a retreat.
As Kaumualiʻi serves in his own right, he fully sustains, “the bright parts and generous spirits” noticed by Vancouver in his visits of 1792 thru 1794. His subjects were devotedly attached to him, as were a number of foreigners who had enlisted in his service. He was friendly to strangers, encouraged trade, possessed of humanity and intelligence. He recognized the significance of new things ushered in by foreigners and stood ready to profit by it. He was among the few who attained a practical knowledge of the English language before the Missionaries arrived. Supported by the generous support of his people, he energetically prepared to resist attack.
In about 1805, Kamehameha begins thinking about securing Kauaʻi by peaceful means rather than through war. He had heard the awesome stories of the failures of other chiefs who had tried to conquer Kauaʻi; that Kauaʻi was noted for the religious character of its people and was called Kauaʻi Pule OʻO, Kauaʻi of strong prayer; and especially the powerful prayer of “Aneʻe Kapuahi” frequently used by Kaumualiʻi’s mother Kamakahelei. He sent Kihei, a lesser chief, to invite Kaumualiʻi to Oahu to see him and, together, they would make a treaty of peace. Kihei was treated with such dignity by Kaumualiʻi and given lands and wives that he never returned to report to Kamehameha. Instead, Kaumualiʻi sent his own messenger, Wahine, with an agreement of peace. Wahine was hospitably received and presented with large double peleleu canoes, feather capes, and other items of value for Kaumualiʻi and a message “Tell Kaumualiʻi to visit me here on Oahu.” Kamehameha waited a long time. He sent messengers, but all remained on Kauaʻi where they were given lands and wives.
Finally he sent Keawe-opu, Nahili, and Isaac Davis, one of his favorite foreigners. Kaumualiʻi was doubtful, fearing the same end that had befallen Keoua. Kaumualiʻi realized it was not peace that Kamehameha sought, but his consent to rule under Kamehameha. He therefore sent his nephew Kamaholelani and his wife Namahana with the high chiefs Haupu and Kumumu to negotiate with Kamehameha. They were received with great honor. On receiving the report of their kind reception, Kaumuali`i finally consented to visit Oahu in person.
Thus, in April, 1810, American trader Capt. Nathan Winship brought Kaumualiʻi to Oahu on his ship the OʻCain. Aboard the OʻCain the two leaders made a pact whereby Kauaʻi would become a tributary kingdom over which Kaumualiʻi would continue to govern, returning a nominal tribute as a sign of sovereignty. Kaumualiʻi was persuaded to go ashore to celebrate the alliance. The priest Kaumiumi, with several co-conspirators, had planned to kill him, but when Kamehameha heard of the plan he rejected it saying “This is not a time of open war when a prince can be slain like a robber.” The plot might have still come off had it not been for Isaac Davis, who warned Kaumualiʻi. The young King hurried back to Kauaʻi in safety. Soon after, Isaac Davis died from poisoning.
German physician George Scheffer, representing the Russian-American Trading Co. arrives, ostensibly to recover the salvaged goods of the ship Bering that sank off Kauaʻi. The real reason for his visit, however, is to establish a strong Russian post. He wins Kamehameha’s confidence when he cured the King of a feverish cold and is given land on Oʻahu. He starts building a blockhouse and a fort on the Honolulu waterfront. The war-like preparations worry John Young who obtains orders from Kamehameha to cease the work. John Young has Hawaiians finish building it. Scheffer’s activities also arouse the American traders against him for it seems that he is also claiming exclusive trading rights to the export trade in sandalwood.
Scheffer withdrew to Kauaʻi where he found Kaumualiʻi ready to take advantage of his offers. Kaumualiʻi still harbored fears that Kamehameha would come and take over the island so he signed a document putting Kauaʻi under the protection of Czar Alexander Pavlovich and promised the Czar one half of Oahu in return for the help of Scheffer’s army in capturing it. Scheffer built a strong fort at Waimea and breastworks in Hanalei. But the American traders dreaded the idea of a Russian monopoly in the North Pacific and were outspoken about it. Kaumualiʻi grew weary of his bargain and under orders from Kamehameha the Russian ships were sent away, failing even to recover the salvaged goods from the Bering. Scheffer escaped to Canton, but continued to urge his dreams on the Czar. The Russian government disowned him.
Kaumualiʻi marries Kehaikaakulou who later takes the name Deborah Kapule.
Kamehameha I dies in Kailua-Kona on May 8, 1819. Following custom, a new heiau was built as death approached. Custom also demanded that a human sacrifice be made. Kamehameha refused, saying “The men are kapu for the king.” He meant that his son Liholiho would need all the living men he could find to uphold the throne.
Liholiho was proclaimed ruler as Kamehameha ll; Kaʻahumanu, Kamehameha’s favorite wife, was designated Kuhina Nui, Chief Advisor and virtually a co-ruler with Liholiho. The Kapu System was wavering: doubt entered the minds of many regarding the power of their gods represented by the idols in the heiau; Foreign sea captains spoke of more potent gods above; even Kahuna Nui Hewahewa lost his conviction that the old images could kill blasphemers.
Keopuolani, Liholiho’s mother, and Kaahumanu took the first step when Keopuolani ate with her younger son Kauikeaouli. Liholiho ordered a public banquet in Kailua the first week of November, 1819, sat at table and ate with women. It symbolized the end of the aikapu, the tabu against men and women eating together. At the end of the meal he ordered all temples and idols destroyed. Kekuaokalani, Liholiho’s cousin upon whom Kamehameha had conferred the duty of defender of the war god Kukailimoku, rebelled. The battle was joined at Kuamoo. Kekuaokalani was killed, his wife Manono as well as she fought by his side, the custom of the old ways. Thereafter the idols were worshipped only in secrecy.
In April the Protestant Missionaries arrive in Kailua-Kona from Boston. Liholiho is in residence. After 4 days of deliberations, Liholiho allows the newcomers to remain in Hawaiʻi for a year.
Four Hawaiian youths accompany the first company of Missionaries, among them George Humehume Kaumualiʻi, son of the Kauaʻi King. Sent to Boston at an early age in the care of a ship’s captain to be educated, his sponsor for reasons unknown fails to live up to his obligations. Kaumualiʻi receives no word on his whereabouts, his station in life or whether he is even alive. Humehume’s wanderings in the meantime include service on an American naval ship in the war of 1812. Soon after landing in Honolulu, missionaries Samuel Whitney and Samuel Ruggles deliver Humehume to a surprised but very happy Kaumualiʻi. The King rewards the ship’s Captain with a load of sandalwood, expresses his gratitude to Whitney and Ruggles and asks them to return with their families and establish a mission at Waimea. They later return with their families to a welcoming Kaumualiʻi who provides them with the necessities of living and working.
In July Liholiho makes a daring visit to Kauaʻi, an island he had yet to visit, to personally meet Kaumualiʻi and confirm his allegiance under the pact signed with his father. He is well received by Kaumualiʻi. On arrival of his flagship, the Cleopatra’s Barge (Liholiho had made the trip to Kauai in a small open boat with 30 aboard despite warnings of the dangers of crossing 100 miles of rough open ocean), Liholiho invites Kaumualiʻi on board for an hour or two. Secretly he orders the crew to weigh anchor and sail to Oahu. Kaumualiʻi is a captive. On Oahu he is compelled by his captor to marry Kaʻahumanu. She also takes Kaumualiʻi’s son Kealiʻiahonui as her husband.
Kaumualiʻi died on May 26, 1824. His will fulfilled his promise that at his death the kingdom of Kauaʻi would be bestowed upon the heir of Kamehameha. He asked that he be buried next to Keopuolani, Kamehameha’s most sacred wife and mother of Kamehameha II and III. His wish was granted. Today, his remains lie in Waineʻe cemetery adjacent to Waiola Church in Lahaina, Maui.
Liholiho died of measles in England on July 14, 1824; his Queen Kamamalu had succumbed from the same ailment on July 8, 1824.
Humehume felt that he had been disinherited, believing that his father had been poisoned and feared for his own life. With some malcontent chiefs he launched an attack against the old Russian fort at Waimea on August 8. The attack failed and Humehume, with his wife Betty, daughter of Isaac Davis, was taken in honorable captivity to Honolulu, There, a prisoner of Kaʻahumanu, the prince in whom the missionaries had placed high hopes died on May 3, 1826.
Kaumualiʻi was the last independent Aliʻi Aimoku of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, reigning from 1794 to 1810. In 1810 he became Kamehameha’s vassal, and all the islands were united under Kamehameha for the first time. He had many wives (and children, some from commoners, the makaʻainana). His children of note were Humehume (k), Kealiʻiahonu (k), and Kinoike Kekaulike (W). Kinoike’s daughter was Kapiʻolani, King David Kalakaua’s wife.
Andrews, Lorrin – A Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language. 1974
Damon, Ethel – Koamalu. 1931
Day, A. Grove – Hawaii and Its People. 1954
Kamakau, Samuel – Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi. 1992, 2nd ed
Kuykendall, Ralph – The Hawaiian Kingdom, Vol. I. 1778-1854. 1923
Mills, Peter R. – Hawaii’s Russian Adventure: A New Look at Old History, 2002
Pukui, Mary Kawena and Samuel H. Elbert – Hawaiian Dictionary. 1986
Zambucka, Kristin – Kaumualiʻi King of Kauaʻi. Excerpts from early writers (and a few later ones) on the life of Kaumualiʻl the King of Kauaʻi., 1999
Aletha G. Kaohi & Stanley H. L. Lum
West Kaua i Technology & Visitor Center
Contact: Aletha G. Kaohi
For: Friends of King Kaumualiʻi and Department of Education – Kauaʻi
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