King Kamehameha

In the heart of Historical Down Town Honolulu, across the street from Iolani Palace, is the Golden statue of King Kamehameha. This statue is a popular attraction in downtown Honolulu. The statue is usually included in all Pearl Harbor Tours, Private Pearl Harbor Tours, Oahu Circle Island Tour, and Island-Hopping Tours from neighbor Islands. The statue is usually part of the Down Town Honolulu City Tour on the way back to Waikiki beach or on the way back to the Honolulu International Airport. The story of the statue has two parts. The story of the man whom the statue represents and the story of the statue itself.

King Kamehameha Statue

Before he was known as King Kamehameha the Great, he was known as Paiea at birth. Raised by his uncle, Kalaniopuu, he would eventually rise to become King. A King so extraordinary the US Navy named a ballistic missile submarine after him. The man who would be King Kamehameha I was possibly born in the late 1730s; the exact year is the subject of debate. The son of a minor chief on the Island of Hawaii, he would aspire to great things. When fully grown, he was known to be a massive man. With a height in excess of seven feet and weighing more than 300 lbs., he was not a person you should trifle with. Kamehameha was originally not intended to be a chief of Hawaii Island. He lived with his uncle Kalaniopuu, who had a son who would be his heir. He was set supposed to be a priest to the Hawaiian god of war, Ku Kailimoku. During his time training to be a priest of Ku Kailimoku, he would set out to fulfill a prophecy. When Kamehameha was a young teenager of around 14 years of age, he lifted a legendary stone called the Naha Stone. This stone was reported to weigh around 2.5 – 3.5 tons and was brought to the Island of Hawaii by King Kamehameha’s ancestors, and there was a prophecy that whoever was able to lift the stone had a legitimate claim to rule as a descendent of the ruling clan. After many failed attempts, He finally lifted this stone, thus fulfilling the prophecy and cementing his right to rule. The fact that he was a priest of the Hawaiian god of war also helped him gain influence at the court. This stone can still be seen in Hilo, Hawaii Island. With little actual fighting, he was supported to become the Alii of Hawaii Island. Around this time, after the survivors of Captain Cook’s voyage had brought news of Hawaii’s existence, Europeans and Americans started coming to Hawaii more regularly. They sought it as an important stop on the way to Asia and as a rest stop for whalers. Kamehameha had taken two prisoners named John Young and Isaac Davis. They were treated well and given wives. He wished to learn about the newcomers. Especially about the weapons that they carried. He began trading with the Europeans that came to Hawaii, purchasing firearms. After a time of preparation, he set out on a march of conquest. He set out to conquer Maui, Molokai, and Oahu. Kamehameha had been well prepared, armed with a large number of western weapons and even frigate-sized warships built for him by Captain George Vancouver. His invasions of Maui and Molokai had gone well. Next, it was on to Oahu, where the chief of Maui had been staying. One of his most famous battles was the battle of the Nuuanu Pali. While one of his commanders defected to the other side and helped Kalanikupule to prepare for an invasion. Unfortunately for the defenders, all of their preparations went for nothing. Kamehameha pushed back the enemy army until he had cornered against the cliffs of the Nuuanu Pali. The last holdouts of the defenders of Oahu were pushed to the edge of the Nuuanu Pali and forced off the side of a mountain. While both sides had guns, his army had better training, better tactics, greater numbers, and superior discipline. He routed the enemy army and ended up pushing them off the mountainside. He had conquered every Hawaiian Island except Kauai. This Island would prove to be difficult to conquer and would later become part of the Kingdom through diplomacy.

Kamehameha I, probably the same image as the detail of a coloured lithograph by D. Veelward, 1822, after an engraving by Louis Choris, 1816., D. Veelward, Hawaii State Archives. Call Number: PP-97-5-005, PD-U

King Kamehameha valued European weapons, which assisted him in his conquest of the Islands, and had established trade primarily in sandalwood with Europeans who came to the Islands on their way to China. King Kamehameha had a rule that sandalwood and other commodities were only to be traded for weapons, and anyone caught breaking that rule would be put to death. He also strictly regulated the amount of sandalwood traded so as to have a reserve. In addition, he enacted a set of uniform laws and a uniform system of taxes throughout the Kingdom so that the new Kingdom of Hawaii would have funds to purchase more weapons from the Europeans. One of his most famous laws was the law of the splintered paddle. While pursuing a pair of commoners who were acting as a rear guard allowing an enemy chief to escape, Kamehameha had his foot stuck in a crevice. One of the men run up to him and hit him with a paddle. The blow was so hard that the paddle shattered. While the commoner decided to spare Kamehameha rather than kill him. Later, when his assailant was captured, Kamehameha refused to kill him. Citing that the man was only defending his home and, in doing his duty, was not in the wrong. The law, as written, states that people, regardless of status, have the right to safety from harm. This law is still on the books in the Hawaii State Constitution. The crossed paddles on the badge of the Honolulu Police Department. King Kamehameha passed away in 1819. In line with ancient Hawaiian customs, his burial place is unknown.

Tamaahamaah, King of Sandwich Islands, Unknown author, Grant, Glenn (2004) Hawai`i Looking Back: An illustrated History of the Islands, Mutual Publishing, pp. 454pp , Bishop Museum, Honolulu., PD-Pre 1928

The idea for the statue came from the mind of Walter Gibson, who was in the employ of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The statue was proposed to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of Captain Cook in Hawaii. The legislature named Gibson as the head of the project and appropriated the funds to pay for the state. The statue of King Kamehameha that you look upon in front of Aliiolani Hale was sculpted by an American sculptor named Thomas R. Gould, who was studying in Italy. The interesting thing is that while he did have pictures of Native Hawaiians to base the sculpture on, he instead took a more classical approach. The finished work ended up with more Roman features and was posed in a stance commonly associated with Roman Emperors. The sculpture was finished in 1880 and was sent to France to be cast in bronze. Now completed in 1883, the statue went on a long journey from France to Hawaii. Unfortunately, the ship carrying the statue was wrecked near the Falkland Islands the statue was assumed lost. Luckily, the statue was insured, and a new one was cast and sent on its way. This statue is the very one that everyone admires to this day. The lost statue was not lost forever. It was found and salvaged by residents of the Falklands. It was sold back to the original purchaser and was put on display in Kohala near King Kamehameha’s birthplace on Hawaii Island. A third was commissioned when Hawaii became a State. This one is on display in Emancipation Hall in the US Capitol Building, one of the heaviest sculptures on display.

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