The Legend of King Kamehameha the Great
Prior to Hawaii’s current status as the 50th state admitted to the United States of America, Hawaii was its only kingdom, operating as the Kingdom of Hawaii, and seeing a succession of great Kings and Queens as the monarchy of the islands. These larger than life figures still play a prominent role in the islands, and there are many festivals, streets, holidays, and memorials that stand to honor their achievements and memories.
Long considered the greatest ruler in Hawaiian history, King Kamehameha the Great may be the largest figure in the history of Hawaii, both literally and figuratively. Born on the island of Hawaii, legend has it that King Kamehamaha stood taller than 7 feet, and weighed more than 300 pounds, and this is said to be verified by the size of his feather cape, as chiefs did not allow their cape to touch the ground. King Kamehameha’s cape and a variety of items from ancient Hawaii are housed at the Bishop Museum.
The legend of Kamehameha begins at his birth. Kamehameha was ordered to be executed at birth by Alapainui, the ruling chief of Hawaii Island, after a priest warned that the child would eventually overthrow the chief. Kamehameha’s mother arranged for a relative to hide and protect Kamehameha for 5 years in the mountains of Kohala, until for unknown reasons, Alapainui welcomed the child to live in his house, where his training began.
Known as a brilliant strategist, Kamehameha formed an elite group of warriors, known as the Kipuupuu warriors, and fought many important battles in Hawaiian history. The unification of the Hawaiian Islands are the greatest of these battles, bringing together the formerly separate islands under one rule one by one, thus becoming the first King of Hawaii.
Under the rule of King Kamehameha, the Hawaiian Islands adopted a legal system, and trade was promoted with other countries, largely European countries and the United States. The Hawaiian flag was also created by Kamehameha, combining the flags of the USA and the United Kingdom to create the flag that is still in use as the state flag to this day.
King Kamehameha has two statues that stand in his honor in Hawaii, one in front of the Ali’iolani Hale in downtown Honolulu, and the other on the Big Island in Kapaau. A private school system is also named for the great king, with nearly 5,400 students of Hawaiian descent attending grades K-12, with curriculum imparting Hawaii’s history and culture with College Preparatory curriculum. Kamehameha schools are well-respected and also field some of the most competitive high schools teams in the state.
King Kamehameha the Great is easily the most important figure in Hawaiian history, and his influence is felt all around the Hawaiian Islands. He is honored with a state holiday every June 11, with ceremonies taking place throughout Hawaii. The biggest celebration of his life is at the Honolulu statue, with parades and impressive lei draping ceremony highlighting the day.
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