King Kamehameha I
A great warrior, diplomat and leader, King Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810, after years of conflict. Kamehameha I was destined for greatness from birth. Hawaiian legend prophesised that a light in the sky with feathers like a bird would signal the birth of a great chief. Historians believe Kamehameha was born in 1758, the year Halley’s comet passed over Hawaii.
Given the birth name Paiea, the future king was hidden from warring clans in secluded Waipio Valley after birth. After the death threat had passed, Paiea came out of hiding and was renamed Kamehameha (The Lonely One). Kamehameha was trained as a warrior and his legendary strength was proven when he overturned the Naha Stone, which reportedly weighed between 2.3 and 3.1 tonnes. You can still see the Naha Stone today in Hilo.
During this time, warfare between chiefs throughout the islands was widespread. In 1778, Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii, dovetailing with Kamehameha’s ambitions. With the help of western weapons and advisors, Kamehameha won fierce battles at Iao Valley in Maui and the Nuuanu Pali on Oahu. The fortress-like Puukohola Heiau on Hawaii’s Big Island was built in 1790 prophesising Kamehameha’s conquest of the islands. In 1810, when King Kaumualii of Kauai agreed to become a tributary kingdom under Kamehameha, that prophecy was finally fulfilled.
Kamehameha’s unification of Hawaii was significant not only because it was an incredible feat, but also due to the fact that, under separate rule, the Islands may have been torn apart by competing western interests. Today, four commissioned statues stand to honour King Kamehameha’s memory. Every June 11th, on Kamehameha Day, each of these statues is ceremoniously draped with flower lei to celebrate Hawaii’s greatest king.
Downtown Honolulu, Oahu
The most recognized Kamehameha statue stands in front of Aliiolani Hale (the judiciary building) across from Iolani Palace and a short walk from the eclectic art galleries and restaurants of Chinatown. Dedicated in 1883, this was actually the second statue created after the ship delivering the original statue from Europe was lost at sea.
North Kohala, Hawaii’s Big Island
The original statue was miraculously recovered and in 1912, the restored statue was installed near Kamehameha’s birthplace at Kapaau on Hawaii’s Big Island. Visit North Kohala to see some of Hawaii’s most sacred places like Puukohola Heiau.
National Statuary Hall, Washington DC
In 1969, the third Kamehameha statue was unveiled in the US Capitol’s National Statuary Hall where statues of historic figures from all 50 states are on display. A statue of Molokai’s Saint Damien joins the Kamehameha I statue in this amazing collection of art.
Hilo, Hawaii’s Big Island
Hilo was Kamehameha’s first seat of government and this statue, dedicated in 1997 at Wailoa State Park, is the tallest of the four statues at around four metres high. Hilo is also home to the Naha Stone, which a young Kamehameha was said to have overturned in a feat of incredible strength. Legend said that whoever had the strength to move the Naha Stone would rule the Hawaiian Islands. Today, the Naha Stone is located in front of the Hilo Public Library.