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Just beyond the lovely town of Hawi in North Kohala is the small town of Kapaau. In front of the North Kohala Civic Center stands the original King Kamehameha I Statue, erected not far from where Hawaii’s greatest king was born.
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 prophesized 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 on the Hamakua Coast after birth. After the death threat 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 weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 tons. Legend had it that whoever had the strength to move the Naha Stone would rule the Hawaiian Islands. Today, the Naha Stone can still be seen today, located in front of the Hilo Public Library.
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 the Kohala Coast was built in 1790 prophesizing 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 spent his final days in Kailua-Kona on the western coast of his island home.
Kamehameha’s unification of Hawaii was significant not only because it was an incredible feat, but also because under separate rule, the Islands may have been torn apart by competing western interests. Today, iconic statues honor King Kamehameha’s memory, perhaps the most well-known King Kamehameha Statue stands across the street from Iolani Palace on Oahu. However, the story of the Kapaau statue has a history that’s far more intriguing.
Forged in Florence, Italy in 1880, the ship that was ferrying it to Honolulu sank off the Falkland Islands. Believed to have been lost at sea, a replacement statue was commissioned and was erected in Downtown Honolulu and has become one of the most photographed landmarks on Oahu. However, the original statue was miraculously found and recovered in 1912. The restored statue was then installed near Kamehameha’s birthplace at Kapaau. On your way from Hawi to the Pololu Valley Lookout, make sure to stop in this small town to see this majestic tribute to the Kingdom of Hawaii’s first monarch.
More recently in 1997, a new Kamehameha Statue was dedicated in Wailoa State Park in Downtown Hilo on the eastern side of the island of Hawaii. Hilo was Kamehameha’s first seat of government and is still the capital city of the island of Hawaii. Every June 11th, on Kamehameha Day, each of these statues is ceremoniously draped with flower lei to celebrate Hawaii’s greatest king.