The big island of Hawaii is larger than all other Hawaiian islands combined. It was actually the Kingdom of Hawaii before its citizens applied for statehood with the United States. This commentary traces the history of Hawaii, including the famous Hawaiian Splintered Paddle Law.
Some experts in history of Hawaii believe that it was named for the legendary Polynesian navigator Hawaiiloa, who was first to discover it. Other authorities on the history of Hawaii cite accounts, which attribute the name for the Kingdom of Hawaii, which later became the State of Hawaii, to a location from which Polynesians originated. Hawaiki, which is a Maori name, is the legendary realm or land to which they go in their afterlife. It is the realm of the gods.
But all specialists on the history of Hawaii agree that the Kingdom of Hawaii began under the rule of Kamehameha I, who was dubbed Kamehameha the Great. There is a fundamental disagreement in the historical accounts about the birth of Kamehameha.
Legends about the history of Hawaii claim that a great king will have united the Hawaiian Islands. The legend claims that a great comet would herald the birth of their king. It is a know fact that Halley's comet was visible from the Hawaiian islands in 1758.
Many historians assume that Kamehameha must have been born a short time after the appearance of Halley's comet. Other historical accounts say that he was actually born in November of 1737. So there is a debate about the precise year Kamehameha was born.
All accounts about the history of Hawaii agree that Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands and became the Kingdom of Hawaii under him; and it came under his rule after many years of warfare and incursions. Kamehameha had an armada of about 1,200 war canoes and almost and 10,000 soldiers when he set sail from the big island of Hawaii to conquer all the islands in 1795.
Big Island of Hawaii
Kamehameha was able to unite the big island of Hawaii with all other Hawaiian islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii because he was in command of an overwhelming number of warriors along the island chain. Up until the point he surmounted the battle force, the Kingdom of Hawaii never had a population of 300,000.
Kamehameha quickly secured the islands of Maui and Molokai, which were only moderately defended. Then his troops moved from the big island of Hawaii on to Wai'alae and Waikiki on the island of Oahu.
Kamehameha defeated his archrival, Kaumualii by 1810. He emerged as the sovereign of the conquered Hawaiian islands chain; shortly thereafter formally established the big island of Hawaii as the seat of power over his newly established Kingdom of Hawaii.
He developed alliances with major Pacific colonial powers and Kamehameha was thereby able to preserve the independence of the Hawaiian islands under his rule. Kamehameha is noted for enacting Mamalahoe Kanawai, which is literally the Law of the Splintered Paddle.
Kamehameha devised the Law of the Splintered Paddle long before Hawaii was unified as the Kingdom of Hawaii. One of the two local fishermen, who were afraid of the great warrior, actually broke a large wooden paddle over the head of Kamehameha during a raid after his foot became stuck in a rock.
The force of the blow stunned Kamehameha and the fishermen left him, believing their attack had been deadly. The same fishermen were brought before Kamehameha twelve years later and they expected to receive sever punishment for it. They were stunned, however, when Kamehameha set them free.
But Kamehameha did more than simple give the fishermen their freedom; he also gave them gifts of land on the big island of Hawaii. King Kamehameha had blamed himself for his own attacks on innocent people. He therefore declared the Law of the Splintered Paddle, “Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety".
The Mamalahoe Kanawai law provides for human rights and safety of noncombatants in time of war. This law may have saved thousands of lives during the campaigns of Kamehameha. The Law of the Splintered Paddle became the first law written for the Kingdom of Hawaii. Splintered Paddle Law is still a part of the State Constitution of Hawaii today.
Kamehameha had his first dealings with white men when Captain James Cook made a voyage to Hawaii in 1779. Cook made landfall by the Kealakekua Bay after he sailed around the Archipelago Sea for about eight weeks. The Kealakekua Bay is located in the island that is known as the ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii.
Historians believe Cook may have been mistaken, by some of the Native Hawaiians, to be the Hawaiian god of fertility, Lono. Cook's traveled to Hawaii on Her Majesty's Ship Discovery; and it is believed that Kamehameha spent at least one night on board her.
Kamehameha died in 1819 and his body was secreted away by a trusted friend, Hoapili. The final resting place of Kamehameha remains unknown to this day. United States Capitol Building in Washington DC has a statue of Kamehameha in the National Statuary Hall, which represents Hawaii.
The Kingdom of Hawaii, which Kamehameha established, in fact retained independence (with the minor exception of a five-month occupation by the British 1843) up until the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898. The legacy of Kamehameha earned him the epithet of “Napoleon of the Pacific. "
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