Separated from the rest of us by the vast Pacific, the 50th United State stands alone—literally. But just what makes Hawaii so different? It’s not the magnificent mountains or the tranquil trade winds or the tropical atmosphere. Nah. None of those. It’s the Royalty. Yes, that’s right—kings and queens. Hawaii is the only state that was once ruled by a royal family starting with King Kamehameha the Great!Born in 1758 on the Big Island, the infant king was originally named Paiea, meaning ‘Hard-Shelled Crab’. He was the son of Keoua, a high chief, and Kekuiapoiwa, the daughter of King Alapai. Legend tells us that he was born right after an appearance of Halley’s Comet. This prompted the kahunas, or high priests, to predict that this child would grow to be the slayer of chiefs and sole ruler over the islands. As a result, Alapai ordered the death of all male infants, but his grandson was secretly whisked away by the priests and quietly raised by a childless couple until he came of age. Separated from his family, Paiea took the name Kamehameha, meaning, ‘The Lonely One’.
Eventually, Kamehameha came under the guidance of his uncle, Kalaniopu’u, who was Chief of the Big Island. After his uncle’s death, he became second in command next to Kalaniopu’u’s son and heir, Kiwaloa. When Kiwaloa was killed in a dispute, Kamehameha became King, but he didn’t stop there. He continued attacking and conquering each of the islands one by one. He even invaded Maui with cannons. The battle that followed in Iao Valley is considered one of the bloodiest. Fatalities were so high that the nearby waters were dammed up with bodiesBy 1795, Kamehameha was the undisputed king of all the Hawaiian Islands except Kauai. Determined to take over this last island, he launched war canoes from Oahu, but rough seas forced him back. Later, he planned a raid from the Big Island, but ended up in Maui by mistake. On his final attempt to take over, an unexpected outbreak of what was probably typhoid fever or cholera swept through his ranks killing many of his followers. He then tried a new tactic—he offered his protection to the island and Kauai’s chief accepted. Upon the chief’s death, several years later, Kauai finally became part of Kamehameha’s kingdom.
As king, Kamehameha had ultimate power, but to help him rule, he appointed a governor to each island. He outlawed the common practice of human sacrifice and ensured that the local chiefs did not abuse the Hawaiian people. It is said that King Kamehameha was a commanding figure—almost seven feet tall. He reigned for 24 years until his death in 1819 at the age of 70. Deeply mourned by his people, his remains were hidden in a secret cave somewhere on the Big Island. The exact location is unknown and Hawaiian folklore says that the servants who buried him were killed to ensure the burial site would never be revealed.Each year on June 11th, the state of Hawaii officially remembers by celebrating King Kamehameha Day. A true warrior, he was not afraid to fight for what he believed in. A wise and gentle ruler, he united the islands and for the first time brought peace and a sense of well-being to the Hawaiian people.