Fact or Fiction ~ Is it the 200th Anniversary of Kamehameha III’s Birth at Keauhou or Not?!!
This March, our photos record a sentimental moment in Kona’s 20th century history: the day the Daughters of Hawai`i chose to honor Kauikeaouli by attaching a stone plaque to his birth stone at Keauhou Bay. Photo # 1 shows this basalt tablet carved in 1913 at Mr. McEldowney’s Honolulu Monument Works. It reads:
Shortly after this stone was completed, Thomas Thrum published a report that indicated the king was actually born on March 17, 1813, one year earlier than the Daughters had believed (and carved into stone). Not to be over-ruled by history, the Daughters voted to keep the 1814 date on their plaque and forge forward with their celebrations.
Over two thousand people first caught sight of this plaque at Honolulu’s Kawaiha`o Church during an elaborate ceremony held on March 17, 1914, the day the Daughters originally thought was the 100th anniversary of the King’s birthday. The deposed former ruler of the Hawaiian Islands, Queen Lili`uokalani, was in attendance, seated on a regal feather cloak draped throne. Next to her was High Chiefess Elizabeth Keka`aniau Pratt, both ladies surrounded by high ranking Hawaiian dignitaries. At the critical moment, the Queen and Chiefess unveiled the plaque, a beautiful Hawaiian chant was sung, and the church resounded with music from Kamehameha Schools Glee Club. All reports glowed with the pageantry and beauty of the occasion.*
Photo # 2 shows a dramatic moment during the Second Ceremony - the plaque’s arrival at Keauhou Bay on August 15, 1914. The stone (difficult to see) is resting on a platform between the hulls of the double canoe on the right. The paddlers have jumped ashore, grateful the canoe did not huli during the voyage from Kailua and pitch the stone beneath the calm Pacific’s blue waters. A procession of least ten outrigger canoes, each one manned by paddlers wearing various interpretations of traditional Hawaiian dress – malo over shorts, capes, cloaks, and wielding feather kahili – will land shortly as well. If we were at Keauhou Bay that morning, we would have already experienced hours of fanfare and spectacle. The steamer Mauna Loa had anchored at Kailua Bay the day before, on August 14, carrying not only the stone marker, but dozens of Daughters, the former Queen, and Prince Jonah K. Kalani`ana`ole, one of the Territory of Hawai`i’s delegates to Congress. A long and lively ceremony on the grounds of Hulihe`e Palace started the proceedings. The stone was hoisted off the Mauna Loa, placed on the double canoe and paddled down the coast to Keauhou Bay. After the stone’s arrival, twelve strong Hawaiian men carried it “on a litter” to the enclosed birth site, part of the late Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s estate. As the stone was cemented into place, a moving tribute to King Kamehameha III was offered by Pastor Stephen Desha, and a good time was had by hundreds of spectators and guests.
So, these photos were taken nearly 99 years ago, and since that day, nearly a full century of birthday celebrations has come and gone. The Daughters of Hawai`i have since purchased the land on which the birthstone and plaque rest, and that organization and the powers that be at Bishop Estate, now Kamehameha Schools, share responsibility for keeping the stones safe, well tended, and surrounded by a buffer of suitable beauty and tranquility. One Daughter in particular, Kona’s own Barbara Nobriga, has fulfilled this duty more faithfully and fervently than any other. It has been her sharp eye, kept focused on activities at the Bay, and her firm voice, reminding would-be builders of twostory dive shops and ticky-tacky snack bars that written restrictions prohibit their fanciful dreams, that have preserved the dignity of Kauikeaouli’s memorial. The tsunami of 2011 filled Keauhou Bay to the brim with destructive waters, but the birthstone escaped undamaged, unlike many other structures nearby.
The confusion surrounding the King’s birth date makes me wonder about the value of dates in general. Kauikeaouli’s “real” birthday was sometime in July or August of 1813, but any date is basically a guess. The King supposedly chose to celebrate his birthday on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, although it is difficult to picture early missionaries filling the young prince’s head with jolly stories about a Roman Catholic saint in Ireland. Fact: Kamehameha I died in 1819, so his second high ranking son was just 5 or 6 years old at the time of his death Some historical accounts have the powerful queens, Ka`ahumanu and Keopuolani, sitting down to eat with Kauikeaouli long before they enticed his older brother Lihiliho to join them. What did he think as his world crumbled before his eyes? Was he aware of what was happening, or was he just too young? As the years passed, Kauikeaouli was known to favor alcohol, and, in fact, spent several youthful years enthusiastically drinking. He actively rebelled against changes brought about in his kingdom by the arrival of foreigners, foreign ways, changing laws, missionaries, and strict aunts and uncles who told him what to do. To be thrown into kingship at the age of 9 or 10 or 11 was an unhealthy situation, to say the least. For any man, to be pulled between two cultures would be difficult at the best of times and nearly impossible when it came to matters of love and marriage.
Kauikeaouli was not the last of Kamehameha’s children to be born at Keauhou. Keopuolani returned in 1815 to give birth to Nahienaena, Kauikeaouli’s full sister. Robert Dampier, ship’s artist on H.M.S. Blonde, the English man o’ war that carried the bodies of Liholiho and his queen back to Hawaii in 1824, painted portraits of the young royal siblings, both wearing beautiful feather capes and staring wide eyed and innocent into the future. Not surprisingly, some old chiefs thought Kauikeaouli should marry his sister and, equally unsurprisingly, the very thought of such a union made blood curdle in other circles. After the death of their mother in 1823, some accounts hold the king actually did marry his sister in 1834, action that brought the full force of missionary disapproval down upon the young and devout princess. Distraught and unhappy, she married another man and had a son who died shortly after his birth in 1836. Poor Nahienaena died within weeks after this tragic event and her brother, in truth her lover, built her a mausoleum at Lahaina, next to their mother’s grave. Her death was said to “have a sobering effect on her brother,” both figuratively and literally.
Kauikeaouli defied the matrimonial schemes of his half-sister Kinau (who wanted him to marry a high ranking bride) and married Kailua-Kona born Kalama, daughter of Naihe the Pilot, also known as “Captain Jack,” on February 14, 1837. The marriage did produce two sons, although sadly, both babies died very young. I did not know until now that Kauikeaouli also had a royal mistress, Jane Lahilahi, a daughter of John Young. She was born at Kawaihae in May of 1813, the same year as her future sweetheart! Young Jane was the childhood companion of Princess Nahienaena, two Hawai`i island girls of high rank, brought up in the same extraordinary era of change and confusion. Both girls may have idolized the young king, admired him wearing his fine suits of western clothing and having his way at court, and dreamed of one day becoming his wife. Incredibly, Jane bore the King twin sons in 1853, a year before his death. Keoua died young, but Albert Kunuiaha became the adopted son of Queen Kalama and lived until 1902!
So, when we consider the turbulent years of Kauikeaouli’s reign and the heartbreaking conflicts he endured, the Daughters chose wisely when they inscribed “Ka Moi Lokomaikai” on his stone. He was indeed a kind hearted and good king. He deserved a happy birthday and when a man is king, he can choose St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate his birthday if he likes. The March date must have been important to him, so the Daughters inscribed it in stone. It doesn’t seem to matter very much anymore if it was in 1813 or 1814, does it?
* The Daughters of Hawai`i, founded in 1903, published their own official history to mark their 100th anniversary. Curious readers will find more detail about the plaque and the birth site in Na Lani Kaumaka, A Century of Historic Preservation by Barbara Del Piano, published in 2005, pages 29 – 39. Thank you, Daughters, for caring.
P.S. The unspoiled southern coastline of Keauhou Bay in photo # 2 deserves a second look, nearly unrecognizable in 2013, two hundred years after our Kona king was born. P.P.S. In Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen by Liliuokalani (1898), she carefully penned these words which make me question her approval of all the fanfare at Keauhou. “Kamehameha I was, indeed, the founder of Hawaiian unity, and worthy of the surname of the Great; but it is truthfully recorded in the early histories of the Islands, - those written by such men as Mr. Pogue, Mr. Dibble, and others, –that he owed his selection for the monarchy to the chiefs from whom the latest reigning family, my own, is descended.” Well!
Aloha no, e Kona.
by Maile Melrose