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Gather 'round, internet children. I have a story to tell you about this guy Kamehameha, and how he went from being a royal-but-not-SUPER-royal baby that almost got murdered to ruthlessly conquering every island* in the Hawaiian chain and establishing for the first time a united Kingdom of Hawai‘i.

*Technically every island except Kaua‘i, but we'll get there.

This is a pretty epic story with a heck of a lot going on so I'm going to tell it in installments, and I'm not going to tell all of it because whoooooaaa too much, and also it's the early bits that take place on my island that I know the best. Also, it's worth noting—this is history, yes, but some of it is pretty shaky history that took place before the concept of writing shit down was introduced and some of it is based on hearsay and some of it has been a wee bit mythologized and some of it comes in multiple versions that contradict each other. So I'm not going to write this like a history essay with citations to historical sources, I'm going to tell it like a story, and some of what I say might turn out not to be strictly accurate if you managed to find a time machine and go back to the 17- and 1800s and observe the events as they happened, but here's the thing—a lot of our stories in Hawai‘i are like this, the stories might not be true but they are True, if you know what I mean.

So that's what this is. A True Story.

Part 1: The Birth of Pai‘ea

The man who would one day be known as Kamehameha I or Kamehameha the Great was born in 1758. Or maybe 1736. Or maybe 1753. Ok nobody really knows, but nearly everyone agrees it was sometime between 1736 and 1761, most likely the earlier end of that range, if you want accuracy you have come to the wrong story my friend.

His full name is listed as Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kauʻi Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea, but he was known in his youth as Pai‘ea, the Hard-Shelled Crab, so we're going to go with that for now.

Pai‘ea's father was Keōua Kalanikupuapaʻīkalaninui Ahilapalapa, but he is not the only Keōua in this story, so we're going to call him Keōua Nui, or Great Keōua. Keōua Nui was the son of the second son of the former king of Hawai‘i, so he was pretty royal. (Sidenote—at this point in history Hawai‘i refers to the island of Hawai‘i only, not the entire chain as it does now, because Pai‘ea/Kamehameha is only a baby and hasn't done his conquering yet. So, until further notice, Hawai‘i = a single island, not an archipelago.)

Pai‘ea's mother was Kekuʻiapoiwa II, daughter of a whole heap of royal lineages, double cousin of her husband Keōua Nui. She was also the niece of Alapa‘inui, who's kinda important so let's talk about him next.

Alapa‘inui was the current king of Hawai‘i when Pai‘ea is born. He was the nephew of the former king. When his uncle the king died, there was civil war between his cousins, the king's two sons, Keʻeaumoku Nui (Keōua Nui's dad, Pai‘ea's grandad) and Kalaninuiamamao. When the fighting died down, Alapa‘inui emerged as the victor and just took shit over. He took his deceased cousins' sons, Keōua Nui and Kalani‘ōpu‘u (Kalaninuiamamao's son, Keōua Nui's cousin AND half-brother... they had the same mom... look there was a lot of inbreeding in Hawaiian noble lines, SHIT'S COMPLICATED, just roll with it) into his court.

So anyway, the story goes that a new, bright star appeared in the sky, and the kahuna (priests) observed the star and prophesied that a great leader was about to be born who would be a conqueror of chiefs and rule over all of the islands. Meanwhile, Kekuʻiapoiwa became pregnant, and started to have some of those pregnancy cravings for weird shit like pickles and ice cream. Only instead of pickles and ice cream, she had a craving for the eye of a man-eating tiger shark. Based on this omen, the kahuna prophesied that her child would be a rebel and a killer of chiefs.

Now, as you can imagine, Alapa‘inui—whose job description was High Chief/King of Hawai‘i, wasn't super thrilled to hear about this murderous chief-killing conqueror baby. That shit's just not good job security. So he put a guard on Kekuʻiapoiwa's house, ready to cut that chief-murdering off at the pass by murdering the baby first.

Kekuʻiapoiwa's not an idiot, though, she figures out the king's trying to kill her baby and she makes Other Plans. And on a turbulent, stormy night, the wind howling and the thunder booming and the rain sheeting down, Keku‘iapoiwa endured the pain of childbirth in complete silence so the guards wouldn't hear, and the moment little Pai‘ea was born, she passed him out of the back of the house to a loyal lesser chief, Nae‘ole, who ran off with the child into the stormy night. Managing to escape, like, the ENTIRE ARMY trying to chase him down, Nae‘ole carried baby Pai‘ea to the remote and difficult-to-access valley of ‘Awini, where he and his half-sister Kaha‘ōpūlani nursed and raised Pai‘ea in solitude and secrecy for the first several years of his life.

And this is how Pai‘ea got the name that he would later claim as his royal title: Kamehameha, The Lonely One.

Stay tuned next time for further adventures and a lot of court intrigue. Spoiler alert: Kamehameha did not stay in ‘Awini Valley for the rest of his life.

[Part 2]

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