Do you believe we are stronger united than divided?
So did King Kamehameha I.
Respect alike people both great and humble;
May everyone, from the old men and women to the children
Be free to go forth and lie in the road
Without fear of harm.
King Kamehameha I, Law of the Splintered Paddle, 1797
Every June, locals on Hawai’i Island offer mele prayers, hula dances, and lei wreaths to a radiantly painted, eight-foot sculpture of Hawai’i’s first king. Kamehameha Day honors the era of Hawai'ian independence, a history entwined with the legendary life of its greatest leader. Some locals believe that their offerings to the statue keep Kamehameha alive as protector of the "Aloha Spirit," and that he continues to watch over them from atop his splendid pedestal...
The historical Kamehameha comes to us in legendary stories and the mele chants passed down by generation after generation of native Hawaiians. Born under a great comet, it is said the future king was hidden in a secluded cave to protect him from jealous rivals. As an adult, Kamehameha was renowned for his size and imperiousness. It was he who finally toppled the great Naha Stone that prophecy held could only be moved by the man who would unite all Hawai’i.
In fact, Hawai’i did descend into a series of Civil Wars in Kamehameha's lifetime, as British explorers armed different factions in the hopes of dividing and annexing the islands rich in resources. The young Chief Kamehameha shrewdly acquired modern European weapons and advisors, but kept the British at bay with vague promises of future alliances while simultaneously working to unite the islanders.
Kamehameha thereafter modernized Hawai’i, opening trade with the West and establishing the basis of a written Hawaiian language as well as the nation's first constitutional government.
While often brutal to his enemies, Kamehameha was kind to his people, establishing the legal basis of human rights in Hawai’i. It is said that in 1797, the fierce king tripped and became stuck in battle while chasing a common fisherman. The vengeful fisherman struck the prostrate Kamehameha in the head with a canoe paddle, again and again, until it broke. When Kamehameha was rescued, he realized the fisherman had only been defending his family, and in response proclaimed the Law of the Splintered Paddle. The safety and welfare of Hawai'i's most vulnerable would forever afterwards be protected by the powerful, with government legitimacy measured by how well it safeguarded the most defenseless. The Law of the Splintered Paddle was later enshrined into the modern Constitution of the State of Hawaii. Even today, you find two crossed paddles emblazoned on the badge of the Hawaiian police force in memory of Kamehameha’s original law, which is still used successfully to advocate for the rights of elders, the homeless, and children.
Kamehameha’s descendants were later manipulated and deposed by Western powers, whose lust for Hawai’i’s resources led to the loss of land and rights for many native Hawai'ians in the late 19th century. However, Kamehameha’s example of noble leadership remains a source of spiritual energy and national pride for contemporary Hawaiians. They believe that Kamehameha continues to watch over them and that their June offerings to the statue help to protect and keep the alive the "Aloha Spirit" that Kamehameha embodied: the same spirit that ensures the protection of the powerless and typifies the generosity that continues to personify the people and culture of Hawaii and its unique history today.