king kamehameha

Photo: Getty Images/ferrantraite

3 Legends About Hawaiʻi's King Kamehameha

Numerous myths and legends surround the life of King Kamehameha, unifier of the Hawaiian Islands and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.

Warrior. Leader. Ruler. Legend. King Kamehameha the Great held many titles during his reign as ali‘i nui (high chief, ruler) of the Hawaiian Islands. Celebrated as one of the most important and significant rulers in Hawaiian history, the monarch is honored on June 11—King Kamehameha Day—when lei draping ceremonies, parades and other cultural celebrations take place across the Hawaiian Islands. And though his impact on the Hawaiian archipelago was immense—he united all of the major Hawaiian Islands and founded the Kingdom of Hawai‘i—there are still many myths, legends and unanswered questions surrounding the great king.

One legend told about King Kamehameha I begins with his birth. Though the exact date is unknown, he’s believed to have been born between 1736 and 1761. The myth states that Kamehameha was born on an ikuwā (winter) night in the year 1758; on that same night, Halley’s Comet streaked across the sky, setting Kamehameha on his path to greatness. According to legend, kāhuna (Hawaiian priests) foretold that the unifier of the Hawaiian Islands would be born under such an astronomical event. Of course, the current ali‘i (royalty) were not pleased with the idea of being thrown out of power, and Kamehameha had to be raised in relative secrecy with the aid of his uncle, Kalani‘ōpu‘u.

naha stone
The Naha Stone sits in front if the Hilo Public Library.
Photo: Spencer Kealamakia

Another legend comes in the form of a 5,000-pound stone that can be found in front of the Hilo Public Library on Hawai‘i Island. Known as the Naha Stone, the rock was used in ancient times to determine the legitimacy of a baby born into the royal Naha bloodline. The infant was placed on the stone and if it remained silent, it was of Naha descent; if the infant cried, it was cast out. However, it was also prophesied that whomever could move or overturn the stone would have the mana (divine power) to unify all of the major Hawaiian Islands. And Kamehameha did just that, overturning the stone as young as age 14, according to some sources.

Finally, one of the more profound mysteries involving Kamehameha is where the monarch was laid to rest. When the king died in 1819, one of his last orders was to entrust his bones to Hoapili, the king’s lieutenant, who then placed Kamehameha’s remains in a sacred burial cave. This was to protect the iwi (bones) as it was thought that the bones of powerful individuals contained mana that could benefit whoever was in possession of them. A Hawaiian proverb reads, “The morning star alone knows where Kamehameha’s bones are guarded,” and to this day it still rings true. While there is much speculation on the location of Kamehameha’s final resting place, nobody knows the truth.

And like most myths and legends and the questions that surround them, sometimes it’s better to leave the answers to our vivid, wild imaginations.

This story was published in the May/June 2020 issue of HAWAIʻI Magazine. Buy a copy here.