Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kamehameha Rules!

At age 32, in 1790, Kamehameha the Great built the enormous Pu'ukohola Heiau (temple) in honor of the war god Ku, and to celebrate a series of inter-island battle victories that had left him the first ruler of all the islands (except Kauai, at that point). The great king (pushing seven feet tall and well over three-hundred pounds) toiled alongside the thousands of workers who hauled stone to complete the task.

Kamehameha's ascent to the throne has not been a gimme, starting from his birth, which had to take place in secret on the windy shores of Kohala to avoid the would-be monarch from being killed by rivals. During his military victories on Maui, Molokai, and Oahu in the late 1780s, Kamehameha found he had lost some turf in his absence to his Big Island cousin, Keoua Kuahu'ula. In 1791, Keoua was invited to the heiau's dedication ceremony, where he became the life of the party, or rather death, since things got out of hand and the cousin and his retinue we slain on the shore. Kamehameha's rule was then unquestioned. (Kauai capitulated a few years later, but that's another story.)

Pu'ukohola is now a National Historic Site, located next to Spencer Beach park on the north end of the South Kohala Coast. The ladder scaffolding pictured on one rock face is a replica of those used in original construction, but this one was put up to make repairs after a 2006 earthquake.