The Most Underrated Figures in Hawaiian History

I’m not numbering these because they’re not in any particular order. I had some help from my Facebook group Mooolelo: Hawaiian History. Unlike my previous attempts at crowdsourcing, their responses aligned quite well with my own views. (I would have had David Malo in the number one spot for greatest Hawaiian thinker – there, I said it).  I also avail myself the the research of others, such as Ron Williams, Jr. and Marie Alohilani Brown.

The Beckleys

Michael E. Malulani K. Odegaard provided the following description:

Designer of the hae Hawaiʻi, the English privateer Capt. George Beckley was the kapu chief hānaied by Kamehameha Nui who equipped him with ships to build his armada, and, after expelling the Russians from Honolulu harbor, Kamehameha installed him as Commander of the fort from which Honoluluʻs oldest street gets its name; truly Beckley founded the modern city of Honolulu. His offspring, children of High Chiefess Ahia of Hilo, were important builders of the Hawaiian Kingdom. His son Malulani Beckley brought the first paniolo to Hawaiʻi. Nāwahī Street in downtown Hilo was until a few years ago Beckley Street, but because of Josephʻs surging popularity, the street which points to his ilina went through a name change, although the tract maps of the city block surrounding the street retain the Beckley name.

I would add another underrated Beckley: Fred Beckley, who was part of the Kalakaua school of Lua and his study abroad program.


the King is of course not unknown, but I feel his amazing vision is under appreciated. The study abroad program was doing what we are now – sending young future leaders away for the best education the world can offer – in the 1870s at great expense to the national coffers. He was training a future leadership. His 7-member Lua school was preserving the heritage of the past. He started three royal orders to network with world leaders. He was a Freemason in several lodges; 33rd degree in Scottish Rite masonry (the highest level). Hale Naua II, the “Temple of Science” was a rigorous scientific and cultural society that published articles in European journals, to good reviews. Like Kuhio, I feel Kalakaua was not remembered mainly for his strengths.

William Punohuʻaweoweoʻulaokalani White

A Lahaina senator, White was co-author of the constitution Queen Liliuokalani was trying to implement in 1893. If Nawahi was her right hand man, White was her left.

Albert Kunuiakea

As I wrote in The Five Most Pervasive Myths in Hawaiian History:

The last of the high-born Kamehamehas was Albert Kūnuiakea, son of Kamehameha III. Albert seemed to be a persona non grata since he was “illegitimate” as the son of Kauikeaouli and Jane Lahilahi Young. This made him Queen Emma’s cousin, and the black sheep of that family. He was literally “the man would be be king,” that is, if the missionaries hadnʻt brought the notion of illegitimacy with them.

Albert Kūnuiakea (1852 - 1901)

Think about it: he could have been Kamehameha IV, rather than Alexander Liholiho, and Albert lived into the twentieth century. So the son of Kamehameha III could have been king for 40 years by the time of the overthrow, making such an event much less likely. He is buried at Mauna Ala, recognition that he was a royal in the 20th century.

There are also many other descendants of Kamehameha – see the book Kamehameha’s Children Today.

The Bishop women

Aside from Pukui, I’ve always marveled at the 20th century women of Bishop Museum and associated institutions who labored in relative obscurity when it was definitely not cool to do so. People like Edith McKenzie, Dorothy Kahananui, Esther Mo’okini and quite a few others made a critical bridge for us to cross today to access the nineteenth century archival knowledge.

John Papa I’i

I’i’s Fragments of Hawaiian History  are just that – fragments of all that he wrote. The rest remains to be published (we talked about this on the Kamehameha Publishing editorial board). With her research, Alohilani Brown is working hard to change this. I’i was the old timer who chided upstarts like Samuel Kamakau, and told them how things really were in the time of Kamehameha I and II, because he was there.


I know they say that almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but Kalaunuiohua almost united the islands so long before Kamehameha, I think it counts in this case. He got captured on Kaua’i, which even Kamehameha never defeated militarily (though he could have and probably would have).


One of the most underrated and dramatic moments in all of Hawaiian history must have been the battle of Kuamo’o, where the defender of the faith died with his wife Manono at his side in a hail of musket fire. The Beamer family, descendants of Manono are trying to get the site preserved. That it isn’t already is a testament to the sway of Christianity, and explains Kekuaokalani’s baffling obscurity.

Kamokila Campbell

Thanks to the Hawaiian Patriots project, Campbell deserves less and less to be in this list. Still, the woman who roared “I am Hawai’i” can scarcely be overrated. Dean Sarranillio has documented her influence as a voice opposing statehood, showing the folly of aiming for “a thimbleful of votes” in Congress.


A fourteen-year old opposes his mentor Kahekili in order to hold onto O’ahu. ‘Nuff said.


Imagine John Young. But Hawaiian. And an ali’i. This is Ka’iana. He sailed as far as China and according to an article in the Hawaiian Journal of History, walked in Canton insistent on wearing his feather cape and helmet. He was about 6’3″ and would have been conspicuous in China in the 1780s to say the least. He was in Kamehameha’s retinue, but felt that he was on the outs, and defected to Kalanikupule’s side. He perished in the battle of Nu’uanu.

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