Hānau ka ʻāina, hānau ke aliʻi: When was Kamehameha Born?

#72 in the Moʻolelo series

Hānau ka ʻāina, hānau ke aliʻi, hānau ke kanaka.

Born was the land, born were the chiefs, born were the common people
[The land, the chiefs, and the commoners belong together.]

ʻŌlelo Noeau #466

Kamakau devised some kind of dating system for events that occured before Cook’s arrival in which he could even name the month in which various events took place! In true Hawaiian perspective, this system gave the months in the Hawaiian moon calendar. However this dating system does not seem to have been accurate. Kamakau writes “Kamehameha was born at Kokoiki in Kohala in 1736.” The translators include an extensive note in Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi:

Kamakau’s date for the birth of Kamehameha has been challenged as over twenty years too early on the basis, first, of Kamakau’s general inaccuracy in matters of dating; second, contemporary estimates of voyagers who visited the islands during Kamehameha’s lifetime; third, the events of his life, which would, in case the early date is accepted, put his career as a warrior well into middle life; fourth, the contemporary record by Don Francisco Paula de Marin, who, according to Wyllie’s copy of Marin’s journal (in Archives of Hawaii) puts his age at death (1819) at 60 years 6 months. The whole argument has been set forth in detail by the Hawaiian Historical Society (29). J. F. G. Stokes treats of the subject also (33). On the basis of further evidence, Kuykendall favors 1753 or several years earlier as the probable birth date

Kamakau, 1992, 66fn

Let us make a timeline for this date compared to the more accepted date of 1758 and see how events line up to it, shall we, dear reader?

Event1736 – age if true1758 – age if true
Cook 17784220
Death of Kalaniopuʻu 17824624
Hawaiʻi Is. unification 17915533
Battle of Nuʻuanu 17955937
Transfer of Kauaʻi 18106451-52
Death 18198360 (60 1/2?)

Cook met Kamehameha and took him onboard his ship. James King, who made the first population estimate of Hawaiʻi, was enough taken with Kamehameha to write about him. The Captain Cook Society relates the encounter:

Cook and his men had met Kamehameha in 1779, when he was a young and formidable warrior, age about 20.  James King wrote that Kamehameha had ʻas savage a looking face as I ever saw but that his wild appearance contrasted with his disposition which was good natured and humorous’


Described as having an “age about 20,” and called “a young and formidable warrior,” it is highly unlikely King was describing a Kamehameha born in Kamakau’s timeline.

At the end of his life, a painter captured the aging chief’s image – one can look for oneself and decide whether this is a battle-weary 60-year old or an 83 year old who aged well despite the ravages of disease (Kamehameha caught the Maʻi Okuʻu in 1804, which killed the great warrior Keʻeaumoku, aged about 83!) The painter gave Kamehameha’s aged as 60 years and 6 months. This lines up perfectly with a timeline that has him born in the stormy season of late 1758, probably November. We know Kamehameha died on May 8th, 1819 – he would have been 61 had he lived to the end of that year.

Finally, Halley’s comet was seen in other parts of the world in 1819. While there were other comets in a twenty year period around Kamehamehaʻs birth, the timeline above suggests that it was, in fact, Halley’s Comet that was seen at his birth.

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