Hawaii is a place clothed in legends, many draped with colorful characters and magical tales that some people hold as true-life stories and others consider truth in living life. Sort of the difference between a biography and a how-to guide.
There is one man who stands out in Hawaii's history--so much so he was titled, Great. And that is Kamehameha the Great.
Kamehameha was no legend--he was a living, breathing man, who was born in 1758 and died in 1819. But he was legendary--with stories of standing seven feet tall and lifting a 5,000-pound rock (on display outside the Hilo Public Library) to fulfill a prophesy that said whoever lifted it would go on to conquer the Hawaiian Islands. Kamehameha did, establishing the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810.
Yesterday, June 11, shortly before noon, I was on the phone with friend (and author) Darien Gee
who paused in our conversation to explain the sudden outburst of voices in the background. "They just got back from the Kamehameha parade," she said about her three kids.
It clicked into place then. I finally understood why the phone didn't ring at 9:00 a.m. for my weekly conference call and why none of my co-workers in Honolulu had logged on their instant messaging accounts. My work day had been suspiciously quiet.
"Is it Kamehameha Day?" I asked.
"What? You don't know?" Darien said. The holiday isn't new. It was declared in 1871, even before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its annexation by the United States in 1898.
"Well, he's your neighbor," I said. "Not mine."
Kamehameha was born in North Kohala on Hawaii, the Big Island--practically down the street from Darien. In his quest to unify the Hawaiian archipelago he conquered--by force--all the islands except Kauai and Niihau. Kamehameha made two attempts to conquer these separate islands--and failed. Undeterred, Kamehameha set to amassing an armada of war canoes and foreign-built schooners with cannons. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Kauai's King Kaumualii opted for diplomacy instead of bloodshed and ceded Kauai to Kamehameha.
"And he didn't conquer Kauai," I said.
Kauaians take great pride in that. Even this malihini who after 13 years in Hawaii remembers better the birthday holiday of another great man, this one from her childhood home in the Land of Lincoln, illustrating the deep roots of childhood traditions.