Queen Ka'ahumanu
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Queen Ka'ahumanu

Kamehameha the Great may have been the king that united the Hawaiian islands under one ruler, but the Maui locals best remember one of his wives. Said to be Kamehameha's favorite wife, the Maui-born Ka'ahumanu[a] is front and center in the unification of the islands and their great leap forward. (Trivia: The Kamehameha Avenue is a fairly unremarkable two-lane street in Kahului. The Ka'ahumanu Avenue is a six-lane road also known as Highway 32.)

A good description of her life and times can be found at Coffee Times[b] and Wikipedia[c], but for the quick and dirty, here are the major points:

  • She did not have enough social standing to give Kamehameha a heir - that was done by Kamehameha's first wife. However, when the heir, Liholiho, came to Hawaii to assume his throne, Ka'ahumanu met him at the beach dressed in royal regalia and told him bluntly that "we're both going to rule". Liholiho agreed, and Ka'ahumanu became the prime minister and first female regent of Hawaii.

  • Together, Ka'ahumanu and Liholiho abolished all old pagan temples and the old taboos[d] that, among other things, had made it a capital offense for women to eat with men, for women to eat bananas and some other fruits, for anyone to have their head higher than the king's when in sight of him, and so on.

  • The driving force behind the abolishment of the old pagan religion was that the Hawaiians saw western sailors ignore the taboos without incurring the wrath of the gods. Obviously, the gods could not be very powerful, nor care very much for the taboos. When one of Kamehameha's wives threw a fistful of sacred berries right down the crater on Hawaii after having read a Christian prayer, and was not struck down dead instantly, the cult of Pele was abruptly jettisoned.

    Would that today's people were just as smart!

Statue of Ka'ahumanu in the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. All coins thrown in the pool are donated to local charities.