Kamehameha III’s Forgotten Joint- Ruler?
The Affair of Kamehameha III and Kaomi Moe
In official biographies of Kamehameha III, one would find that the standard text would say something King Kamehameha III’s reforms towards constitutional government, the Great Mahele, and his problems with the French and English. In some biographies, one would also find references to his dealings with half sister, Kuhina Nui Princess Elizabeth Kina’u and his attempts to marry his real sister, Nahi’ena’ena. But only in Hawaiian language newspapers and in Kamakau’s work, “Ruling Chiefs”, does one find out that Kamehameha had a joint ruler (mo’i ku’i) and had publically announced in 1831 that he was in a ‘aikane relationship with that person–much to the horror of his half sister, Kina’u, and to the missionaries.
That person was Kaomi.
In the 1830s, the young Kamehameha III began to rebel. When Ka’ahumanu was still alive, she would force the young king to attend church and to give sermons to the Hawaiian people on the evils of Hawaiian culture. Under Ka’ahumanu, nearly everything Hawaiian was banned–from tattooing to boxing to hula. Then suddenly in 1832, she died but before her death appointed her successor, Kina’u. Immediately upon her death, the ‘Aha ‘Ula, the governing council of chiefs (three-fourths of whom by this time had been appointed by her), drew up the proclamation and announced to Kamehameha III that Kina’u was now his hanai mother and she was to be his kuhina nui. Kamehameha III was at that time a short (he was only 5’4 or 5’5) bubbly 18 years old. He was no longer a minor. But then, a realization had set in. The foreign consuls told Kamehameha III directly that:
‘You do not rule the country. It is Ka-ʻahu-manu who rules. In our countries the law does not apply to the king but only to the chiefs and common people. This is a law of the missionaries.’ So the king was angry, and after Ka-ʻahu-manu’s death all Oahu turned to evil ways. (Kamakau, p335)
At this time, his major political supporter was Kaomi, the person whom he had been living with for the last several years. According to Kamakau in “Ruling Chiefs”:
…Kaomi was the son of a native of Borabora named Moe, and a Hawaiian woman named Ka-hua-moa, so he was part Boraboran and part Hawaiian. He was a friend of Ka-ʻahu-manu’s brother, Ka-hekili Keʻe-au-moku, and became a favorite of the king not because he was well-educated and intelligent, but because he knew something of the art of healing, could tell the symptoms of diseases, had learned from Boki and Ka-ʻoʻo how to diagnose a disease by feeling the body of a patient and [could prescribe] the proper medicine to cure it. Since his advice was successful *.he king conceived a great liking for him. He had moreover the power to tell a funny story entertainingly, and for these reasons he was admitted to intimacy with the king. When the king took up sinful ways he gave Kaomi the title of ‘joint king, joint ruler’ (moi kuʻi, au-puni kuʻi) [My note to the readers: ku’i in Hawaiian is a very strong word and it implies a union or marriage. The word ku’i was in fact used in the Hawaiian translations of some marital rites], appointed chiefs, warriors, and guards to his service, and made his name honorable. Any chief, prominent citizen, member of the king’s household, or any man at all who wanted land, clothing, money, or anything else that man might desire, applied to Kaomi. He had the power to give or lend for the government. Landless chiefs were enriched by Kaomi and landless men also received land through him. The king’s love of pleasure grew, and evil ways that had been stamped out were revived. The natural impulses of the old days—prostitution, liquor drinking, the hula—came back. The liquor distilleries were again opened. Only in the district of Waialua was the distillation of liquor not allowed. All kinds of indulgence cropped up. People poured in from Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai, for on Oahu the marriage laws were not observed, but on the other islands the rulers were strict in their enforcement of Kau-i-ke-aouli’s law. Such infringements of the law as knocking out the teeth, tattooing, tobacco smoking, and other small sins were punished by working on the road. … No one of the chiefs dared attempt to turn the king back to right living. Not even his foster mothers, Kinaʻu and Ke-ka-ulu-ohi, could utter a word. The king’s mind was set. Only once did his mind seem to give way and that was when his sister, Harriet Nahi-ʻenaʻena, came to take him to Maui to live until the confusion ceased on Oahu. This was in June, 1833, and the king consented to please his sister; but on the night for sailing, June 21, when his sister had called for him at Kapamoʻo and they had gone hand in hand down to the boat, the sister’s arm about her brother’s neck, as they came close to Mr. French’s house he excused himself to her to enter the house and did not return. He had vanished leaving his sister weeping and wailing for her brother…. (p. 335-336)
From that paragraph, one can see that Kamehameha III was not living with his sister (as some biographies claim) but with his Kaomi on O’ahu (though the capital at that time was Lahaina). As a side note, one finds an interesting cultural note: the custom of removing teeth (the Hawaiian term could also be interpreted as blackening the teeth)–a practice that is still observed in parts of Indonesia and Micronesia.
So was Kamehameha III “da kine”?
The gossip among the chiefs and abroad in country places was that it was Kaomi who had seduced the king, but this was not true for he had shown a fondness for such tempting delights even before Kaomi became his favorite. Even when Ka-ʻahu-manu was alive, at the time when they were making a tour of Maui and Hawaii, gossip about him had been raised at Kailua and was known to Ka-ʻahu-manu. She tried to put a stop to it by reminding the king how they had labored to teach to the people righteousness according to the word of God, and how the king had himself laid down the law that “the chief or commoner who commits adultery shall be punished by being put to hard labor,” but the king would not listen to her. “The lover has been deaf even from ancient times.” The king said, “Let me work at hard labor as the law that I have made for my kingdom says.” Ka-ʻahu-manu gave him a young chiefess to become his wife by marriage, but he would not consent. (p334)
Indeed, same gender marriage-like (I use the term “marriage-like” since the concept of “marriage” is different in the Hawaiian sense) were not unusual. Lt. Charles Clerke, who became captain of the Endeavor after Captain Cook’s death noted in his journal that:
[E]very aree [ali’i] according to his rank keeps so many women and so many young men (I’car’nies [‘aikane] they call them) for the amusement of his leisure time; they talk of this infernal practice with all the indifference in the world, nor do I suppose they imagine any degree of infamy to it.
Although heavily Christian forty years later, people such as Kamakau and David Malo saw very little need to cover up the exact nature of the relationship between the king and Kaomi as that was a common ali’i practice, though they also had to rebuke it since they were after all writing about it to a largely Christian audience. The interesting point, however, is that English language sources completely cover up. Kuykendall and others while mentioning Kaomi by name, only briefly talk about the relationship or how Kaomi held the title of mo’i ku’i. However, this was one of the first times in Hawaiian history where the ‘aikane relationship would have a strong political and cultural impact on the Hawaiian nation.
Everyone knew that Kamehameha III basically hated his half sister and wanted a return to the Hawaiian ways of his father’s period. Levi Chamberlain wrote in his diary on February 8, 1833 that:
… There are a good many things which look as though the King meant to bring things round to his will; or at least to make the attempt. He probably feels restricted and he wishes to follow his own inclinations more fully without so much regard to the chiefs as he has been heretofore under the necessity of paying. (Kuykendall, History of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Volume 1. p 135
Among the decisions that Kamehameha III and Kaomi disliked was the way that Kina’u and the other chiefs were leasing land (remember this is pre-Great Mahele so no one owned the land but only leased the land) to their favorites at the expense of the common people. Kaomi’s mother was a commoner. Kaomi felt a great degree of sympathy for the maka’ainana. That is probably another reason was his advice was sought. On March 15, 1833, the king issued the following decree:
These are my thoughts to all ye chiefs, classes of subjects and foreigners respecting this country which by the victory of Mokuohai was conquered by my Father and his chiefs—it has descended to us as his and their posterity. This is more—all that is within it, the living and the dead, the good and the bad, the agreeable and the pleasant—all are mine. I shall rule with justice over all the land, make and promulgate all laws: neither the chiefs nor the foreigners have any voice in making laws for this country. I alone am the one [another translation could be, I am the sole authority]. Those three laws which were given out formerly remain still in force, viz. not to murder, not to steal, not to commit adultery; therefore govern yourselves accordingly. (Kuykendall, 135)
At some point, Kina’u basically said to hell with this and decided to preempt the inevitable. So she went to see Hoapili, Liliha’s father. When Kamehameha II was still alive, he had appointed Boki and Liliha as the kahu of his brother, Kamehameha III. Therefore, there was a great personal relationship between Liliha and Kamehameha III. Kina’u knew that Liliha would be appointed as kuhina nui in her place and decided to up the ante. So she went to Liliha’s father and said:
…On a night of November, 1833, when the consuls, prominent white residents, chiefs, officers of the government, and members of the army were gathered for the appointment of Liliha and Paki, Hoa-pili came with Ke-kauaʻi-ʻeleʻele to Kinaʻu’s house where Ke-ka-ulu-ohi and her companions were staying. Kinaʻu said to Hoa-pili, “I sent for you to give your opinion in a matter of right or wrong.” “What is it about?” “This is what it is about: Tonight Liliha is to be apponted premier of the kingdom. This will perhaps be to your advantage for she is your daughter but we must suffer.” Hoa-pili bowed his head and then lifted it again and said to Kinaʻu, “My daughter is but a tenant, the house is yours. You are the daughter of Kamehameha; we are but tenants.” Kinaʻu said, “It must perhaps be as the king wishes.” Hoa-pili, without thought for his own advantage, replied, “If you want the premiership of the kingdom the place is yours.” “How can that be? [she asked]. No chief is allowed to enter the king’s place. It is guarded by soldiers with guns and byoreign guards. A chief who enters dies.” “They would only fire off a gun” [Hoa-pili answered]. So it was agreed to go that night to the king’s house at Hale-uluhe on the Beretania grounds.
Some days later the party met the king again, namely, Hoa-pili, Kua-kini, Ka-iki-o-ʻewa, Kinaʻu, Ke-ka-ulu-ohi, Liliha, Ke-kau-ʻonohi, and the rest, and the king agreed to appoint Elizabeth Kinaʻu his premier and the governor of the island of Oahu and of the fort, in place of Kua-kini; and Kua-kini returned to Hawaii and continued to serve as governor of that island.
The party consisted of Elizabeth Kinaʻu, Ke-ku-anaoʻa, and two armed men, Kani-ku and Ka-ʻai-puaʻa; Ke-ka-ulu-ohi and Ka-naʻina with two armed men, Halali and Kilinahe; and Ulu-maheihei Hoa-pili with Ke-kauaʻi and Ka-ʻumiʻumi. The yard was lined with soldiers armed with guns and swords, foreigners behind them, and officers mounted on horses and carrying swords. Ulu-maheihei went first, then the young women, and after them the escort. In defence of the dignity of their rank as chiefs they risked their lives, and did not wait to be announced as daughters of Kamehameha. As they drew close to the white soldiers they were recognized and someone told the king. He called out, “Come in!” and wept aloud as he kissed his foster mothers whom he saw again for the first time, and the foreign soldiers hearing the wailing withdrew. The king asked Hoa-pili, “Why did you come here?” Hoa-pili replied, “We came because we had heard rumors that you were going to appoint Liliha premier of the kingdom. You must first kill me before making my daughter premier lest I be blamed as her parent. Here is the daughter of the house of Kamehameha. Let her serve you. My daughter is but a tenant here.” The king answered, “I love these two and I also love Liliha, but these two I love because they keep my laws.” Hoa-pili said, “Do me this favor to place the duties of the kingdom upon her who is here ready to serve you.” “I consent, but Liliha must hear of this,” said the king. Liliha was called and was found drunk.
Elizabeth Kinaʻu became premier [again] during a period of riotous pleasure-seeking. Law was set at naught. Fighting, murdering, adultery, prostitution, plural marriage, disregard of the marriage law, drunkenness, and the distilling of liquor went on all over Oahu as far as Kalae-okalaʻau and Kaʻieʻiewaho. Beyond these points the laws were effective. In Honolulu lips smacked over the flesh of baked dog. The chiefs who took part in this new regime were Liliha, Paki, and many chiefs of high and of low rank, government officials, and all of the household of the king. They did just as they pleased, neither standing up nor prostrating themselves in the presence of the king. Kaomi, the joint ruler, reigned supreme….”
As mentioned earlier, Kaomi’s father was from Borabora. Borabora, Tahiti, and Ra’iatea were the heartlands of the arioi, a Polynesian religious sect which preached in egalitarianism and a form of monist (not to be confused with monotheism) theology centered around Oro. Those who believed in Oro believed that all humans were his children and the distinctions between ari’i (ali’i) and manahune (commoners) were artificial and that the real distinction were those who were initiated in the sect and those who were not. Marriage, chiefly tabus, and other restrictions were not a big thing for arioi. All of this is pre-European which shows that Polynesian cultures were not static museum displays but rather vibrant and sometimes sudden radical changes. It also shows that Polynesians indeed had their own prophets and philosophers. In the case of Kaomi, his father was probably a practitioner of the arioi which is why he had such a strong dislike of authority and celebrated the pre-Christian past.
After a year, some of the Christian chiefs began to plot against Kaomi and an assassination plan was hatched.
…Some people were delighted with the government of Kaomi, and some were disappointed and angry, but their wrath was in vain for the king himself indulged in sinful pleasures, disliked advice in these matters, and would not be “enticed to do right,” as he himself put it. Some of the chiefs murmured against the king because his mind was so fixed on evil ways, and they made a secret plan to kill Kaomi, and a certain chief named Ka-iki-o-ʻewa was to carry it out. He went with a servant named Ka-ihu-hanuna, carrying a war club in his hand, to the yard of Kaomi (near the present publishing house of the Kuʻokoʻa) and ordered the servant to tie Kaomi’s hands behind his back with a rope. Kaomi did not order the guards to kill Ka-iki-o-ʻewa in accordance with the law that “the chief who enters Kaomi’s house shall die.” He allowed himself to be bound and put to death if death it was to be. Ka-iki-o-ʻewa led him into the presence of Kinaʻu inside the fort. When she saw Kaomiwith his hands tied behind his back she cried out in alarm to her uncle, “Alas! what are you doing to the king’s favorite? The king will think that I have a share in this. Let him go, or this crime will rest upon us all!” Ka-iki-o-ʻewa said, “Who is ruler over the kingdom? You are the ruler. Give your consent to the death of this trouble-maker.” At this moment the king hurried in, dressed in the scant clothing he was wearing when a guard had run to inform him that, “Kaomi is being killed by Ka-iki-o-ʻewa.” The king himself untied Kaomi’s bonds. Ka-iki-o-ʻewa sprang forward and grappled with the king, over and under they fought until the king held Ka-iki-o-ʻewa fast. Then words poured from Ka-iki-o-ʻewa’s mouth declaring, “You are not the ruler over the kingdom if you keep on indulging yourself in evil ways!” but the king did not answer him. Kaomi was released and went back with the king to Ka-hale-uluhe, and the king’s place was made tabu; no one was allowed to enter it.
During this troubled year of 1834 some of the young chiefs died, among them Ke-ola-loa, the son of Pauli Ka-ʻo-lei-o-ku and the brother of Konia, who was to have been the husband of Princess Harriet Nahi-ʻenaʻena, and Ka-ʻuaʻa-moku-o-Ka-manele, the daughter of J. A. Kuakini, governor of Hawaii, who was affianced to Kamehameha III. Both these young chiefs were about twenty years of age…..(339)
Kamakau then continues that:
…Ulu-maheihei Hoa-pili who acted as the King’s leading kahu, and Ka-iki-o-ʻewa who was also his guardian, were induced by Elizabeth Kinaʻu and Miriam Ke-ka-ulu-ohi to live on Oahu and observe from the outside the doings of their ward. Even they however dared not cross his wishes lest he become morose, although when religious people came to him he always met them graciously. It was also observed that when one said, “Here comes Ulu-maheihei,” he quickly bade, “Hide the rum!” That might have been because Hoa-pili was the king’s kahu, but for John ʻIʻi also when those outside exclaimed, “ʻIʻi!” the glasses were immediately flung aside. So with the missionaries and the pious people however humble who went to visit the king. He was deferential and agreed affably to stop his pleasure-seeking and intoxication. It was believed that the only reason why he was so slow to quit drinking was because he was influenced by certain chiefs—Liliha, Paki, and others. The entire blame of his conduct however was laid upon Kaomi, the joint king.
Then the rumor went about the city and spread to the other islands that “Elizabeth Kinaʻu is to become ruler of the kingdom.” The king with Kaomi, the chiefs, and favorites, made a circuit of the island, and it was rumored that there would be a fight when the king returned to enter the city. Some said, “Perhaps it is only Ka-iki-o-ʻewa’s ravings.” When the king’s company reached Moanalua a mounted cavalcade set out from Honolulu to meet it. The end of this cavalcade was at the school at Kaiwiʻula when the king’s mounted company entered the fort. There the king met his foster mother Kinaʻu and the chiefs, and the sound of wailing arose as they greeted each other.
The king associated himself graciously with the pious chiefesses and his guardians and allowed Kinaʻu and Ulu-maheihei to put a stop to dissipation outside the city, but the chiefs insisted upon distilling liquor and there were many stills in Koʻolaupoko, in Kona, in ʻEwa, and in Waiʻa-nae. Ulu-maheihei was appointed marshal to put a stop to liquor drinking and distilling. At Kailua he smashed a still belonging to a chiefess, named Ka-lola, related to the king; and poured out the liquor. The still belonging to Kaomi and a company of chiefs at Kekele was [also] broken up, and other stills in Koʻolau were demolished. Ulu-maheihei went around by ʻEwa as far as Waiʻanae where two stills were reported which belonged to Kuini Liliha and the old chiefess Puʻu-heʻewale, a relative of Toti; and these were not spared by Hoa-pili, but broken up and the liquor poured out. Liquor distilling and drinking ceased in the country districts except when the king was present. Another important act of the chiefs was to restore wives and husbands to their legal spouses on the other islands. Among these were some lesser chiefs and prominent citizens, but they were for the most part commoners. In the midst of wailing they were arrested by the chiefs and placed on ships bound for Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii. There was great excitement but it rapidly subsided, peace was restored, and as a result the whole nation turned to do right according to the word of God….(340)
In the end, what happened to Kaomi?
Under pressure from Kina’u (who had Kamehameha III’s other family members excert tremendous guilt tripping in letters to the king) and possibly because the relationship between Kaomi and Kamehameha III had soured, Kaomi was first exiled to Kaua’i for a year but secretly rejoined his former royal lover in Lahaina where he died in 1835 or 1836. It was not until after Kaomi died did Kamehameha III began his affair with Nahi’ena’ena.
The real threat posed by Kaomi however was not the type of relationship Kamehameha III had with Kaomi, but the fact that Kaomi was questioning the existing social structure of Hawaiian society. Kaomi’s short reign scared the conservative ali’i, who were bend on making Hawai’i into Puritan colony. The real issue laid in the idea of what Hawai’i should be–a nation that allowed individual liberty where commoners had an equal opportunity to govern and a Hawai’i which retained its Hawaiian character or be a nation that modeled after the Protestant Reformer John Calvin but keeping the privileges of the aristocracy?
In the end, an uneasy truce was made where the conservative ali’i continued to rule and uphold the social order while they turned a blind eye on Kamehameha III’s other future misbehavior. Kamehameha III would later carry on bisexual affairs with other men and their wives, none of Kamehameha III’s ‘aikane or mistresses would gain the type of power that Kaomi once had.
5 thoughts on “Kamehameha III’s Forgotten Joint-Ruler?”
Mahalo Keawe. One the 1. You did it! Aloha e.
Thank you this was fantastic to read.
Mahalo. Always had a desire for knowledge about my Aina.
Thank you and I appreciate your kindness and patience in retelling and reporting on the history of Hawaii.