Kinikona: A Black / Indo-Caribbean at Kamehamehaʻs Court

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One of the interesting characters from the court of Kamehameha I was a Black / Indo-Caribbean by the name of Kinikona . He identified both as Black and as a lascar according to the historian Samuel Kamakau. We know very little about Kinikonaʻs origins. His name is the Hawaiian transliteration of the Quinine or Cichona tree. Cichona was used in the treatment of malaria and we know that malaria was one of the possible sicknesses that wiped out Kamehameha Iʻs army before his invasion of Kauaʻi. Cichona is also native to South America. The man, Kinikona, arrived in Hawaiʻi between 1811 to 1813. What we know about his background is that he identified himself as being Black and as a lascar (which at the time meant he was an East Indian expert sailor) and he spoke French. We also know believe that he came from the Caribbean because of the French accounts of him which suggest he was from Haiti, Saint Martin, Guadeloupe or some other French colony in the region. Due to his mixed heritage, he was not born a slave but was still considered colored or Black, Hawaiians identified him as a haole ʻeleʻele or haole pouli meaning Black.

What made Kinikona of interest is that he was the first account of a haole (a general term used to describe all foreigners at the time period regardless of skin color) who converted to the Hawaiian religion. He made tributes to Pele and rather than being incorporated into the special system of nobility that Kamehameha I created for other haole for services to the Throne, he asked was sort of incorporated with the kahuna and he was one of the few foreigners ever to have studied the old religion in depth. Kamehameha I used his maritime skills on occasion but his more important duty was as translator for the King and Kaʻahumanu when he had to deal with the French. When the old religion was being overthrown in 1819, allegedly according to tradition, he took up arms with Kekuaokalani and Manono, the two main defenders of the old Hawaiian religion. Whether he died at Kuamoʻo or survived but died of wounds later, it is not clear from sources. What is clear is that he embraced the Hawaiian religion and died for.

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