A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites
on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island
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Overview of Hawaiian History
by Diane Lee Rhodes
(with some additions by Linda Wedel Greene)


A. Liholiho (Kamehameha II) Ascends the Throne

King Kamehameha became seriously ill in the spring of 1819. Upon the advice of the priests, the chiefs built several sacred houses for the god Ku-ka'ili-moku and called for a kapu. The native doctors at Kamehameha's bedside were joined by Don Francisco Marin, the Spaniard living on O'ahu, who had some medical knowledge, but none of their treatments were effective. King Kamehameha died on May 8,1819. [1] The reign of King Kamehameha II began, as had his father's before him, cloaked in the traditional rituals of mourning. Liholiho left Kailua for Kawaihae to escape the defilement of death, returning when the priests had completed their prayers and had secretly buried the bones of their beloved former king.

As the crown prince, Liholiho had been taught the royal duties and responsibilities. So when he reappeared at Kailua he was appropriately garbed in splendid clothing, accompanied by his royal attendants. However, his power over the kingdom was not sovereign. Like his uncle before him, Kamehameha had made his son Liholiho the king and ruler, but had given his nephew Kekuaokalani custody of the war god Ku-ka'ili-moku. The new king's authority was diluted even further by the actions of Ka'ahumanu, the favorite wife of Kamehameha, who had quickly proclaimed herself kuhina-nui (regent). She presided over the ceremonies and informed the new king that "we two shall share the rule over the land," a statement that was not refuted by Liholiho. [2]

Despite his training for the monarchy, Liholiho was ill-prepared for his new role. He had led a sheltered life of luxury, gaining "a reputation as a gambler and a playboy" who was fond of whiskey. [3] Although trained as a warrior, he had never fought in battle, and he had never ruled a district or an island before, much less a kingdom. It was not long before the new king was faced with a major decision.

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Last Updated: 15-Nov-2001