By Jan TenBruggencate
Kaumuali‘i, the last king of Kaua‘i, belied the meme of royals as petulant needy folks. He was a superb host.
He had, as one would have said generations ago, the breeding.
His father was Kaeo, the brother of Maui’s famed Kahekili and son of Maui’s supreme chief Kekaulike.
His mother, Kamakahelei, was the ruler of Kaua‘i. She had succeeded Peleioholani, who had ruled both O‘ahu and Kaua‘i.
Kaumuali‘i was just sixteen when his mother died in 1794 and he became heir to the throne of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.
But the story of his reign, his ceding of the kingdom to Kamehameha and his death on O‘ahu in 1824 are for another time.
From the missionary Hiram Bingham, we learn of his ability to welcome guests.
It was the summer of 1821 when Chiefess Kalakua, a consort of Kamehameha and sister of his queen, Ka‘ahumanu, decided to take a ship, the Tartar, to Kaua‘i.
There were some challenging politics involved.
Kamehameha was dead. Kaumuali‘i had married into the Kamehameha dynasty through Ka‘ahumanu, the kingdom’s regent. Kalakua was thus his sister-in-law, but she would also be the mother of a queen, and the grandmother of three Hawaiian kings. She had clout.
The ship Tartar arrived off Waimea early on July 9. Kalakua and her retainers waited on board the Tartar until a proper welcome could be prepared. A crew of 20 men was set to work slaughtering and cooking pigs, dogs and chickens for a feast.
Kaumuali‘i and his Kaua‘i queen, Kapule, went to the coast near the Russian Fort in the early afternoon to meet the canoe that brought Kalakua ashore.
They “met her near the water side; and, with ancient etiquette, they embraced each other, joined noses … lifted up their voices and wept; then sat down together on the sandy beach, and in remembrance of past sorrows, or in proof of friendship, continued crying for a time,” Bingham wrote.
Kaumuali‘i moved out of his own home, and spread the courtyard in front with the famous patterned makaloa mats of Ni‘ihau. He himself moved into humbler quarters and left his home to her. At dinner time, the king personally helped “set the feast before her.”
The next day, they enjoyed stringing fragant yellow hala fruit into lei. And then everyone went surfing — “the favorite amusement of all classes — sporting in the surf.”
Not just royals got the royal treatment.
Some time later, while Liholiho, Kamehameha II, was visiting Kaua‘i, a group of missionaries met them at Ha‘ena after a tiring, long, cross-island hike. The Kaua‘i king ordered a dinner made for the hikers, and as his own home had already been turned over to Liholiho, he gave the missionaries his backup, a leaf hut.
“Spreading down their mats on the green grass they made us a comfortable bed, then five sheets of beaten bark cloth were presented each of us for bed clothes,” Bingham wrote.
Kaumuali‘i lost his kingdom, but he was clearly a class act.
- Jan TenBruggencate is a Kaua‘i based writer and communications consultant.