By Léo Azambuja
King Kaumuali‘i avoided an imminent bloody war by agreeing in 1810 to rule Kaua‘i under King Kamehameha I. But in 1821, two years after Kamehameha I’s death, Kamehameha II kidnapped Kaumuali‘i and took him to O‘ahu. Kaua‘i’s last king would die three years later without ever setting foot on his home island again.
The first ever statue of King Kaumuali‘i was unveiled at a small private ceremony in Kalihiwai Ridge Aug. 29, attended by the Friends of King Kaumuali‘i, a group formed more than 10 years ago with a goal of honoring Kaua‘i’s last independent ruler by erecting a statue in his likeness.
“Kaua‘i has been celebrating Kamehameha since I was a child … but nobody celebrates Kaumuali‘i,” said Aletha Kaohi, president of Friends of King Kaumuali‘i.
Though the bronze statue crafted by artist Saim Caglayan is only three-foot tall, it will serve as the prototype for an eight-foot-tall statue of the king to be placed near his original home on Kaua‘i’s Westside. The Friends of King Kaumuali‘i will spearhead the $300,000 fundraising effort for the final statue.
In 2004, a small group of people formed the Friends of King Kaumuali‘i, but their goal to erect a statue of the king was eventually put in the backburner. Despite written descriptions of Kaumuali‘i, there are less than a handful of images of him; none made during his lifetime and none too appealing for the group to push forward a fundraising effort.
In 2012, Westside resident Barbara Bennett came across a painting of the king done by O‘ahu-based artist Brooke Kapukuniahi Parker, printed in Lee B. Croft’s book, George Anton Schaeffer: Arm Wrestling Kamehameha. Touched by the power of Parker’s painting, Bennett took it to the Friends of King Kaumuali‘i, reigniting their goal.
Westside resident and art collector Stu Burley was tasked with finding a sculptor. After searching for an artist in local art galleries and calling several Mainland art dealers, Burley’s luck turned up when two art galleries in Hanapepe pointed out to Hanapepe Artworks, Caglayan’s gallery.
“I went to the shop and didn’t’ see any sculptures,” said Burley, adding he “still went in and talked” to Caglayan. That’s when he found out besides being a master painter, the Turkish-born and Kalihiwai resident is also a master sculptor with artwork all over the Mainland, Europe and Hawai‘i.
When Caglayan’s idea to sculpt in lava rock didn’t pan out — he couldn’t find a large enough stone without fractures — bronze was the next and final choice.
“Bronze is pretty much indestructible, so it’ll be here for a very long, long time — centuries, if it’s taken care of,” he said.
The statue was initially done in clay in Caglayan’s studio in Kalihiwai. Hawaiian language translator Keao NeSmith, who has a remarkable resemblance to Parker’s painting, was asked to pose for the statue. Fate or serendipity, it turned out NeSmith and Parker were childhood friends.
The final, larger statue will be placed in Waimea. Kaohi and Burley said it would likely be at the Russian Fort, near the town’s entrance. Kaumuali‘i had a home below the fort, by the beach. Kaohi said Kaumuali‘i might also have had another home across the highway from the fort.
Caglayan’s choice would be at Waimea Town’s center, instead of the Russian Fort.
“It needs be downtown where kids can see it, respect the king and grow up with it,” said Caglayan, adding NeSmith agrees with him.
Wherever it ends up, it might spark Kaua‘i’s memory of a king who made an ally of a powerful enemy, avoiding suffering and allowing peace for his people.
Kaohi said when the keiki are asked who is Kaumuali‘i, their answer is Highway 50, named after the king.
“That’s not too good for children on an island whose last king was Kaumuali‘i,” she said. More importantly, added Kaohi, the king was “a man of peace;” he could’ve gone to battle with Kamehameha I and caused a bloodshed on Kaua‘i.
Kamehameha I had already tried twice to invade Kaua‘i. In 1796 his army had to turn around after being struck in the Ka‘ie‘ie Waho Channel by a powerful storm that overturned several canoes. In 1804, after years of preparation and building a large fleet to invade Kaua‘i, Kamehamhea I’s army was stricken by a serious illness on O‘ahu that killed several of his war leaders, chiefs and soldiers.
Wary of a potential third invasion attempt, Kaumuali‘i finally reached an agreement with Kamehameha I in 1810, and continued to rule Kaua‘i as a tributary king.
However, historians have said Kaumuali‘i wasn’t always compliant with the agreement, and even nursed a grievance against Kamehameha I. When the German-born doctor Schaeffer, working for the Russian-American Company, arrived on Kaua‘i in 1815 to recover the cargo of a wrecked ship, he forged an alliance with Kaumuali‘i.
In the deal, Schaeffer would help Kaumuali‘i recover the islands he said were his: O‘ahu, Maui, Molokai and Lana‘i. Schaeffer would get half of O‘ahu, provinces on other islands and a monopoly of sandalwood on Kaua‘i. But the deal went sour after it became clear Schaeffer didn’t have the backing of the Russian-American Company, and a group of American merchants on O‘ahu threatened to invade Kaua‘i if Kaumuali‘i didn’t chase the German from the island.
In May 1817, Schaeffer left Kaua‘i under pressure of a large crowd of Hawaiians at Waimea, leaving behind his dream of making a profit from agriculture and a handful of forts on the North Shore and the Westside, including one in Princeville and another at the mouth of Waimea River.
In 1821, Kamehameha I had been dead for two years. His son and successor, Kamehameha II, visited Kaumuali‘i on Kaua‘i. After inviting the king for dinner aboard the Pride of Hawai‘i schooner, Kamehameha II lifted anchor and sailed to O‘ahu. Kaumuali‘i was indeed kidnapped, and became a prisoner of the state. On O‘ahu, he married Kamehameha I’s widow, Kaahumanu, and never returned to Kaua‘i, not even after his death. He is interred in Lahaina, Maui’s Westside.
Caglayan, who up until now has donated all his labor, said it’s a privilege for him to work with the Friends of King Kaumuali‘i.
“They want to honor him and pass it on to generations that are coming on, give some self esteem among young Hawaiians,” he said.
The next fundraising event is scheduled at Smith’s Tropical Paradise on Nov. 7, with lots of Hawaiian entertainment and food. Call 338-1332 or 634-0815 for more information.