Humehume is believed to have been born on Kaua‘i about 1800. His grandmother would have been Chiefess Kamakahelei, the namesake for the public elementary school in Puhi.
When he was about four or five years old, his father Kaumuali‘i sent him off with the American sea captain James Rowan aboard the brig Hazard to obtain a western education in New England, and perhaps to protect the royal heir from a possible attack or capture by Kamehameha, the ruler of the “windward” islands of the Hawaiian Kingdom, while Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau and other Hawaiian islands to the west made up a “Separate Kingdom.”
Humehume arrived in New England after a year and a half at sea, a voyage that included a visit to China and a sail around Africa.
Misfortune befell Humehume at an early age after the funds Kaumuali‘i paid to the sea captain were either misappropriated, or ran out. The young boy worked as a joiner, was sent to a farm where he became like a slave to the farmer, according to historian Ethel Damon. He ran away, joining the Marines, and then the Navy sometime between 1812 and 1815, the era of the War of 1812.
After returning from the Mediterranean aboard the USS Enterprise, Humehume was assigned to the Navy Yard in Charleston, and spent some time aboard the ship USS Guerriere.
In 1816 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions formed the Foreign Mission School at Cornwall in the woods of western Connecticut. Humehume, then about 16 years of age, was invited to attend the school along with other Native Hawaiians living in New England, along with Native Americans and other foreign students. Among the students was Henry Opukahia, a Bible scholar who is often called the “first Hawaiian Christian.”
Opukahia’s death in 1818 led to the publication of his memoirs. The book helped spur the formation of an ABCFM-sponsored mission to the Hawaiian Islands, then better known as the Sandwich Islands.
Though not a professing Christian, Humehume was invited to sail aboard the Thaddeus, the brig that carried the first American Protestant missionary party to Hawai‘i. He played his own bass viol aboard ship during the passage around the Horn, and may have been sent home to help influence his father when missionaries arrived on Kaua‘i.
In May 1820 the missionaries Samuel Whitney and Samuel Ruggles sailed with Humehume from Honolulu to Waimea, aboard the Thaddeus after the ship made stops dropping off missionaries at Kailua-Kona and Honolulu. Kaumuali‘i was amazed and moved emotionally to see Humehume in the flesh, a prodigal son he had given up hope of ever seeing again, though Humehume had sent letters home.
Whitney recorded the moment in his journal: “With an anxious heart & trembling arms, the aged Father rose to embrace his long lost son. Both were too much affected to speak.”
Kaumuali‘i presented Captain Blanchard of the Thaddeus with a thousand dollars worth of sandalwood, he gave his son large land holdings on Kaua‘i and promised the missionaries his full support in setting up a mission station at Waimea.
Aboard the Thaddeus was a fancy presentation Bible that Humehume had requested from the American Bible Society for his father after finding out that a similar Bible was going out from the New York-based scripture distribution organization to Kamehameha.
In the years after Kaumuali‘i was removed to Honolulu in 1821 by Kamehameha’s successor and son Liholiho, Humehume became disgruntled about the situation on Kaua‘i. In 1824, shortly after the death of his father, Kaumuali‘i, Humehume staged an attack on the Russian Fort at Waimea, but was repulsed by off-island forces led by Kalanimoku, Kamehameha’s top general. The “koa,” or well-trained Hawaiian soldiers, of Kalanimoku attacked Humehume’s rag tag band of fighters in an area above Wahiawa Valley and ‘Ele‘ele, near where today’s Kauai Coffee fields are planted. Though Humehume and his family escaped the conflict, many of the Kaua‘i fighters were slaughtered, their bodies left purposely unburied for desecration by wild pigs.
Humehume, then about 25 years old, was captured by the forces of the Kamehameha family and exiled to O‘ahu, where he died of influenza in May of 1825. He was buried in a commoner’s grave in Honolulu, and there is no surviving marker to indicate where he was laid to rest.