Island History

Kaua‘i king’s kidnapping leads to loss of independence

This is Part 2 of a two-part column on the kidnapping of Kaua‘i King Kaumuali‘i by Kamehameha I’s son, King Liholiho of O‘ahu. In last week’s column, Liholiho’s yacht, the Pride of Hawai‘i, unexpectedly set sail from Kaua‘i with Kaumuali‘i on board as an invited guest.

Although Liholiho had actually carried out the kidnapping, there’s little doubt that Liholiho’s regent, the strong-willed Ka‘ahumanu, who dominated him and effectively held the real power in his kingdom, had put him up to it before he’d sailed to Kaua‘i.

What motivated the kidnapping is open to debate, however. Perhaps, Ka’ahumanu and Liholiho feared that Kaumuali‘i would attempt to capitalize on his newfound friendship with the recently arrived American missionaries to form an alliance with the United States that could conceivably supplant their power.

That Kaumuali‘i was capable of engineering such an alliance was a matter of fact, for Kaumuali’i had already proven that he was capable of treason when in 1816, he’d plotted with Georg Anton Schaffer in a failed effort to obtain Russian arms to remove Kamehameha I’s control by force.

But whatever their reason for abducting Kaumuali‘i, we do know for sure that not long after Kaumuali‘i’s arrival in Honolulu — where he became a virtual prisoner of state — Ka‘ahumanu married him. She then married his son Keali‘honui — both marriages apparently having been arranged for the purpose of strengthening political ties between the Windward and Leeward (Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau) Islands.

When Kaumuali‘i died about three years later in May of 1824, Kaua‘i’s status as a separate kingdom — which only had legitimacy so long as Kaumuali‘i lived — passed away with him; and since Liholiho was away at that time on a trip to England, it was Ka’ahumanu, ruling in his absence, who dispatched Kalanimoku to Kaua‘i to govern the island.

Kaua‘i chiefs led by Humehume (Prince George Kaumuali‘i), a son of Kaumuali’i, then rebelled against their new lords but were soon defeated in an armed skirmish at the Russian Fort and at a battle in the hills above Hanapepe in early August 1824.

With the defeat of the Kaua‘i chiefs, Kaua‘i lost its independence.

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