We can eat with men, queen declares
LAHAINA – Near the King’s Road (now Front Street) on the makai (ocean) side, the first western-style dwelling in the islands went up in Lahaina in 1798.
King Kamehameha the Great, who had come to Lahaina with 700 war canoes as part of a strategy to unite the Hawaiian Islands, built the “brick palace” for his favorite wife, the great Queen Ka’ahumanu. Since she was not into western ways at the time, she preferred to stay in a nearby grass hut, according to a plaque placed nearby by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.
Spending almost all of her adult life with missionaries, Ka’ahumanu was receptive to their teachings from the beginning, according to author Susanna Moore. She eventually fully embraced the new religion brought by Christians from New England and even began to adopt some western ways.
Ka’ahumanu followed her husband from place to place, living in a compound in Waikiki near the present day Royal Hawaiian Hotel amid hundreds of grass huts, staying in another grass hut in Lahaina, and then the ancestral home of Kamehameha on Hawaii Island.
Ka’ahumanu’s first great act occurred when she became regent in 1819, presiding over the kingdom because Kamehameha’s successor, son Liholiho, was too young.
Shortly after she became regent, she ended the kapu that prohibited women from eating with men and other forbidden activities that made them second-class citizens. Later, Liholiho – like other monarchs – traveled to England, where he succumbed to measles and returned to Hawaii in a burial shroud. Ka’ahumanu extended her positive influence further.
Becoming a believer after spending so much time with missionaries, she became convinced Hawaiians needed to learn to read to learn about the new deity in the Bible. At various times, she ordered the printing of a thousand primers and 3,000 copies of the Sermon on the Mount.
She also sought more books and more schools for her people, and Ka’ahumanu once asked Captain Vancouver to bring back religious instructors from England.
In 1819, Kamehameha the Great died. Despite the fact that the king was known to have beaten her on occasion, she mourned in a traditional way by getting tattoos of the talons of birds and the king’s name tattooed on her arms and feet.
Coming to understand Christian values, Ka’ahumanu outlawed murder, theft, adultery, prostitution and fighting, and she banned levying taxes on the poor. She also wanted Hawaiians to observe the Sabbath.
The queen, however, also struck a blow against part of the culture worth preserving. Ka’ahumanu banned hula because she thought it was too sexually suggestive. An important part of Hawaiian life, hula was not revived until the ascension 50 years later in 1874 of King Kalakaua (otherwise known as the Merrie Monarch).
Ka’ahumanu’s lifestyle also changed over the years. From a sea captain’s stash, she learned to love brandy. Missionaries were not above imbibing either.
Untroubled sitting around naked while talking with missionaries, Ka’ahumanu eventually became enamored with western clothes, including silks, satin gowns and shawls. Author Moore (“Paradise of the Pacific”) reported that she came to want to live like a haole (foreigner) and learn domestic arts.
In December of 1925, Queen Ka’ahumanu began to contemplate her end of life and finally agreed to have Hiram Bingham, head of the mission, baptize her. “I am making myself strong,” she is quoted as saying. “I do not know when the Lord will come and take me.”
Ka’ahumanu would live another seven years and passed away just before sunrise on June 30, 1832, at the age of 54.