Hilo and Mokuola held a special place in Kamehameha’s heart
Kamehameha was born (c. 1758) at Kokoiki, Kohala, Moku O Keawe (Hawai‘i Island), trained as a koa (warrior) in Ka‘u, and died in Kona (1819). However, what is less known is Kamehameha’s great love for the people and area of Hilo. Indeed, Hilo played a significant role in who Kamehameha was and what he became. Kamehameha’s father Keoua Kupuapāikalani died in Pi‘opi‘o, Hilo (c. 1759). While still in his youth, Kamehameha proved his right to rule over all the islands by lifting the Naha Stone at Pinao Heiau in Pi‘ihonua, Hilo (c. 1773). It was the koa (warriors) of Hilo who supported Kamehameha in his early quest to unite Moku O Keawe. After gaining control of Moku O Keawe, Kamehameha celebrated the Makahiki in Hilo in 1794. The village and area of Hilo was named by Kamehameha after a special braid that was used to secure his canoe. Kamehameha’s son, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) was born in Hilo (1797). Kamehameha’s great war fleet, Peleleu, that was instrumental in Kamehameha’s conquest, was built and based at Hilo (1796-1801). After uniting all of the islands under his rule Hilo became Kamehameha’s first seat of government. It was in Hilo that Kamehameha established his greatest law, the Kānāwai Māmalahoe (Law of the Splintered Paddle). One of Kamehameha’s most favorite things to eat was the sweet mullet that came from Hilo’s Wailoa fish pond. Kamehameha is also known to have visited and practiced cultural protocols on Mokuola (Island of Life) in Hilo Bay.
During the time of Kamehameha Mokuola was a Pu‘uhonua (Safe Place) consisting of a great heiau (temple) complex that extended along the island’s shoreline. It was a place of refuge, a sacred place of mana (spiritual power) that protected and sheltered all who reached it. Today, Mokuola remains a significant cultural resource recognized for its powers of healing and purification. The Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Māmalahoa has honored Kamehameha on Mokuola with the presentation of the Kamehameha Day celebrations on the island since 1985. During this period, Māmalahoa has taken on the role of kahu (guardian) of Mokuola with the kuleana (responsibility) to protect, preserve, and perpetuate the natural, cultural, and spiritual, resources of this wahi pana (sacred place).