The image of Hawaiʻi’s fierce warrior king, Kamehameha I, is duplicated in statues and place names throughout the islands. But nowhere is Kamehameha, who in 1810 united the Island, more revered than in the neighboring Kohala hamlets of Hawi and Kapaʻau. Here is the birthplace of the man who would become known as Kamehameha the Great. And here is located the more than century-old, original 9-foot statue in his likeness.
Kamehameha’s Birthplace is Near the Ruins of Mookini Heiau
Kamehameha’s birthplace is west of Hawi near the ruins of Moʻokini Heiau, which dates back to 480 A.D. and is considered one of the island’s most important temple sites. The king’s birthplace, marked by a plaque, is on a dirt road about a mile past the heiau. To get there, take the turnoff to Upolu Airport, then turn left at the airfield. Be aware that the road is in poor condition.
The Original Kamehameha Statue
The statue, which was restored in early 2001, stands on the grounds of the Kohala Information Center on the main road (Highway 270) in Kapaʻau. Cast in Italy in 1879 and erected in the early 1880s, it is the original Kamehameha statue. There are five other bronzes, one on Oahu, one on Maui, one in Hilo, one in Washington, D.C. and one in Las Vegas.
The nine-ton Kapaʻau statue was originally cast in bronze. It was repainted in 1883 after it was recovered from the sea. When it was restored again in 2001, residents voted to preserve the familiar bright yellow and red image and once again paint over the gilding. The statue, though striking, fails to portray authentic Polynesian features, leaning instead toward the classic look of Caucasian warriors.
A Journey Through Hawaii’s Historic Past
The drive to Hawi and Kapa’au from the South Kohala resort area is a trip through the historic past of the island. Significant temple ruins as well as a reconstructed ancient village can be seen on the way to Kamehameha’s homeland. From the resort area, follow Highway 19 until it intersects with Highway 270, bear left and keep an eye open for another sign directing you to turn right to continue on 270 to Hawi and Kapa’au.