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  • Determining the Birth Date of Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III
  • Ralph Thomas Kam (bio) and Ashlie Duarte-Smith (bio)

“Though their system was thus broken and imperfect, still, as their chronologists could tell the name of the day and the name of the month on which any great event occurred, it was generally easy to reduce their time to ours by a reference to the phase of the moon at the time.”1

—William Richards to Capt. Charles Wilkes, March 15, 1841

“Kauikeaouli was born on the 11th. day of the month of Hinaiaeleele, that day was Huna.”2

— Emilia Keaweamahi via Lohepono in Ka Eleele Hawaii, August 18, 1847

The dates of some of the most prominent events in Hawaiian history are shrouded in what Native Hawaiian historian Davida Malo called “obscurity and vagueness.”3 Such was the case of the birth of Kauikeaouli, [End Page 1] King Kamehameha III, preserved by oral tradition but later recorded by several authoritative sources as taking place on different dates: March 17, 1813 (Privy Council); August 11, 1813 (George Luther Kapeau, governor); August 17, 1813 (Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau, historian); and March 17, 1814 (James Jackson Jarves, historian). Though the birthday anniversary of King Kamehameha III was officially set as March 17, and observed as a national holiday of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i during his reign, the actual date of his birth remained open to debate during his lifetime, a discussion that continues to the present. The use of the Hawaiian lunar calendar by an eyewitness to express the day and month of the king’s birth complicates efforts to calculate when the event occurred, but also provides the only means to ascertain his actual birth date.

First Official Date

The first recorded official action regarding the king’s birthday occurred at the Privy Council meeting of March 16, 1846, using a decidedly Gregorian date:

It was resolved that a celebration be had on the King’s birthday, the 17th of March coming, that the national flag be hoisted on all the forts, from morning to sundown, and that a salute be fired by the fort in Honolulu and by all forts in the Hawaiian Islands, and that the Hawaiian flag be hoisted on all the vessels belonging to these, and we believe it proper that the Governors give a feast as well as all of the other people according to their wishes in a way befitting the honor and dignity of the King of an independent nation.4

The action makes no reference to the year of his birth. So, too, a notice in the “By Authority” column of the Polynesian, the following year, dated March 13, 1847, announced without reference to the year of his birth nor his age: “The King’s Birth-day will celebrated as usual on the 17th inst.”5 A week later the Polynesian reported: “17th of March.—The King’s birthday passed off pleasantly, though quietly in Honolulu, Majesty and chiefs being at Maui.”6

While the English-language newspapers accepted as official the celebration on March 17, the observance generated an extended discussion in the Hawaiian-language newspaper, Ka Elele Hawaii, concerning the actual birth date of the king. [End Page 2]

Letter by Lohepono

The strongest evidence that points to the actual birth date of Kauikeaouli comes in the account of his birth by an eyewitness who used the traditional Hawaiian lunar calendar date names for the event. The tale concerning his birth by Emilia Keaweamahi, wife of High Chief Kaikio‘ewa, who served as guardian of Kamehameha III (Figure 1), appeared in the August 18, 1848, edition of the newspaper Ka Elele Hawaii in a letter by Lohepono dated July 26, 1847, (Keaweamahi died November 24, 1848):

I desire to inform you of the tale I have heard from Emilia Keaweamahi, concerning the year the King, Kamehameha III, was born; her version is as follows.

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Figure 1.

Kauikeaouli in 1825, when the body of his brother, Liholiho, returned to Hawai‘i. Courtesy Hawai‘i State Archives. [PP-98-16-002]

[End Page 3]

Kauikeaouli was born on the 11th. day of...


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