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Samuel Kamakau

Much of what we know about Hawaiian History can be attributed to the work of today’s featured kiaʻi, Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau.




Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau was arguably the greatest Hawaiian historian ever born. Although many Hawaiians have written about Hawaiian history, none have written so voluminously or with such perception. He has remained an undiminished inspiration to generations of Hawaiians since the first publication of his work in Hawaiian language newspapers of 1842. His writing spanned a period of 34 years and he wrote nearly 300 articles, not confined merely to Hawaiian history, but explaining many varied aspects of Hawaiian life, from the complexity of chiefly society to the politics of religion.


Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau was born on October 29, 1815 at Manuaʻula, Kamananui in Waialua, Oʻahu. Since the law requiring Hawaiians to take two names, a Christian name and a surname, was not passed until 1840, we can assume he was probably given just one name at birth. Samuel must have been his Christian name, taken later in life, perhaps at school, after Christianity became firmly adopted in 1825.


The other two names, Mānaiakalani and Kamakau, are interesting because Kamakau literally means "the hook" while Mānaiakalani is the name of Māui's magical fishhook that he used to pull up land from the bottom of the sea.


At age 17 Kamakau sought Western learning and went to study at the missionary high school at Lāhaināluna. Shortly thereafter he became a teacher's helper. At age 26, he began to write articles about Hawaiian culture and history, interviewing kūpuna who were knowledgeable and willing to share their wisdom with him. As is still common today, kūpuna of Kamakau's time did not reveal their knowledge to just anyone, especially the moʻolelo of the Aliʻi Nui. The kūpuna obviously trusted Kamakau to entrust him with their secrets, probably because he was of some aliʻi lineage.

What is incredible about Kamakau's life is that history was merely his passion; it was not his vocation. The collection and writing of history was what he did in his spare time. In order to make a living he served in various public capacities. In 1841, Kamakau helped form the first Hawaiian Historical Association. In 1845, he was principal of a school in Kipahulu, Māui and in the following year became a school agent and tax assessor for that island. In 1848, he was appointed to the kingdom's Land Commission and in 1851 was elected from Hāna, Māui to the House of Representatives. From this time until his death in 1876, he was often elected to the legislature from various districts on Māui and Oʻahu. In 1852, he became a member of the Royal Agricultural Society and in 1853 served as a district judge in Wailuku.


In the 1860s Kamakau made some drastic changes in his life. He left the Protestant religion and became a Catholic. He also moved back to Oʻahu, living in Mokulēʻia and in Honolulu. It was at this time that he began to write a regular column on Hawaiian history for the Hawaiian newspaper, Kūʻōkoʻa.


From that time until his passing at age 61, he wrote for a variety of newspapers, on any and every subject in an attempt to enlighten his Lāhui. He was buried in Maʻemaʻe Cemetery in Nuʻuanu.

Adapted from the introduction to Kamakau’s Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi by Dr. Lilikalā Kame’eleihiwa.


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