Kalanimōkū was a trusted and loyal advisor to Kamehameha I, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III.)
Kalanimōkū was born at Ka‘uiki, Hāna, Maui, around 1768. His father was Kekuamanohā and his mother was Kamakahukilani. Through his father, he was a grandson of Kekaulike, the King Maui. He was a cousin of Kaʻahumanu, Kamehameha’s wife.
He had great natural abilities in both governmental and business affairs. He was well liked and respected by foreigners, who learned from experience to rely on his word.
Captain George Vancouver described Kalanimōkū as someone possessing “vivacity, and sensibility of countenance, modest behavior, evenness of temper, quick conception.”
Kalanimōkū was one of several chiefs who treated Kamehameha as his illness worsened, and was present when Kamehameha died (May 8, 1819.).
Following the wishes of Kamehameha’s sacred wife, Keōpūolani, Kalanimōkū took charge of matters, deciding who might remain with the body, and dispatching messengers to spread the news to all islands.
For his strong leadership and strength in a time of great turmoil, Keōpūolani declared Kalanimōkū the “iwikuamo‘o” (literally the spine or backbone,) defined as “a near and trusted relative of a chief who attended to his personal needs and possessions and executed private orders.”
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.) There were seven American couples sent by the ABCFM to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity in this first company.
These included two Ordained Preachers, Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; a Doctor, Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia; a Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.
When the missionaries first anchored at Kawaihae, it was Kalanimōku who first met the missionaries aboard the Thaddeus and sailed with them from Kawaihae to Kailua-Kona to confer with the king – he was instrumental in the decision of the king to permit the missionaries to land.
“In dress and manners he appeared with the dignity of a man of culture. He was first introduced to the gentlemen, with whom he shook hands in the most cordial manner.”
“He then turned to the ladies, to whom, while yet at a distance, he respectfully bowed, then came near, and being introduced, presented to each his hand. The effects of that first warm appreciating clasp, I feel even now.” (Lucy Thurston)
Reportedly, Kalanimōkū developed an immediate and sincere liking for the New England missionaries. Throughout his life, they turned to him for assistance and their requests invariably met with positive results.
“We honored the king, but we loved the cultivated manhood of Kalanimōku … Kalanimōku was prime minister of the king, and the most powerful executive man in the nation:
“Now the great warrior was among us, learning the English alphabet with the docility of a child.” (Lucy Thurston)
“Kalanimōku embraced Christianity soon, for he became a pupil of little Daniel Chamberlain Jr, the seven-year-old son of missionary Daniel Chamberlain.” (Taylor)
“He often turned to it, and as often his favorite teacher, Daniel Chamberlain (Jr) … ‘And a little child shall lead them.’ (a line Lucy takes for Isaiah 11:6)” (Thurston)
August 5, 1822, “Monday, Krimokoo (Kalanimōku) declared his intention of having all about him furnished with books. Tuesday Kohoomanoo (Ka‘ahumanu) took hold of the alphabet – learned six letters.” (Sybil Bingham)
“She had all along so entirely rejected the idea of learning herself, that I could scarcely believe the reality of my enrollment while leaning upon her pillow and asking her the name of this and the other letter.
At a meeting of the chiefs and school teachers, Kaʻahumanu and Kalanimōku declared their determination to “adhere to the instructions of the missionaries, to attend to learning, observe the Sabbath, Worship God, and obey his law, and have all their people instructed.”
Following the death of Liholiho, “The important intelligence received at Honolulu (1825,) Kalanimōku communicated by letter to Kaahumanu, who, with other chiefs, was then at Manoa, a retired and picturesque valley between the mountains, in the rear of Waikiki, and about five miles north-east of Honolulu.”
“At the close of that day, I attended evening prayers with the young prince, and also with Kalanimōku; the latter I found pleasantly and diligently teaching a number of chiefs, who sat around his table, some passages of Scripture which we had furnished him in manuscript.” (Hiram Bingham)
Kalanimōkū died at Kamakahonu (the former home of Kamehameha I) in Kailua Kona, Hawai‘i Island on February 7, 1827. He had only one son, William Pitt Leleiōhoku I, who married Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani.
The arrival of the first company of American missionaries in Hawai¬ʻi in 1820 marked the beginning of Hawaiʻi’s phenomenal rise to literacy. The missionaries established schools associated with their missions across the Islands.
The chiefs became proponents for education and edicts were enacted by the King and the council of chiefs to stimulate the people to reading and writing.
By 1831, in just eleven years from the first arrival of the missionaries, Hawaiians had built 1,103 schoolhouses. This covered every district throughout the eight major islands and serviced an estimated 52,882 students. (Laimana)
The proliferation of schoolhouses was augmented by the printing of 140,000 copies of the pī¬ʻāpā (elementary Hawaiian spelling book) by 1829 and the staffing of the schools with 1,000-plus Hawaiian teachers. (Laimana)
The 1840 educational law mandated compulsory attendance for children ages four to fourteen. Any village that had fifteen or more school-age children was required to provide a school for their students.
By 1832, the literacy rate of Hawaiians (at the time it was 78 percent) had surpassed that of Americans on the continent. The literacy rate of the adult Hawaiian population skyrocketed from near zero in 1820 to a conservative estimate of 91 percent – and perhaps as high as 95 percent – by 1834. (Laimana)
From 1820 to 1832, in which Hawaiian literacy grew by 91 percent, the literacy rate on the US continent grew by only 6 percent and did not exceed the 90 percent level until 1902 – three hundred years after the first settlers landed in Jamestown. By way of comparison, it is significant that overall European literacy rates in 1850 had not risen much above 50 percent. (Laimana)