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.
In various written documents Kalanimōkū’s name appears with various spelling. Sometimes he is called Kalaimoku, Crymokoo, Craymoku, Craimoku and Krimokoo. In documents personally signed by him, he spelled his name Karaimoku.
Kalanimōkū was made Prime Minister for Kamehameha I and held the same position during the reign of Liholiho and of Kauikeaouli, until his death.
He adopted the name William Pitt, because of his great admiration for the British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger. He was frequently addressed as Mr. Pitt or Billy Pitt.
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 words.
Captain George Vancouver described Kalanimōkū as someone possessing “vivacity, and sensibility of countenance, modest behavior, evenness of temper, quick conception.”
However, in his earlier years, Kalanimōkū was known for excessive drinking, and according to Kamakau, was the first Hawaiian chief to buy rum. This behavior appears to have stopped after his acceptance of the Christian faith.
In 1819, Kalanimōkū was the first Hawaiian Chief to be baptized a Roman Catholic, aboard the French ship Uranie, in the presence of Kuhina Nui (Premier) Kaʻahumanu and King Kamehameha II. Kalanimōkū had a passion for Christianity and later regularly attended services at Kawaiahaʻo Church.
Kalanimōkū witnessed and participated in some of the significant historic moments in Hawai‘i.
When Kamehameha set out to conquer O‘ahu in 1795, Kalanimōkū commanded a large segment of Kamehameha’s invading army.
In 1816, Kalanimōkū, with a group of warriors, found that the Russians had begun construction of a trading post/fort at the entrance of Honolulu Harbor and were flying the Russian flag. However, when confronted by Kalanimōkū’s warriors, they quickly departed and no hostilities took place.
Realizing the advantage of a fortification at the harbor’s entrance, Kalanimōkū issued a proclamation ordering people throughout the island to assist in the construction of a fort.
As Kamehameha’s health slowly declined, Kalanimōkū’s role increased; as treasurer of the kingdom, he supervised the collection of taxes and oversaw the lucrative sandalwood trade.
Kalanimōkū was one of several chiefs who treated Kamehameha as his illness worsened, and was present when Kamehameha died.
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.”
Kalanimōkū, following ancient custom, offered himself as a death companion to the great chief he so idolized; he was prevented from carrying out his desire by other chiefs.
In 1819, when Liholiho proclaimed an end to the kapu system and Kekuaokalani and his wife Manono refused to accept the new order and vowed to go to war rather than abandon the ancient system, Kalanimōkū led an army against the revolt of Kekuaokalani in December 1819, in the successful battle of Kuamoʻo.
When the missionaries first landed at Kawaihae, they invited some of the highest chiefs of the nation; Kalanimōkū was the first person of distinction that came to greet them.
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.
He served as regent along with Queen Kaʻahumanu, while Kamehameha II traveled to London in 1823, and to Kamehameha III after Kamehameha II’s death in 1824.
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 Leleiohoku I, who married Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani.
His death was a great loss to the Hawaiian kingdom; he demonstrated loyalty and faithfulness toward Kamehameha I, his cousin Ka‘ahumanu, as well as Liholiho and Kauikeaouli.
For 4½ years, as Director of DLNR, my office was in the Kalanimōkū Building. At the time, I didn’t know of the profound positive impact Kalanimōkū had in Hawaiian history. I am glad I followed-up and learned a little more about him. (There is a lot more to tell about him; some bits have been added to other stories of his time and place.)