When you think of King Kamehameha’s family life, specifically his wives, often the thoughts are limited to Kaʻahumanu and Keopuolani.
Kaʻahumanu was Kamehameha’s favorite wife. Born in Hana, Maui in about 1768, Kaʻahumanu’s siblings include Governor John Adams Kuakini of Hawaiʻi Island, Queen Kalakua Kaheiheimalie (another wife of Kamehameha I) and Governor George Cox Keʻeaumoku II of Maui.
By birth, Kaʻahumanu ranked high among the Hawaiians. Her father was Keʻeaumoku, a distinguished warrior and counselor of Kamehameha the Great. Her mother Namahana was a former wife of the king of Maui, and the daughter of Kekaulike (a great king of that island.)
Kaʻahumanu was one of the most powerful people in the Islands at the time of the arrival of the missionaries. There were those who were higher by birth, and there were those who were higher by title, but there was probably none who held greater influence.
She was described to have a kindly and generous disposition and usually had as pleasant relations with foreigners who respected her royal rights. She was cautious and slow in deciding – more business-like in her decision-making – but once her mind was made up, she never wavered.
She had requested baptism for Kepouolani and Keʻeaumoku when they were dying, but she waited until April, 1824, before requesting the same for herself.
Keopuolani (the gathering of the clouds of heaven) was the highest ranking chief of the ruling family in the kingdom during her lifetime.
She was aliʻi kapu of ni‘aupi‘o (high-born – offspring of the marriage of a high-born brother and sister or half-brother and half-sister) rank, which she inherited from her mother, Kekuʻiapoiwa Liliha and her father Kiwalaʻo.
Her ancestors on her mother’s side were ruling chiefs of Maui; her ancestors on her father’s side were the ruling chiefs of the island of Hawai‘i. Keopuolani’s genealogy traced back to Ulu, who descended from Hulihonua and Keakahulilani, the first man and woman created by the gods.
Keopuolani usually resided with Kamehameha at Kailua-Kona. This, however, was not their constant dwelling place, although it was a favorite one. Aliʻi typically had multiple homes and divided their time between the different places of importance.
In 1797, she gave birth to a son, Liholiho. Kamehameha wanted Keopuolani to go to Oʻahu, to Kukaniloko, a famous birthing site and heiau (temple,) however, she was too ill to travel, and gave birth to their first-born child in Hilo. Kauikeaouli, her second son, was born in Keauhou, North Kona. She named him after her father, Kalanikauikeaouli Kiwalaʻo.
Kamehameha allowed Keopuolani to have other husbands after she gave birth to his children, a practice common among aliʻi women (except Kaʻahumanu.) Kalanimoku and Hoapili were her other husbands.
Keopuolani is said to have been the first convert of the Protestant missionaries in the Islands, receiving baptism from Rev. William Ellis in Lāhainā on September 16, 1823. She was ill and died shortly after her baptism.
Kamehameha I died in 1819 at his home at Kamakahonu in Kailua-Kona, his son, Liholiho became King Kamehameha II. Shortly after that, Kaʻahumanu and Keopuolani joined in convincing Liholiho to break the kapu system which had been the rigid code of Hawaiians for centuries. Upon Liholiho’s death in 1825, his brother, Kauikeaouli became Kamehameha III.
These were not Kamehameha’s only wives; according to Ahlo & Walker, he had 30-wives. From them, he had 35-children from 18 of the wives (12 did not bear any children.) Following is a listing of Kamehameha’s wives and approximate dates of when they got together.
1766 Kekuaipiia Namahana (Lydia)
1767 Kalola (Kalolapupuka)
1775-1782 – Kauhilanimaka
1775-1782 Wahine-palama (ʻEwaloa)
1790 Kekuʻiapoiwa Liliha
1799-1809 – Kai
1799-1809 Kahakuha’akoi –Wahinepio