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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Kamehameha's legacy worth reflecting upon

Today, as many Islanders enjoy a midweek respite from work, let us reflect on Kamehameha I, the namesake of this state holiday and chief who united the main Hawaiian Islands under his potent rule.

Kamehameha gave us the "Law of the Splintered Paddle."

Painting by Marcelo Vendiola

Legend goes "The Lonely One" was born on a stormy November night in North Kohala to Kekuiapoiwa, a niece of Kahekili. It was predicted that he would be a threat to the chiefs, so he was spirited away from his mother and spent his childhood hidden in Waipi'o Valley.

As a teenager, he moved to the district of Ka'u and trained to be a warrior. To become an ali'i 'ai moku (district chief), he learned spear throwing and dodging, wrestling, navigation, religious ceremonies and kapus, among other disciplines.

While all this training prepared Kamehameha for the continuous warfare waged by rival chiefs, it apparently did not stifle his humanity. One day, legend goes, Kamehameha took off over rough lava in pursuit of some fishermen along the Puna coast. When his foot was caught in a crevice, one of the fishermen turned back and cracked a canoe paddle over his head before fleeing.

Many years later, the fishermen were captured and brought before Kamehameha. Instead of sentencing them to death, Kamehameha asked, "Why did you hit me only once?" The fisherman replied that he thought once was quite enough.

At that, Kamehameha apparently freed them, plus he gave them land.

And thus was born "the Law of the Splintered Paddle," which goes something like this: "Citizens, respect your gods. Respect the big man and the little man. Let the old men, the women and children, walk upon the highway and lie down in the road in peace. Let none disturb them. The penalty is death."

Today, we like to interpret this law as meaning that any wanton act on the innocent or helpless is wholly unacceptable.

And that's worth remembering on this and every Kamehameha Day.