King Kamehameha – The Mystery of His Sacred Burial

Why Was King Kamehameha Buried in Complete Secrecy?

King Kamehameha, ruler of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, died in May of 1819, but his remains have never been found to this day.

He was hidden in the strictest Hawaiian tradition of hūnākele, in which a person is buried in total secret, and the location is never to be disclosed. The Hawaiians believed this was necessary to protect his mana, which means power.

king kamehameha

The sacred burial of King Kamehameha the Great is shrouded in mystery. Credit: public domain.

What is Mana?

Mana is a kind of powerful and pervasive energy of a spiritual nature. It was a cornerstone of the Hawaiian religion, and could exist in people, places, and things. It could be lost or it could be gained. Additionally, there were two paths a person could utilize to acquire mana. The first is through acts of hostility and the second is by engaging in sexual relationships with those of higher status. (“Mana.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 5, September 2013). As such, Hawaiians of royalty went through great lengths to protect their mana.

King Kamehameha was one such person of royalty who was believed to have acquired an immense amount of mana for a number of reasons.

How King Kamehameha Acquired His Mana

Legend tells that prophecies were made about a child who would be born at a time of storms and strange lights in the sky, “activities thought by Hawaiians to herald the birth of a great chief (Pu`ukoholā Heiau, National Park Service).” Why did they believe this? According to Robert Blust, prominent linguist at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, the history of the word “mana” is related to forces of nature such as storms and wind and thunder. Indeed, Halley’s comet was observable from Hawaii in 1758, around the time of Kamehameha’s birth (the exact date of his birth is unclear). Perhaps Kamehameha being born during such a period led Hawaiian people to believe he would be born with great mana.

Another possible reason Kamehameha may have been thought to have such power is when his Chief uncle, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, died, “he bequeath(ed) his war god, Kuka`ilimoku, to his nephew Kamehameha” (N.A. The Beginning. <>). This would have bestowed upon Kamehameha a powerful religious position as the possessor and guardian of the Hawaiian war god, Ku. As a result, his mana would have increased.

Last, but not least, King Kamehameha took full advantage of his new position by first overthrowing the other rulers of the island of Hawaii. Later, he fought in many battles to eventually conquer all of the islands, gaining him the title of Kamehameha the Great and rule over The Kingdom of Hawaii. He would have obtained great mana with such success at battle, according to Hawaiian beliefs.

The King’s Death and Resting Place

By the time Kamehameha died he had accomplished a great deal to create one legal system, and to preserve Hawaiian traditions and culture across the islands. He spent the last seven years of his life in Kailua, Kona, on the island of Hawaii.

Upon the death of King Kamehemeha, his lieutenants Ho’olulu and Hoapili took the remains and buried it in a strictly covert location to ensure nobody would find it (“Kamehameha I”. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4, September 2014.) This was to safeguard his mana.

Today, there is only speculation about where King Kamehameha may be buried. According to Wikipedia, “Kamehameha I,” King Kalākaua searched for the remains of King Kamehameha, and based on information from his source found two sets of bones. He took the bones to O’ahu in 1888, and “…then, years later, Dr. Louis Sullivan of the American Museum of Natural History, examined both sets of bones, and concluded that neither set was of Kamehameha.”

king Kamehameha

Is King Kamehameha buried in a cave on the coast of Kona, Hawaii? Image: Travis.Thurston at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The same Wikipedia article continues without citation:

According to the curator of the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaiʻi, a direct descendant of Hoapili and Hoʻolulu, Kamehameha’s bones are concealed in a cave off the coast of Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi located right off the shore of the old residence of ʻUmi-a-Liloa, which is supposedly in the hands of the QLCC (Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center) Trust (Section: Final Resting Place).

One would have to imagine what would happen if King Kamehameha’s final resting place was ever found. Would all of his immense mana transfer to the finder, or would his bones simply bear the physical signs and strain of the many years of battles without the legendary promise of a lifetime of power?

Kim Lin

Kim was born and raised in Hawaii on the Island of O'ahu, and graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her interests include health and fitness, science and history. She also loves traveling and cooking international cuisine.

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    • Furious George

      Really? Like, REALLY?