Born at Kokoiki in North Kohala on the island of Hawai`i, Kamehameha descended from chiefs of Hawai`i and Maui. As a young man, he distinguished himself as a talented warrior and served his uncle Kalaniopu`u, ruler of several districts on the island. As part of Kalaniopu`u's retinue, Kamehameha met Captain Cook on Maui and was wounded in the scuffle that resulted in Cook's death at Kealakekua Bay. A keen battle strategist and admirer of Western weaponry, Kamehameha later utilized guns and cannon to defeat his own enemies and consolidate his power in the Islands.
Following the death of Kalaniopu`u in 1782
, civil war broke out over control of the districts and resources of Hawai`i island. Bequeathed Kalaniopu`u's war god, Kukailimoku, Kamehameha was spiritually favored and eventually vanquished his primary rival and cousin Keoua at Pu`ukohola, the large temple Kamehameha built to secure victory. By 1795
, Kamehameha had reconquered Maui, Lana`i, Kaho`olawe and Moloka`i and acquired control of O`ahu at the Battle of Nu`uanu. Kaua`i and Ni`ihau, under the leadership of Kaumuali`i, submitted to Kamehameha's rule by truce in 1810
Throughout his reign, Kamehameha upheld the tenets of traditional religion in the face of new cultural influences. Although he cultivated friendships and alliances with Westerners who could help maintain his status - like John Young and Isaac Davis who shared their weapons expertise - he tightly controlled Western business and political contacts with Hawaiians. Kamehameha and his chiefs supplied visiting ships with provisions during the fur trade and cut cargo-holds of sandalwood to pay for Western goods.
Of Kamehameha's several wives, the most sacred was Keopuolani. Of higher rank than Kamehameha, her sons and grandsons continued the Kamehameha ruling line. Kamehameha's favorite wife, Ka`ahumanu, was the daughter of Ke`eaumoku, one of Kamehameha's war generals from Kona. Ka`ahumanu inherited the advisory role of her father after his death and became a powerful player in Kamehameha's court and those of his successors.Mamala Hoe (Law of the Splintered Paddle)
During a raid on Puna, Kamehameha pursued several fishermen and his foot got stuck in a rock crevice. Realizing the chief's disadvantage, one of the fisherman struck him on the head with a paddle which splintered. As the first fisherman prepared to strike Kamehameha again, the other fisherman made a plea to his companion to spare Kamehameha. Deeply moved by this incident, Kamehameha later proclaimed a law to protect the defenseless and to ensure the safety of travelers. A version of the law was incorporated into the state constitution in 1978