Ka'ianaa'ahu'ulu: A Leader of Hawai'i

Teacher Summary

Teacher Summary




Adapted from www.newtradewinds.org; originally designed by the staff of Bishop Museum

Essential Questions

     1. What makes a good leader? 
     2. Do you have what it takes? 
     3. Does the definition of a good leader change with the circumstances or the times?

Grade Level

High School

Students learn the story of Ka’ianaa’ahu’ula (sometimes shortened to Ka’iana), one of Kamehameha I’s most trusted advisors.  They identify the characteristics that made him a leader and analyze whether those qualities would be helpful in the world today.  The end with a consideration of their own leadership abilities.

5 class periods (based on 50-minute classes)

1.    Students will learn the life story of one of Hawai’i’s great leaders of the past.
2.    Students will identify the qualities that a leader in 18th century Hawai’i had to possess.
3.    Students will apply their interpretations to leadership qualities to their own lives and times.
4.    Students will compare the leadership qualities shown by Ka’iana with leaders from other parts of the world.

National Standards
•    Language Arts/English Standard 1: Reading for perspective
•    Language Arts/English Standard 2: Understanding the Human Experience
•    Language Arts/English Standard 7: Evaluating data
•    Language Arts/English Standard 9: Multicultural understanding
•    Language Arts/English Standard 12: Applying language skills
•    U.S. History Standard 2: Era of colonization and settlement

Hawai’i State Standards
•    Social Studies Standard 1 (History): Change, continuity, causality
•    Social Studies Standard 2 (History): Historical empathy
•    Social Studies Standard 3 (History): Historical inquiry
•    Social Studies Standard 4 (History): Historical perspectives and interpretations
•    Social Studies Standard 10 (Cultural Anthropology): Cultural systems
•    Language Arts Standard 2 (Reading and Literature): Comprehension processes
•    Language Arts Standard 4 (Reading and Literature): Response
•    Language Arts Standard 9 (Oral Communication): Communication processes
•    Participation in class discussion
•    Student journals
•    Completion of homework (i.e., a picture or description of a leader, identification of leadership qualities in a partner)
•    Completion of the reading
•    Fast-write completion

Materials Needed

• Chart paper• Journals for students• Student Readings:    • The Story of Ka'iana
    • A Leader of Salem: Nathaniel Bowditch    • Apanuugpak: A Yup’ik Warrior    • Ekeuhnick: Ancient Leader of the Inupiat    • Elizabeth Jean Wanamaker Peratrovich: A Tlingit Leader for Our Times


Teaching Strategies

Teaching Strategies


1.    Introduce Ka’ianaa’ahu’ula (Ka’iana) as a leader of the Hawaiians of the 18th century.

2.    Review with students what was happening in Hawai’i during the 18th century: Europeans had sailed into Hawaiian waters, introducing people to a strange new people and culture.  Kamehameha of the island of Hawai’i had begun his quest to unify the islands.  He was aided in this by the royalty, both chiefs and chiefesses, who were called the ali’i.

3.    Discuss with students what qualities a good leader must have under these circumstances.

4.    Ask: How does a person develop or obtain these qualities?

5.    Discuss whether the same qualities are necessary in leaders today.

6.    Have students log their responses in personal journals or on chart paper.

7.    As homework, assign that students bring in a picture or written description of a person they consider to be a leader.  This must be an actual person, either living or dead, and the individual must be identified.


1.    Distribute the reading “Ka’ianaa’ahu’ula: What Makes Him a Great Leader?” Have the students read the story and answer the following questions in their journals.
•    In your opinion, what leadership skills, if any, does Ka'iana display?
•    Describe situations or give examples from the story that support your response.
•    Do you think Ka'iana should go down in history a friend or foe of Hawai’i? Support your response.
•    If Ka'iana had shot Kamehameha I, rather than being killed himself, what would have happened? Rewrite the story.
•    In your opinion, is there anyone else in the story who is a leader? What are his or her leadership qualities?
•    Give examples from the story that support the traits of your chosen leader.
•    Compare Ka'iana to the leader whose description or picture you brought to class. What are the similarities? Differences? Explain.
•    Have you ever felt betrayed by a good friend, or someone else you trusted? If so, describe the situation or events.
•    Has this been resolved? If not, what is a solution? What did you learn from the experience?

2.    Choose one or more of the questions listed above and discuss them in class.

3.    Divide the class into pairs of students.  Each pair will go around together the next day during school and note when their partners exhibited leadership in action.


1.    Discuss what leadership qualities students noticed in their partner and describe how they demonstrated their leadership abilities.

2.    Visit other learning centers on this web site and download and print the leadership stories from Alaska and Massachusetts (Bowditch, Apanuugpak, Ekeuhnick, and Elizabeth Peratrovich).  Have students choose a story from among them and answer the following questions in their journals.  Be sure that each leader is chosen by at least one student.  
•    Select a leader from one of the stories.
•    Compare this person to Ka'iana. What are the similarities? Differences?
•    Support your response from situations in the stories of Ka'iana and your selected story.

3.    Discuss the similarities and differences between Ka’iana and the other leaders in class.

4.    Discuss similarities and differences between the qualities needed during the lifetime of each of the leaders and those needed today.  Have students take notes on the discussion in their journals.

5.    Have students do a fast-write on the topic: “A time when I led.”

DAYS 4 and 5

1.    Have students plan a Career Day in which they invite chosen leaders to the class to speak about themselves and their understanding of leadership.

2.    In preparation for the visit, help students generate questions to ask.

3.    Invite the chosen leaders and carry out Career Day.

4.    Debrief on the experience.  What did the speakers add to the students’ understanding of leadership?

5.    Remember to write thank you letters to all who spoke.

The Story of Ka'iana

The Story of Ka'iana

Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula’s story appears in more written sources than almost any other eighteenth century Hawaiian. History records him as the first Hawaiian ali‘i [chief] to travel to China and Northwest America and to bring back useful foreign knowledge and goods. On his return to the islands, Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula joined forces with Kamehemaha and settled his family on the island of Hawai‘i. Many foreigners sought his help when they visited the islands, and Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula used these exchanges to learn strategic knowledge and get foreign goods.

Later, the other chiefs turned against him and succeeded in arousing Kamehameha’s suspicions that he was a traitor. Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula responded by joining the forces of Kalaniopu‘u and fighting against Kamehameha at the Battle of Nu‘uanu. He died early in the battle in 1795.  As history records, Kamehameha’s forces were ultimately victorious.

Was Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula a leader? What makes a person a leader? Are all leaders famous people?  Are all famous people leaders?

History records that Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula was an ambitious Kaua‘i chief whose manner, appearance, intelligence, and compassion commanded respect from many of the foreigners he met. His ali‘i training, which began at an early age, prepared him for dealings with foreigners as well as for his position as an ali‘i chief, seer, genealogist, warrior, and military commander.

The earliest written description of Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula dates to his first encounter with Captain Portlock of the ship King George and Captain George Dixon of the ship Queen Charlotte when both arrived at Waimea, Kaua‘i, in December 1786. Ka’ianaa’ahu’ula was ruling Waimea during the temporary absence of King Ka‘eo.

Captain Dixon described the Hawaiian ali’i as a powerful Kaua‘i chief with an impressive entourage of attendants.  He also called him a loving family man. Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula was about 23 years old at the time, and stood nearly six foot five inches with what the British captain called a “herculean” appearance. He was married and had a child.

Captain Dixon believed Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula was more interested in seeking foreign knowledge useful to his community than in establishing trade with the British or acquiring foreign goods. Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula seldom brought gifts or things to trade, devoting far more time to observing and asking questions of the foreigners.

Chief Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula presented himself as a candidate for a journey aboard Captain Meares’ ship Nootka. Although many clamored for the opportunity, only Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula was selected to sail to “Britain.” Already aboard the Nootka was the Native American Chief Comcheka from Prince George’s Sound, located in Nootka Sound, Northwest America (in what is today British Columbia). Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula left on board the ship for China on August 27, 1787.

Captains Portlock, Dixon, Meares, Douglas, and their English contemporaries found Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula to be intelligent, educated, observant, and personable. He carried himself with dignity and commanded respect – so much so, that many became his friends and teachers while abroad. They introduced Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula to many new places and experiences and gave him gifts for use when he returned home.

Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula left Macao in October 1787 aboard Captain Meares’ ship Felice. He transferred to Captain Douglas’s ship Iphigenia while the Felice was being repaired on the Philippine island of Mindanao. He then traveled to Melanesia, Palau, across the Pacific to the Aleutian Islands (in what is today Alaska), and down the coast of Northwest America. He arrived at Port Cox in Nootka Sound in late August 27, 1788. Two months later, Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula sailed for home. The ship anchored off the Maui coast on December 6, 1788 and then continued to the island of Hawai‘i, where Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula disembarked on December 7, 1788.

Although Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula was not the first Hawaiian to travel to Kahiki [foreign lands], his experiences allowed him to establish friendships and trading relationships with foreigners far beyond those possible for his ali‘i contemporaries. Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula spent more than a year abroad learning about the China trade, including the trade in Hawai‘i that provisioned ships for voyages across the South Pacific and to Northwest America.  He observed first-hand the foreign market system in China’s ports. He learned about large-scale manufacturing in factories.  He visited densely populated marketplaces offering goods from around the globe, foreign weapons and shipbuilding.  He witnessed the displacement of indigenous communities by foreign traders and militia.

Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula elevated his ali‘i status upon his return by using his foreign friendships and his knowledge of global trade. Foreigners requested his assistance when provisioning and trading in the islands. Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula leveraged his knowledge to obtain foreign weapons and negotiate trade arrangements favorable to Kamehameha. Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula interacted more frequently with foreigners and exerted greater power in defining the nature of Hawaiian trade than other chiefs of similar rank.

Some remember Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula as the first ali‘i to travel abroad and return with foreign knowledge. Others remember his alliance with Kamehameha and his decision later to join Kalanikupule and fight against Kamehameha at the Battle of Nu‘uanu, where he died. Both are accurate, but neither does him justice.

As a leader, Ka‘ianaa‘ahu‘ula forever changed the nature of China trade in Hawai‘i. He showed that he had the necessary intelligence, ambition, vision, conviction, and compassion to broaden his horizons and to challenge his capabilities. His voyage to Kahiki introduced him to many new sights, sounds, smells, and ideas.  But through it all, he never lost sight of who he was or where he came from. He returned to his family and his responsibilities and duties as a Hawaiian ali‘i.