Kalanimōkū was a trusted and loyal advisor to Kamehameha I, Liholiho
(Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III.)
Kalanimōkū was born at Ka‘uiki, Hāna, Maui, around 1768. His father was Kekuamanohā and his mother
was Kamakahukilani. Through his father, he was a grandson of Kekaulike, the
King Maui. He was a cousin of
Kaʻahumanu, Kamehameha's wife.
In various written documents Kalanimōkū’s name appears with various
spelling. Sometimes he is called Kalaimoku, Crymokoo, Craymoku, Craimoku and
Krimokoo. In documents personally signed
by him, he spelled his name Karaimoku.
Kalanimōkū was made Prime Minister for Kamehameha I and held the same
position during the reign of Liholiho and of Kauikeaouli, until his death.
He adopted the name William Pitt, because of his great admiration for
the British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger. He was frequently addressed as Mr. Pitt or
He had great natural abilities in both governmental and business
affairs. He was well liked and respected
by foreigners, who learned from experience to rely on his words.
Captain George Vancouver described Kalanimōkū as someone possessing
“vivacity, and sensibility of countenance, modest behavior, evenness of temper,
However, in his earlier years, Kalanimōkū was known for excessive
drinking, and according to Kamakau, was the first Hawaiian chief to buy
rum. This behavior appears to have
stopped after his acceptance of the Christian faith.
In 1819, Kalanimōkū was the first Hawaiian Chief to be baptized a
Roman Catholic, aboard the French ship Uranie, in the presence of Kuhina Nui
(Premier) Kaʻahumanu and King Kamehameha II.
Kalanimōkū had a passion for Christianity and later regularly attended
services at Kawaiahaʻo Church.
Kalanimōkū witnessed and participated in some of the significant
historic moments in Hawai‘i.
When Kamehameha set out to conquer O‘ahu in 1795, Kalanimōkū
commanded a large segment of Kamehameha’s invading army.
In 1816, Kalanimōkū, with a group of warriors, found that the
Russians had begun construction of a trading post/fort at the entrance of
Honolulu Harbor and were flying the Russian flag. However, when confronted by Kalanimōkū’s
warriors, they quickly departed and no hostilities took place.
Realizing the advantage of a fortification at the harbor’s entrance,
Kalanimōkū issued a proclamation ordering people throughout the island to
assist in the construction of a fort.
As Kamehameha’s health slowly declined, Kalanimōkū’s role increased;
as treasurer of the kingdom, he supervised the collection of taxes and oversaw
the lucrative sandalwood trade.
Kalanimōkū was one of several chiefs who treated Kamehameha as his
illness worsened, and was present when Kamehameha died.
Following the wishes of Kamehameha’s sacred wife, Keōpūolani,
Kalanimōkū took charge of matters, deciding who might remain with the body,
and dispatching messengers to spread the news to all islands.
For his strong leadership and strength in a time of great turmoil,
Keōpūolani declared Kalanimōkū the “iwikuamo‘o” (literally the spine or
backbone,) defined as “a near and trusted relative of a chief who attended to
his personal needs and possessions and executed private orders.”
Kalanimōkū, following ancient custom, offered himself as a death
companion to the great chief he so idolized; he was prevented from carrying out
his desire by other chiefs.
In 1819, when Liholiho proclaimed an end to the kapu system and
Kekuaokalani and his wife Manono refused to accept the new order and vowed to
go to war rather than abandon the ancient system, Kalanimōkū led an army
against the revolt of Kekuaokalani in December 1819, in the successful battle
When the missionaries first anchored at Kawaihae, they invited some of the
highest chiefs of the nation; Kalanimōkū was the first person of distinction
that came to greet them.
Reportedly, Kalanimōkū developed an immediate and sincere liking for
the New England missionaries. Throughout
his life, they turned to him for assistance and their requests invariably met
with positive results.
He served as regent along with Queen Kaʻahumanu, while Kamehameha II
traveled to London in 1823, and to Kamehameha III after Kamehameha II’s death
Kalanimōkū died at Kamakahonu (the former home of Kamehameha I) in
Kailua Kona, Hawai‘i Island on February 7, 1827. He had only one son, William Pitt Leleiohoku
I, who married Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani.
His death was a great loss to the Hawaiian kingdom; he demonstrated
loyalty and faithfulness toward Kamehameha I, his cousin Ka‘ahumanu, as well as
Liholiho and Kauikeaouli.
For 4½ years, as Director of DLNR, my office was in the Kalanimōkū
Building. At the time, I didn’t know of
the profound positive impact Kalanimōkū had in Hawaiian history. I am glad I followed-up and learned a little
more about him. (There is a lot more to
tell about him; some bits have been added to other stories of his time and
The image is Kalanimōkū, drawn by Alphonse Pellion in 1819. In addition, I have added a few more images
of Kalanimōkū in a folder of like name in the Photos section of my Facebook page.