Kānāwai Māmalahoe
(Law of the Splintered Paddle)

Kānāwai Māmalahoe (Law of the Splintered Paddle)
Kānāwai Māmalahoe (Law of the Splintered Paddle)

Original 1797 law in Hawaiian:

Kānāwai Māmalahoe:
E nā kānaka,
E mālama ‘oukou i ke akua
A e mālama ho‘i ke kanaka nui a me kanaka iki;
E hele ka ‘elemakule, ka luahine, a me ke kama
A moe i ke ala
‘A‘ohe mea nāna e ho‘opilikia.
Hewa nō, make.

English translation:

Law of the Splintered Paddle:
Oh people,
Honor thy god;
respect alike [the rights of] people both great and humble;
May everyone, from the old men and women to the children
Be free to go forth and lie in the road (i.e. by the roadside or pathway)
Without fear of harm.
Break this law, and die.

Kānāwai Māmalahoe, or Law of the Splintered Paddle (also translated Law of the Splintered Oar), The law, "Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety," is a traditional law of the land and one that King Kamehameha included in his rule.

It is said that when King Kamehameha I was on a military expedition in Puna, his party encountered a group of maka`ainana (common people) on a beach. While chasing two fishermen, who had stayed behind to cover and protect the retreat of a man carrying a child, Kamehameha's leg became caught in the reef.

One of the fishermen named Kaleleiki, in an attempt to defend himself, hit Kamehameha on the head with a paddle, which subsequently broke into pieces. Kamehameha could well have been killed at that point, yet the fisherman spared him.

Many years later, the same fisherman was brought before Kamehameha. Instead of ordering for him to be killed, Kamehameha ruled that the fisherman had only been protecting his land and his family, and so the Law of the Splintered Paddle was declared.

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