Though I come to you today from Capitol Hill, my thoughts are back home with the king who united our Hawai‘i and whose statue now stands in a place of honor in our U.S. Capitol.
And I am reminded today of my first lessons on Kamehameha as a young boy growing up in Hilo on our mutual home island; Lessons that came alive at places like the Hilo public library where the Naha Stone rested and still rests.
But Kamehameha’s first edict, “the law of the splintered paddle” took some time for me to understand and it still resonates in unexpected places and ways.
As told to me then, as Ali‘i Aimoku – a young warrior chief – Kamehameha led an attack on a peaceful fishing village.
As he confronted two fishermen – one of them struck him with a canoe paddle - that splintered.
The young chief was wounded – but survived – and he would remember that incident.
When Kamehameha became king - he actually pardoned the fishermen whom he faced off with as a young man.
Now older and wiser, he learned from his experience, and drew up the first written law of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i: the law of the splintered paddle -- which provides for the safety of those who are not combatants.
It became the symbol for the way a leader should care for his people – one who does the right thing – and takes responsibility for his actions. A leader who respects others and stands on principle.
Across from the Capitol where I work is another building where you find the highest court of our land – the United States Supreme Court.
There you will find on the western façade the words “equal justice under the law.”
Those words are the essence of Kamehameha’s law of the splintered paddle – that all people in his kingdom – from keiki to kūpuna - are to be treated equally and protected from harm.
Recently – I joined congressional colleagues on a trip to Europe that included a visit to Poland – which shares a border with Ukraine.
There I saw war through the eyes of a child – in drawings displayed at a refugee center in Warsaw.
Of the three-point-five million refugees in Poland from Ukraine – 95 percent are women and children.
These are the weak – those who cannot take up arms in war – that Kamehameha sought to protect – with his law of the splintered paddle.
Nations should take heed of his example – a leader who showed that he truly cared for others – in war – and in peace