It was created when Kamehameha was fighting to unite the Hawaiian Islands into a single kingdom. While chasing two fishermen (presumably with the intention to kill them), his leg was caught in the reef, and one of the fisherman, Kaleleiki, tried to defend himself by hitting the King mightily on the head with a paddle -which broke into pieces. Luckily, Kamehameha was able to escape. Years later, the same fisherman was brought before Kamehameha. Instead of ordering for him to be killed Kamehameha ruled that the fisherman should not be punished because he had only been protecting his land and family -and so the Law of the Splintered Paddle was declared.
The complete 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.
Law of the Splintered Paddle:
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 lay in the road (i.e. by the roadside or pathway)
Without fear of harm.
Break this law, and die.
Countless stories abound in Hawaiian folklore of the removal of chiefs –generally, but not always, through popular execution –as a result of mistreatment of the common people, who have traditionally been intolerant of bad government. As a shrewd politician and leader as well as a skilled warrior, Kamehameha used these concepts to turn what could have been a point of major popular criticism to his political advantage, while protecting the human rights of his people for future generations.
Kānāwai Māmalahoe has been applied to Hawaiian rights, elder law, children's rights, homeless advocacy, and bicyclist safety. It also appears as a symbol of crossed paddles in the center of the badge of the Honolulu Police Department.
Live Long and Prosper...