Kauikeaouli was born at Keauhou Bay, on Hawaiʻi island, the largest island in the Hawaiian Islands archipelago. He was the second son of King Kamehameha I and his highest ranking wife, Queen Keōpūolani of Maui. The precise date is not known. Early historians suggested June or July 1814, but the generally accepted date is August 11, 1813. He was of the highest kapu lineage. Kauikeaouli was about 16 years younger than his brother Liholiho, who ruled as Kamehameha II starting in 1819. He was named Kauikeaouli (placed in the dark clouds) Kaleiopapa Kuakamanolani Mahinalani Kalaninuiwaiakua Keaweaweʻulaokalani (the red trail or the roadway by which the god descends from heaven) after his maternal grandfather Kīwalaʻō. He was promised to Kuakini in hānai, but at birth he appeared to be delivered stillborn, Kuakini did not wish to take him. But Chief Kaikioʻewa summoned his kaula (prophet) Kapihe who declared the baby would live. Kauikeaouli was cleansed, laid on a rock, fanned, prayed over and sprinkled with water until he breathed, moved and cried. The prayer of Kapihe was to Kaʻōnohiokalā, "Child of God". The rock is preserved as a monument at Keauhou Bay. Kamehameha III chose to celebrate his birthday on March 17 in honor of his admiration for Saint Patrick of Ireland. He was given to Kaikioʻewa to raise.
Kauikeaouli had a troubled childhood. He was torn between the Puritan Christian guidelines imposed on the kingdom by the kuhina nui (Queen Regent) who was his stepmother Kaʻahumanu, and the desires to honor the old traditions. Under the influence of Oahu governor Boki, who owned a liquor store, and a young Hawaiian-Tahitian named Kaomi, Kauikeaouli turned to alcohol, and the young king created the secret order of Hulumanu (Bird Feather), a group of Hawaiian men devoted to seeking pleasure and rebelling against the teaching of the missionaries and made Kaomi his co-ruler in place of Kīnaʻu. Although he settled down and returned to ways of the missionaries by 1835.
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