Today, June 11th, is Kamehameha Day in Hawaii. Since 1871, when Hawaii was still a Kingdom, this day has been set aside to honor King Kamehameha the Great (Kamehameha I).
There are many legends about the birth of Kamehameha the Great, but nobody seems to agree on what year he was born. Some say he was born as early as 1736, while others believe he was born after Halley’s comet visited Hawaii in 1758. Hawaiian legend told that a great king would unite the Hawaiian Islands and the signal of his birth would be a comet. Fearing the “killer of chiefs” had been born, Kamehameha was marked for death as soon as he was born by the ruling chief who ordered the boy killed. Originally known as Pai’ea, which translates to “Hard-shelled Crab,” Kamehameha was raised in secret by another family for the first five years of his life. Eventually, he was given permission to return to his family where he grew up and became a cunning warrior.
Kamehameha I was a young chief on the Big Island of Hawaii when he began to form strong alliances and win violent battles in an attempt to conquer the Big Island. After he gained complete control over the island of Hawaii in 1791, he amassed an army of over 10,000 soldiers and set his sights on the islands of Maui, Molokai and O’ahu, which he controlled by 1795. It wasn’t until 1810 that the islands of Kaua’i and Ni’ihau submitted to Kamehameha’s control, thereby unifying the Hawaiian Islands for the first time.
Ka mehameha, which translates to “The Lonely One”, was known for creating the first written laws into the Hawaiian culture and unified a legal system within the Kingdom. Other positive aspects established under his rule, Kamehameha ended the practice of human sacrifice, provided safety for noncombatants during battles and established reliable trade between the Hawaiian Islands and Europe and the United States.
The Kingdom of Hawaii was established in 1810 with Kamehameha I as its first King, and would remain a Kingdom long after his death in 1819. The Islands were eventually annexed by the United States and made into a territory in 1898.
Kamehameha Day was one of the first holidays established by the Governor when Hawaii became a state in 1959. Some islands have floral parades, block parties, music and food to celebrate Kamehameha Day, but the most anticipated event is the draping ceremony which dates back to 1901.
There are a handful of statues of King Kamehameha I in the world and on Kamehameha Day these statues are adorned with floral leis to honor the King. The most popular statue stands across the street from ‘Iolani Palace and in front of Ali’iolani Hale, which is home to the Hawaii State Supreme Court, but there are other statues out there. Two statues reside on the island of Hawaii and can be found in Kapa’au and another in Hilo overlooking Hilo Bay. There is a smaller statue in the Polynesian shopping center, across from the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. In Washington, D.C. a bronze statue of King Kamehameha can be found in the National Statuary Hall. On Maui, a Herb Kane commissioned statue of Kamehameha the Great can be found as you enter the grounds of the Grand Wailea Resort and Spa.