King Kamehameha Day

By Team
Hula dancers perform in front of the King Kamehameha statue in Honolulu

Photo: Dennis Oda / Star-Advertiser

150th Annual King Kamehameha Celebration

Every year during the month of June, Hawaiʻi comes together to celebrate King Kamehameha Day, a state holiday that honors King Kamehameha I — known to be a fearless warrior, a wise diplomat and a highly-respected leader. The revered monarch, who is also called “Kamehameha the Great,” is credited with uniting the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810, after years of near endless strife and conflict.

According to ancient Hawaiian lore, the king’s history was foretold when his birth, in 1753, was announced by the appearance of a comet as it streaked across the Hawaiian sky. All throughout the islands, this special annual holiday is celebrated with beautiful traditions, including lei draping, parades, festivals and, of course, hula. So well-known and beloved was King Kamehameha, that there are now a total of six statues paying tribute to his person, commemorating this fierce and awesome warrior king.

The Symbolic Draping of Lei

Workers drape lei on the King Kamehameha statue in Honolulu

Photo: Dennis Oda / Star-Advertiser

The King Kamehameha Statue Lei Draping Ceremony at Aliʻiolani Hale in downtown Honolulu may be the most photographed event in Hawaiʻi. The statue stands 15 feet high on a pedestal of equal height. Hundreds of feet of plumeria flower lei have been strung like ropes, each at least 30 feet long.

Flowers are sewn by the members of the royal societies, aided by dozens of volunteers. The fresh lei are loaded into the arms of Honolulu’s city workers who are lifted up in the bucket truck to carefully place the lei.  Hawaiian protocol dictates that the lei must be placed over the king’s outstretched arm only. Lei are never draped over a feather cape – bronze or real.

Celebrating King Kamehameha Day on Oahu

On Oʻahu, the celebrations honoring King Kamehameha center upon Downtown and Waikīkī, where the Annual King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade will take place. A true feast for the eyes, the magnificent parade is a dazzling display of old Hawaiʻi pageantry with all its breathtaking colors, flowers and people.

Beginning at 9 a.m. at ‘Iolani Palace, the vibrant procession, marked by a floral fantasia of floats and horse riding units and vehicles, will wind its way to Queen Kapʻiolani Park in Waikīkī.

Celebrating King Kamehameha Day on Hawaii Island

Although Oʻahu perhaps has the greatest number of people involved in the festivities, the other Hawaiian islands also pay homage to the great king. Hilo, on Hawaiʻi Island, conducts its own lei draping ceremony at the Bayfront Drive King Kamehameha statue, as well as hosting the Kamehameha Festival at Mokuola, or Coconut Island. There is also an annual lei draping in Kohala, the birthplace of King Kamehameha followed by a parade and hoʻolauleʻa.

Celebrating King Kamehameha Day on Maui

King Kamehameha is celebrated on Maui with the Na Kamehameha Commemorative Pau Parade, which boasts a string of local marching bands and colorful floats, and travels along Lahaina’s historic Front Street, where it then ends at Banyan Tree Park with, you guessed it, another hoʻolauleʻa!

There Are 6 Kamehameha Statues Worldwide


Photo: Star-Advertiser.

Many monarchs are honored in Hawaiʻi. King Kamehameha is the most celebrated monarch of all, with multiple statues. The sculpture in Honolulu is one of the most photographed landmarks. Photos were used in the opening scenes of the original 1970’s Hawaii Five-O and in the new Five-O series, possibly hundreds of travel magazine pages and an un-counted number of Trip to Hawaii story-line sit-coms and television commercials.

The Original Kamehameha Statue

How the king’s likeness got to the spot is interesting. In 1878 Walter M. Gibson, a member of the Hawaiian government wanted to commemorate the 100-year arrival of Captain Cook to the Hawaiian Islands. The legislature appropriated $10,000 for the project. Gibson contracted Thomas R. Gould, a Boston sculptor who had never been to Hawaii, Gibson sent photos of Polynesians. Still, the face came out a bit Roman. In 1880 the sculpture was sent to Paris to be cast in bronze, too late for the 100th anniversary of Cook’s arrival.

A Second Statue Was Quickly Re-cast

Completed In 1883, the statue was on its way to Hawaiʻi when the ship sunk off the Falkland Islands and the statue assumed lost. A second statue was quickly re-cast. Meanwhile, some Falkland-islanders found the original and sold it to the captain of the wrecked ship. He, in turn, sold it to Gibson for $875. Both statues arrived. The first stands on Hawaiʻi Island in the king’s birthplace, Kohala. The second is in Downtown Honolulu.

A Third Statue for Statehood

The third statue was commissioned when Hawaiʻi became a state. It was unveiled in 1969 and stood in the United States Capitol beside the Father Damien of Molokaʻi statue. It was the heaviest of all the statues, weighing in at 15,000 pounds. When Barack Obama was nominated as a candidate for president the statue was moved from a dark back corner of Statuary Hall to a very prominent position in Emancipation Hall in the new visitor center.

Hilo, Grand Wailea Resort and Las Vegas

Three more castings are located in Hilo on Hawaiʻi Island, at the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui and, finally, there is a statue in what is often called the 9th Hawaiian Island, located at the Las Vegas Hawaiian Marketplace.

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