King Kamehameha Day

By Lynn Cook

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King Kamehameha in the yellow cape and helmet surrounded by his warriors. Photo courtesy of Daniel Ramirez via Flickr.com.

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 dra-ping, parades, festivals and, of course, hula. So well-known and beloved was King Kamehame-ha, 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

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Photo courtesy of Daniel Ramirez via Flickr.com.

The King Kamehameha Statue Lei Draping Ceremony at Aliʻiolani Hale in downtown Honolulu may be the most photographed event in Hawaii. 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. June 9, 2017 is the next lei draping ceremony.

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Photo courtesy of karendesuyo via Flickr.com.

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

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Kamehameha’s warriors prepare for the parade. Photo taken in front on the Iolani Palace barracks. Photo courtesy of kalanz via Flickr.com. See entire photo album here.

On Oʻahu, the celebrations honoring King Kamehameha center upon Downtown and Waikīkī, where on June 10, 2017, the 101st 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. Here, an exciting Hoʻolauleʻa (really big party) will be ready and waiting at 11 a.m. to fill the park band-stand with revelry and live entertainment lasting until 4 p.m.

Celebrating King Kamehameha Day on Hawaii Island


And 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 a hoʻolaulea at Mokuola, or Coconut Island. Kohala also drapes its onsite statue in lei, a ceremony which is then also followed by a parade and hoʻolauleʻa. The Kailua-Kona celebration features a parade down Aliʻi Drive, following which, a ho‘olaule‘a is hosted at Hulihe‘e Palace, including a free concert featuring top Hawaiian recording artists.

Celebrating King Kamehameha Day on Kauai

Photo: Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Isle.

Kauaʻi’s parade, held in Lihue, travels from Vidinha Stadium, along Rice Street, to the County Building for its hoʻolaulea.

Celebrating King Kamehameha Day on Maui

Photo courtesy of Nā Kamehameha Commemorative Pāʻū Parade.

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

There Are 6 Kamehameha Statues Worldwide

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The Royal Order of Kamehameha I honor the king in Downtown Honolulu. Photo courtesy of Honolulu 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

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The Original Kamehameha Statue resides in Kohala on Hawaii Island. Photo courtesy of RDPixelShop via Flickr.com.

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

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The second Kamehameha statue resides in Downtown Honolulu. Photo courtesy of Daniel Ramirez via Flickr.com.

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

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The third Kamehameha statue proudly stands in Washington D.C. Photo courtesy of squirrel83 via Flickr.com.

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

Kamehameha-Statues

From left to right: The fourth Kamehameha statue stands in Hilo. Photo courtesy of Tristan Schumurr via Flickr.com. The Maui Grand Wailea Kamehameha statue was made by renown Hawaiian artist Herb Kane. This statue’s facial features most likely resemble Kamehameha the person. Photo courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr via Flick.com. The Las Vegas Kamehameha statue resides just outside of the Hawaiian Marketplace. Notice the pineapple in the picture. Photo courtesy of Carmzz via Flickr.com.

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.

Click here to see previous photo galleries.

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