Kamehameha Day was first celebrated in 1871 by Kamehameha V as a day to honor his grandfather, Kamehameha I (however, it was first celebrated on December 11 of that year.)
Here’s a little background on the celebration (Kepa Maly) and the reasoning why we now celebrate Kamehameha Day on June 11.
“The celebration of Kamehameha Day on June 11 came about in the following way.”
“On December 11, 1871, the birthday of Kamehameha V who was at that time ruling king, a public celebration was held with horse-riding and other sports.”
“It was agreed to make this celebration an annual event, but because of the uncertain weather in December to change the date to June.”
“Kamehameha V died soon after, and the holiday remained as a “Day in Commemoration of Kamehameha I,” (La Ho‘o-mana‘o o Kamehameha I.)”
So, while linked to Kamehameha V’s birth date (December 11,) because the weather is better in the summer, the decision was made to have the Kamehameha I celebration six months from the King Kamehameha V’s birthday (i.e. June 11 – the date has no direct significance to Kamehameha I.)
The 1896 legislature declared it a national holiday.
“Kamehameha Day was generally observed by the people. Elaborate preparations were made for the celebration of the day, with sumptuous feasts and sports, and every effort was brought to bear in order to insure the success of the occasion.”
“It might well be said that, in the language of the poet, its observance was usually attended with: ‘The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beaut’, all that wealth e’er gave.’”
“The celebration itself was characterized by a cheerful spirit and good-fellowshlp. ‘Aloha,’ the watchword that opened every heart and brightened every soul, was greeted on every side, and hospitality, unalloyed and unbounded, was displayed at every door. There was no distinction in race, color or creed.” (John C Lane, Mayor, 1916)
In 1939, Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes under the Territorial Legislature of Hawai‘i created the King Kamehameha Celebration Commission – that law remains in effect, today.
State law notes: §8-5 King Kamehameha celebration commission … “The commission shall have charge of all arrangements for the celebration each year generally observed throughout Hawai‘i Nei on June 11, to commemorate the memory of the great Polynesian Hawaiian warrior and statesman King Kamehameha I, who united the Hawaiian Islands into the Kingdom of Hawai‘i”.
In 1978 the legislature renamed this holiday King Kamehameha I Day.
Almost from its first observance this day was celebrated chiefly by horse races in Kapi‘olani Park; but the races eventually gave way to today’s parades of floats and paʻu riders.
On February 14, 1883, the Kamehameha statue was unveiled at Aliʻiōlani Hale during the coronation ceremonies for King Kalākaua.
The stance of the statue, with spear in left hand and right outstretched with open palm, showed the “successful warrior inviting the people … to accept the peace and order he had secured.”
There are now four similar statues of Kamehameha:
- The first replica stands prominently in front of Aliʻiolani Hale in Honolulu
- The initial (repaired) casting of the statue is at Kapaʻau, North Kohala
- Another replica is in US Capitol’s visitor center in Washington DC
- Another statue is at the Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo
The customary draping of the Kamehameha Statue with lei dates back to 1901. The image shows the lei-draped statue of Kamehameha in Honolulu. (wongsto)