Kamehameha Day was first proclaimed by Kamehameha V as a day to honor his grandfather, Kamehameha I, and was first celebrated on December 11, 1871 (Kamehameha V’s birthday.) It later changed to 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.)” (Kamakau)
So, while linked to Kamehameha V’s birth date, it boils down to having a celebration when the weather is better (6-months from King Kamehameha V’s birthday.) The date does not have any direct connection to Kamehameha I.
The 1896 legislature of the Republic of Hawaiʻi 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 pāʻū 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.”
At the request of the monument committee, statue designer Thomas R Gould modified the features to make the king seem about 45-years old. The intent was a bronze statue of ‘heroic size’ (about eight-and-a-half-feet tall.)
‘Boston Evening Transcript’ of September 28, 1878, noted “It has been thought fitting that Boston, which first sent Christian teachers and ships of commerce to the Islands, should have the honor of furnishing this commemorative monument.”
While Gould was a Bostonian, he was studying in Italy, where he designed the statue; ultimately, the statue was cast in bronze in Paris.
It was shipped on August 21, 1880, by the bark ‘GF Haendel,’ and was expected about mid-December. On February 22, 1881, came word that the Haendel had gone down November 15, 1880, off the Falkland Islands. All the cargo had been lost.
About the time it was lost, King Kalākaua was on a royal tour of the island of Hawai‘i. He made a speech in front of the Kohala Post Office.
There, the King was reminded the Kamehameha Statue was destined for Honolulu, yet Kohala, the birthplace of Kamehameha, was overlooked as a place for his statue. Kohala residents then raised funds and a replica was ordered.
It turns out, however, that the original statue had been recovered and was in fair condition. The right hand was broken off near the wrist, the spear was broken and the feather cape had a hole in it. It was taken to a shed at Aliʻiolani Hale to be repaired.
Meanwhile, on January 31, 1883, the replica ordered by Kohala arrived. On February 14, 1883, the replica statue was unveiled at Aliʻiolani Hale during the coronation ceremonies for King Kalākaua.
As for the original statue (which had been repaired,) it was dedicated on May 8, 1883 (the anniversary of Kamehameha’s death) and is in Kapaʻau, North Kohala outside Kohala’s community/senior center.
There are now four different statues of similar design 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. As far as the parade goes, in 1903, the Territory of Hawaiʻi, Chamber of Commerce and Merchants’ Association created the Hawaiʻi Promotion Committee (forerunner to the Hawaiʻi Visitors and Convention Bureau.) Supported by a legislative appropriation, it was mandated to provide better publicity to encourage tourism to Hawaiʻi.
The early years of the Territorial era saw the creation of a series of public celebrations. Beginning with the Mid-Pacific Carnival in 1904, a series of multiethnic public celebrations and parades were created to attract tourists and showcase Hawaiʻi’s multi-ethnic culture.
The Mid-Pacific Carnival, held in February as a celebration in honor of Washington’s birthday, had spectacular and historic pageants and military parades featured. During the winter season, the Mid-Pacific Carnival was at ʻAʻala Park in downtown Honolulu. Circus acts, sideshows and hula dancers entertained the public.
The carnival had an annual Floral Parade. By the early-1900s, the automobile made its appearance and soon reduced the need and use of horses. Then, a group of women made a society to keep the culture going and Pāʻū clubs were formed.
The Hawaiian Star, February 22, 1906, headlined the “Floral Parade a Great Success.” “It was a great day for Honolulu. The Promotion Committee’s inauguration of what is intended to be an annual event in celebration of Washington’s birthday, could have asked no better day, no greater success …”
“… no more wide spread interest in all classes of the population, no greater enthusiasm among those who participated In the parade, and no more unique, striking, or picturesque a feature to individualize the celebration in Honolulu, and make it separate, and apart from the pageant of other places than the Pa-u riders.”
“The Pa-u riders, of course, were the magnet and center of attraction. This revival of an old custom, picturesque and under the conditions that gave rise to it, strikingly useful, was a happy thought of the Promotion Committee.”
“It appealed to dormant but when aroused, pleasing associations, among the older residents, especially the Hawaiians. It appealed to the love of oddity and the striking costume in the younger generation.” (The Hawaiian Star, February 22, 1906)
In 1916, Mid-Pacific Carnival merged into the Kamehameha Day Parade.
Next time you are at the original or replicas of the Kamehameha Statue, look closely at Kamehameha’s sash; there is an error in the arrangement of the sash. Traditionally, a sash is worn by first draping the sash over the left shoulder to where it falls between the knees.
Then the remaining length is wrapped around the waist and over the front flap of the sash to around the back, fed behind the part over the shoulder, and the remaining hangs down in the back (at knee length.) (San Nicolas) After that, you put the cape on over it all.
“In the statue the cordon passes from the pendent end up behind the portion used as a waist-band, over the left shoulder, outside the cloak, instead of returning down the back to form the belt as it should have done with the end tucked in to tighten the band, it leaves this belt as an independent member and passes down over the cloak to trail on the ground!” (Brigham)
“The final arrangement must be based on esthetic rather than historical grounds. In fact, the decorated end of the sash drags on the ground behind the figure. The other end has had to be supplemented with a fictitious terminal band to be presentable in front.”
“If you look closely, the final arrangement is impossible without two sashes: a long one from malo front over the shoulder and down to the ground, and a short, separate belt.” (Later noted by Charlot.)