The history of Hawaiʻi’s National Anthems generally starts in 1861. Before then, the kingdom of Hawaiʻi did not have its own anthem, but used the British royal anthem “God Save the King”.
E Ola ka Mō‘ī i ke Akua (“God Save the King”) (Lunalilo)
The Hawaiian language newspaper, Ka Nūpepa Kū‘oko‘a, wishing to promote a Hawaiian national song sponsored an anthem writing contest in 1861. The rules specified four stanzas in the Hawaiian language, but still set to the tune of God Save the King.
Fifteen anonymous entries were submitted. In January of 1862, the judges chose an entry titled “E Ola ka Mō‘ī i ke Akua” as the winner. The composer was Prince William Lunalilo, age 27; his prize was $10.00.
His song was a faithful translation of “God Save The King” into Hawaiian, yet it fits the music of the British tune. Lunalilo’s new song was sung first on the birthday of Kamehameha IV.
E Ola ka Mō‘ī i ke Akua
He Mele Lahui Hawaiʻi (“The Song of the Hawaiian Nation”) (Liliʻuokalani)
King Kamehameha V wanted to replace the translated British anthem by a song with a truly Hawaiian background. At the request of King Kamehameha V, the new song “He Mele Lāhui Hawaiʻi” (“The Song of the Hawaiian Nation”) was composed in 1868 by Mrs. John Dominis (later known as Queen Liliʻuokalani.)
Liliʻuokalani’s memoir, Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen, stated: “In the early years of the reign of Kamehameha V, he brought to my notice the fact that the Hawaiian people had no national air. Each nation, he said, but ours had its statement of patriotism and love of country in its own music; but we were using for that purpose on state occasions the time-honored British anthem, ‘God save the Queen.'” (Liliʻuokalani)
“This he desired me to supplant by one of my own composition. In one week’s time I notified the king that I had completed my task. The Princess Victoria had been the leader of the choir of the Kawaiahaʻo church; but upon her death, May 29, 1866 I assumed the leadership. It was in this building and by that choir that I first introduced the ‘Hawaiian National Anthem.’” (Liliʻuokalani)
“The king was present for the purpose of criticising my new composition of both words and music, and was liberal in his commendations to me on my success. He admired not only the beauty of the music, but spoke enthusiastically of the appropriate words, so well adapted to the air and to the purpose for which they were written.” (Liliʻuokalani)
The lyrics of this song praise the Hawaiian Islands. It asks the lord for blessing for the land, its people, chiefs and king. Liliʻuokalani was then the leader of the Kawaiahaʻo church choir, which introduced the new anthem in a public service.
He Mele Lahui Hawaiʻi
Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī (“Hawaiʻi’s own”) (Kalākaua)
King David Kalākaua (brother of Liliʻuokalani) wrote the words to “Hymn to Kamehameha I” (Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī) in 1874 and the music was composed by Captain Henri Berger, then the king’s royal bandmaster.
Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī was one of the national anthems of the Republic of Hawaiʻi and the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, having replaced Liliʻuokalani’s composition He Mele Lahui Hawaiʻi.
Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī was the adopted song of the Territory of Hawaiʻi; and later became the State song for the State of Hawaiʻi, by an act of the Hawaiʻi State Legislature in 1967:
“HRS-§5-10 State song. The song “Hawai‘i Pono‘i” is adopted, established, and designated as the official song of the State, to be effective for as long as the legislature of the State does not otherwise provide.”