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The Great King Kamehameha

June 11 is the King Kamehameha Day of Celebration in Hawai'i 

This official Holiday was established in 1871 by Kamehameha V to honor his grandfather, Kamehameha I. The celebration begins in downtown Honolulu and ends in Waikiki with a parade of floral floats followed by riders on horseback costumed in flowing pa'u skirts in the colors of the island they represent complete with appropriate floral lei for the horse as well as the rider. Marching bands form schools throughout the island complete the parade. Across from the 'Iolani Palace, the regal statue of Kamehameha I is ceremonially draped in fragrant flower lei by many civic groups.


Legend surrounds the birth and death of Hawai'i's greatest warrior-king. Kamehameha I was named Pai'ea at birth (meaning hard-shelled crab, the name is thought to have been given him as a form of protection), but was later given the name Kamehameha - the solitary one. It is thought that he was born in North Köhala on the island of Hawai'i in December of the year 1758. Though written record keeping did not exist in Hawai'i at time, the chants speak of a comet appearing over the islands during the period of his birth. Kokoiki or Halley's comet was visible in the night skies in November or December of 1758. Kahuna, or Hawaiian priests, witnessing the celestial event prophesied the birth of a child who would be a "killer of all kings" and a mighty ruler. Because of this prediction the ruling king of the island of Hawai'i, Alapa'inui, fearing for his life ordered that the infant would be put to death immediately upon his birth.

Kamehameha's mother, Keku'iapoiwa, arranged for the newborn to be spirited away to Waipi'o Valley at birth where he was raised in secrecy by foster parents. Pai'ea was safe and well cared for in Waipi'o Valley. In time the ali'i no longer felt threatened by Pai'ea. After five years Pai'ea was allowed to return to his parents in Kailua-Kona. There he was given the name Kamehameha because of his solitary nature and finally allowed the training and care befitting a young ali'i. 

Kamehameha grew up to be the great leader that the priests had foretold. The young warrior accompanied his uncle Kalani'opu'u when he boarded Captain James Cook's ship, the HMS Discover in 1779. Bright, ambitious and resourceful, he used foreign weapons and skills to his advantage. In 1790 he and his warriors confiscated a small schooner, the Fair American, that was captured in retaliation for an earlier skirmish with another American vessel. The lone survivors of the Fair American attack were two Englishman named Isaac Davis and John Young. Davis and John Young eventually became trusted advisors to Kamehameha, teaching him the use of fire arms.

Kamehameha soon amassed a formidable army and a huge fleet of war canoes. By 1810, the islands of Hawai'i, Maui, O'ahu and Kaua'i were under his rule, and the Hawaiian kingdom was established.

With unification of the islands under a single ruler came peace and prosperity. Kamehameha, the great warrior, became known as a great statesman. Among his accomplishments were the establishment of trade with foreign countries and the development of the sandalwood industry. He was also known as a just ruler, introducing the Law of the Splintered Paddle, which protected the weak from the strong and insured that every man, women and child had the right to "lie down to sleep by roadside without fear of harm." In 1816 he introduced the Hawaiian flag, with its Union Jack in the upper corner and eight stripes representing the eight main Hawaiian islands.

Kamehameha died on May 8, 1819 in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawai'i. As was the ancient tradition, his bones were hidden to protect their mana, or power. To this day, no one knows where he rests.

Did you know there are 4 very similar statues of Kamehameha I?

The first statue was commissioned by King Kaläkaua and created by an American sculptor named Thomas Gould. it was cast in Paris in 1880 and shipped from Germany to Honolulu. As fate would have it, the ship carrying it caught a fire and sank off the Falkland Islands. Luckily, the original mold used to cast the statue had not been destroyed, and a second statue was made and successfully shipped to Honolulu, where it is was installed in front of Ali'iolani Hale, across from the 'Iolani Palace in 1883 and where it still stands today.

The original statue was later recovered from the shipwreck and installed near Kamehameha's birthplace in the Kohala district of the Big Island of Hawai'i. The third statue was cast using a mold made from the Honolulu statue, and it was erected in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. in 1959 when Hawai'i became the 50th state. The fourth statue was commissioned by a resort and cast in Italy in 1993. After much controversy, during which it was kept in a crate, it was finally installed in the town of Hilo on the island of Hawai'i.

(excerpts from information gathered by Tmmy Yee)

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