Lā Kū‘oko‘a (Independence Day) celebrated on November 28 was one of the first holidays to be observed annually in Hawai‘i. It was on that day in 1843, that Hawai‘i was formally recognized as an independent nation by the powerful countries of Britain and France.
In 1840, Mr. Richard Charlton, the first British ambassador to Hawai‘i, falsely claimed ownership of land and sparked a chain of events which ultimately led to the forced cession and restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom three years later.
The effects of this land claim also lingered within the Hawaiian judicial system and prompted Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) to enact the Māhele of 1848, forever changing the kingdom’s system of land tenure.
By late 1842, Charlton’s land claim remained unresolved and Kauikeaouli decided to send two emissaries, William Richards and Timoteo Ha‘alilio, to negotiate formal treaties recognizing Hawai‘i’s sovereignty from various nations.
In February of 1843, Captain Lord George Paulet of Britain arrived in Hawai‘i to investigate Charlton’s claim, he quickly and illegally seized the Hawaiian Kingdom. Although Ha‘alilio and Richards had already obtained US President Tyler and Congress’ verbal assurance of Hawai‘i’s independence, this informal acknowledgement was not yet enough to overturn Paulet’s actions.
Over the next five months, Great Britain worked with the Hawaiian Kingdom to rectify the situation and on July 31, 1843, British Admiral Richard Thomas returned the Hawaiian Kingdom to Kauikeaouli. That day became known as Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea, another Hawaiian national holiday marking the ho‘iho‘i (restoration, return) of Hawai‘i’s ea (sovereignty).
During that entire time, Ha‘alilio and Richards continued their successful mission in Europe with the aid of Sir George Simpson of the Hudson Bay Company. They stayed even beyond the events of July 31 specifically to witness the formal treaty signing between Britain and France that recognized the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom. This day was November 28, 1843, Lā Kū‘oko‘a – Independence Day.
The Hawaiian Kingdom’s national independence was recognized by 16 world nations between 1843 and 1885. International treaty relationships were established with such countries as Austria-Hungary, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Norway, the Swiss Confederation, and the United States of America.
The first version of the Hawaiian coat of arms was created at this time to aid the ambassadors in their official mission. While in London, Ha‘alilio, submitted a design he made to a professional engraver to have him create the formal seal, which after a few changes was officially adopted in 1845.