Each June, Hawai‘i pays tribute to KS’ namesake, the fearless leader who unified the Hawaiian islands. The article below paints a picture of one the earliest celebrations of Kamehameha Day in the late 1800s.
The first observance of Kamehameha Day took place on June 11, 1872. Lot Kapuāiwa (Kamehameha V) instituted the holiday, which is meant to be a day to honor his grandfather, Kamehameha I.
Early celebrations of Kamehameha Day featured carnivals, fairs, and lots of racing – foot races, horse races and even velocipede races. The Hawaiian Language newspaper “Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi,” dated June 14, 1877, reported that more than 4,000 people gathered at the horse race track where Kapiʻolani Park now sits. King Kalākaua and his consort Kapiʻolani were in attendence and there was even a gunshot salute to remember the warrior king.
Kamehameha Day was one of the first holidays adopted by Hawaiʻi when it achieved statehood in 1959.
In more recent times, Kamehameha Day has evolved into a celebration of elaborate events. There are activities such as Sunday service at Kawaiahaʻo Church, lei draping ceremonies on the Kamehameha statues, floral parades and more.
This year's festivities include a June 12 lei-draping ceremony at the King Kamehameha Statue in Honolulu, a June 13 floral parade and Hoʻolauleʻa, and culminates with the King Kamehameha Hula Competition on Saturday, June 13 at the Neal Blaisdell Center. The competition is an international event where various hālau come together to contend for honors in oli and hula.
Although the way the event is celebrated has changed, the honor remains the same. This month, Hawaiʻi once again lifts up Kamehameha I in great reverence for his hard work as a noble leader, just as Lot intended so many years ago.
For details on the upcoming festivities, visit the state's King Kamehameha Celebration Commission web page.