Kamehameha the Great (1758?-1819) is one of the most significant figures in Hawaiʻi’s history. As the first ruler of the enduring Kamehameha Dynasty, Kamehameha the Great’s rise to power was prophesied even before his birth, and fulfilled by his historic and incomparable reign. PC: Tor Johnson.
Following his unprecedented move of the enormous Naha Stone, Kamehameha was sent to Hawai‘i Island’s North Kohala District where, in accordance with ancient Polynesian customs, he was raised in seclusion and received training by his uncle Kalaniʻōpuʻu befitting of a high-ranking Hawaiian aliʻi (chief). Through lessons in navigation, warfare, oral history and culture, Kamehameha was poised to become a powerful and influential Hawaiian warrior.
His future reign came to fruition following Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1778.
Even prior to Captain Cook’s arrival, Kamehameha had already exercised his leadership in multiple regional and political power struggles. It’s said that the fearless Kamehameha fought alongside Kalaniʻōpuʻu in the battle in which Captain Cook was killed. Following his death, Kamehameha rose to power and, one by one, united the Hawaiian Islands—Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Moloka‘i, O‘ahu, and finally Kaua‘i. In the year 1810, Kamehameha the Great became the first ali‘i in Hawaiian history to unify the islands, setting the framework for a more peaceful and prosperous future for his people.
As Hawai‘i’s great ruler, Kamehameha worked tirelessly to protect his people while upholding order and stability in the islands. He did so through the introduction of Kānāwai Māmalahoe, translated as “Law of the Splintered Paddle.” According to this new law, women, children, the elderly and the infirm required protection from surrounding ali‘i who may abuse their power for their own personal gain. Throughout his rule, he also joined his subjects in building fishponds and digging irrigation ditches in an effort to restore his war-torn land. Wary of financial and political partnerships with Western forces, Kamehameha personally managed the arrival of incoming ships during the fur trade and bartered Hawai‘i’s sandalwood, which was highly sought after. Amidst such shifting cultural changes, Kamehameha served as a beacon of hope for the people of Hawai‘i. PC: IHVB / Kirk Lee Aeder.
Every year, Hawai‘i honors Kamehameha’s legacy with an official state holiday on June 11. While you’ll find all banks, satellite city halls and open markets closed for the holiday, here are some can’t-miss cultural events hosted across the islands in celebration of Hawai‘i’s great king:
O‘ahu: Kamehameha Statue Lei Draping and Floral Parade
Kamehameha Statue Lei Draping Ceremony starts 3:30 p.m. on Friday, June 8 at Ali‘iōlani Hale in Downtown Honolulu. See cultural protocols, beautiful handmade lei, hula and more. Then enjoy the 102nd Anniversary King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade, starting 9 a.m. on June 9 from King/Richards Sts. and proceeding down Ala Moana Blvd. and Kalākaua Ave. to Kapiʻolani Park. At the park, enjoy a hoʻolauleʻa (festival) with live entertainment and more, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Big Island: Celebrations in Hilo, Kailua and North Kohala
As Kamehameha’s birthplace, the Big Island offers a number of cultural celebrations every June in his honor. Events include a live concert at Hulihe‘e Palace (4-5 p.m. on June 10); the annual King Kamehameha Day Celebration Parade (starting 9 a.m. on June 9); the Hilo Kamehameha Festival on Mokuola in Hilo Bay (10 a.m.-4 p.m. on June 11); and the North Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration, featuring a lei draping, colorful pāʻū floral parade, music and more (8 a.m.-4 p.m. on June 11). PC: © Karen Anderson.
Maui: Nā Kamehameha Commemorative Pāʻū Parade
Visit Lahaina for the popular Nā Kamehameha Commemorative Pāʻū Parade, starting 9:45 a.m. on June 16. The parade travels from Kenui St. down the bustling Front St. and toward Shaw St. Live music and other festivities can be found at Cheeseburger in Paradise, Kimo’s, Lahaina Pizza Co., Longhi’s and Wharf Cinema Center. The fun continues through June 17, where a celebratory Hoʻolauleʻa under the Lahaina Banyan Tree features Maui-made crafts, live music, keiki activities, food, hula performances and more, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. PC: Nā Kamehameha Commemorative Pāʻū Parade.
Kauaʻi: The King’s Parade & Celebration
Head over to Vidinha Stadium at 9 a.m. for the 2018 King’s Celebration & Parade, which continues up Rice St. and concludes at the Historic County Building. Throughout the parade, enjoy the iconic sight of pāʻū island horse units, floats, walking and riding units and more. A hoʻolauleʻa concludes the parade. It’s 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, June 9.