Honoring a King—Kamehameha Day Celebrations on O‘ahu

Posted in: Culture & History, Things to Do

By Fern Gavelek


King Kamehameha Celebration Lei Draping Ceremony
King Kamehameha Celebration Lei Draping Ceremony [Photo by Sarah Yamanaka]


Background on Kamehameha I

On June 11 each year, the state honors Hawai‘i’s first king—Kamehameha I (1758?-1819). Born in the Kohala district of Hawai‘i Island, Pai‘ea was destined for greatness as Halley’s Comet is said to have shot across the sky the night he was born.

A great warrior, diplomat and leader, Kamehameha is credited with uniting the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom. His war tactics have been studied by the Pentagon and his likeness appears in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.

Kamehameha’s Strategy

A multi-island kingdom was the political goal of island chiefs when Capt. James Cook arrived in Hawai‘i in 1778. Impressed with Western weaponry, Kamehameha’s forces captured a British schooner, the Fair American, and Kamehameha employed the services of two seamen who shared their Western wartime technology. This put Kamehameha at an advantage over warring island chiefs and he successfully invaded Maui, Lāna‘i and Moloka‘i in 1790.

After indecisively battling his cousin Keōua for control of his home island during the previous decade, Kamehameha returned to the Big Island to deal with his chief rival. Following the instructions of a prophet, Kamehameha had his forces build a massive temple, Pu‘ukoholā Heiau, to his family war god, Kū. Kamehameha invited his cousin to the temple’s dedication and after a scuffle, Keōua was slain and carried up the heiau to be offered as a sacrifice.

After defeating O‘ahu in a dramatic battle at the Nu‘uanu Pali in 1795, Kamehameha set his sights on Kaua‘i. While the island was never conquered, Kaua‘i agreed to be a tributary kingdom under Kamehameha in 1810—bringing all the islands under one rule.

With his kingdom established, Kamehameha ruled the islands as a benevolent monarch, establishing commerce with foreign vessels and encouraging prosperity. The king instituted the Law of the Splintered Paddle, designed to protect the weak from the strong. Teaching his son Liholiho to be his successor, Kamehameha lived out his final days at his Kamakahonu estate in Kona’s Kailua Village, home to his private temple, Ahu‘ena.

King Kamehameha Day Events

The King Kamehameha Celebration Lei Draping Ceremony takes place every year in front of Ali‘iōlani Hale in downtown Honolulu. See traditional Hawaiian protocols and hula, along with the draping of beautiful strands of handmade lei on the statue of King Kamehameha.

King Kamehameha Celebration Lei Draping Ceremony
King Kamehameha Celebration Lei Draping Ceremony [Photo by Sarah Yamanaka]


Around the same date, the annual King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade makes its way on King Street from Iolani Palace onto Punchbowl Street, then left onto Ala Moana Boulevard that connects to Kalākaua Avenue into Waikīkī. The parades ends at Monsarrat Avenue and Queen Kapi‘olani Park. Floral floats, pā‘ū riders on horseback, high school bands and more join in the celebration.

Festivities continue on the same day with the King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade Ho‘olaule‘a (block party). Enjoy hula, live entertainment, Hawai‘i-made products and other merchandise, and food booths.

Stay up to date on event information by visiting

King Kamehameha Celebration Lei Draping Ceremony
King Kamehameha Celebration Lei Draping Ceremony [Photo by Sarah Yamanaka]


King Kamehameha Celebration Lei Draping Ceremony [Photo by Sarah Yamanaka]


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