Kamehameha Day, also known as King Kamehameha I Day, is a Hawaiian holiday, commemorated every year on June 11. This day honors Kamehameha the Great, the beloved monarch who became notorious for uniting the Kingdom of Hawaii.
June 11 is a public holiday in Hawaii, so within that state businesses and schools are closed.
King Kamehameha I
Born in 1758 on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kamehameha was given the name Pai'ea at birth which translates as 'Hard-Shelled Crab'. He was later dubbed Kamehameha the Great.
Kamehameha I was the first ruler of Hawaii from 1782 until 1819 when he died aged 61. Because he was a fair leader and a great diplomat, Kamehameha I got the nickname of the Napoleon of the Pacific.
It was said that at a young age, he showed exceptional strength and intelligence, and was trained in the arts of war and leadership by his mentors.
Kamehameha I is famous for his unification of the Hawaiian Islands, and for therefore establishing the Kingdom of Hawaii. After a long period of conflict and wars between the islands, he became the first sole ruler of Hawaii in 1810.
To honor his achievement of unifying the islands, Kamehameha I established a law called the “Kānāwai Māmalahoe", which translates to “the law of the splintered paddle”
Kamehameha I was known for his trade relations with the west, which helped to modernize Hawaii. He established trade routes for goods such as sandalwood and furs, as well as metal tools, weapons, and other goods.
Kamehameha I was known for his love of surfing, and legend has it that he was extremely skilled at it.
The Law of the Splintered Paddle
One of the major changes in society that Kamehameha enacted was establishing the Law of the Splintered Paddle. This was the first law in the kingdom of Hawaii.
It had the aim of protecting the rights of ordinary people against the abuse of power by those in authority:
Oh people, Honor thy gods;
Respect alike [the rights of] People both great and humble;
See to it that our aged, Our women and our children
Lie down to sleep by the roadside Without fear of harm.
Disobey, and die.
This Law was meant to ensure the safety and well-being of all people, regardless of their social status. As a result, it has remained an important part of Hawaiian law and culture.
It reflects Kamehameha's vision of a just and equitable society, where leaders are responsible for protecting the weak and vulnerable.
The Background to Kamehameha Day
The grandson of Kamehameha I, Kamehameha V, first proclaimed June 11 to be Kamehameha Day in 1871. The first celebration of the day took place the next year on June 11, 1872. On this first holiday observance, festivities included races, carnivals, and fairs.
When Hawaii officially became a U.S. State, in 1959, Kamehameha Day was one of the first holidays to be proclaimed by the Hawaii State Legislature.
Festivities and Traditions
To honor Kamehameha I, a floral parade takes place every year across Hawaii. The parade includes marching bands and floats decorated with flowers from each Hawaiian island. The most famous feature of the floral parade is the royal pa'u riders, a representation of 19th-century royal courts.
It comprises a queen who leads the parade on horseback followed by eight princesses, each representing the major islands of Hawaii, who are accompanied by pa'u ladies dressed in colorful gowns with leis. The parade is followed by parties with food and music.
In 1901, the most significant ritual of Kamehameha Day celebrations was born - the draping ceremony. The ceremony consists of the statue of Kamehameha I in Honolulu being draped in leis. A similar ceremony happens with the statue of the leader in the Capitol.
There is also a King Kamehameha Hula Competition that attracts hula competitors from all over the world.