King Kamehameha Day, a pretty big deal in Hawaii, falls on June 11 and celebrates the accomplishments of “Kamehameha the Great.” He’s credited with uniting the Hawaiian Islands in 1810. A highly revered leader, Kamehameha is honored each year with numerous celebrations across the islands. Downtown Honolulu hosts one such celebration, where hundreds of leis, at least 30 feet long, are draped over the a 15-foot statue of the celebrated ruler. Other celebrations include parades, a plethora of floral arrangements and, of course, the traditional Hawaiian hula.
When is King Kamehameha Day 2023?
Kamehameha the Great’ is celebrated by Hawaiians on King Kamehameha Day on June 11.
History of King Kamehameha Day
Kamehameha the Great was the Hawaiian conqueror and king who founded the Kamehameha dynasty and united the Hawaiian Islands under one kingdom.
Kamehameha was born in Kohala, Hawaii in 1758. After Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s death in 1782, Hawaii was divided under two ruling leaders — his son, Kīwalaʻō, and his nephew, Kamehameha.
The two went into battle for total control of the islands, with Kamehameha emerging victorious. He went on to take over most of the surrounding territories as well. Kamehameha eventually succeeded in becoming King of all the Hawaiian islands.
King Kamehameha I was born into Hawaiian royalty. There were many prophetic signs that foresaw him becoming a great king, including the fact that his birth was around the time when Hailey’s Comet shot through the Hawaiian night skies in 1758. This led to Kamehameha being hidden away for years, to protect him from opposing clans who saw him as a potential threat.
Eventually, Kamehameha returned and started his training with King Kalaniʻōpuʻu’u, his uncle and then ruler of the Hawaiian Islands. Such was Kamehameha’s strength that he could lift the Naha Stone, which weighs 2.5 tons! This incident fulfilled a prophecy that said a great man who will unite the islands will be able to lift the stone. Kamehameha’s uncle also introduced him to English explorer James Cook aboard his ship, the HMS Discovery. In 1779, Cook was killed in a battle with Kamehameha.
After King Kalaniʻōpuʻu’u died in 1782, Kamehameha inherited the island’s war god, Kuka’ilimoku, while his uncle’s own son, Kīwalaʻō, was given control of the island. The two clashed and went head-on against each other in battle, in which Kamehameha triumphed and took control over the island. He also took Keōpūolani, Kīwalaʻō’s daughter, as his wife and later had several other wives.
After coming into power, Kamehameha became acquainted with foreign allies like John Young and Isaac Davis. With their help, he attacked Maui in 1790. They also served as his advisors for many years. Using these relationships, Kamehameha traded Hawaii’s sought-after sandalwood in exchange for Western weapons. Equipped with this superior firepower, he and his army were able to take over most of the islands. By 1810, King Kamehameha became the first leader to rule over all the Hawaiian Islands.
Kamehameha remained in power until his death in 1819. Other than his conquering of the islands, his reign was a progressive one for Hawaii. His governing practice followed the ancient rules and laws of kapu. He also established new laws like ‘Kānāwai Māmalahoe,’ which protected travelers as well as those who were defenseless. A refined version of this principle also became a part of the Hawaiian state constitution in 1978.
Kamehameha’s son Liholiho was the successor to the throne and took on the title of Kamehameha II. He died five years later and was succeeded by his brother Kauikeaouli, who took the throne as Kamehameha III.
King Kamehameha Day timeline
This coincides with the appearance of Hailey's Comet in the Hawaiian skies, which leads to the prophecy that he would become a great leader.
Following the death of his uncle, King Kalaniʻōpuʻu, Kamehameha and the deceased king's son wind up as rivals — after his cousin's eventual death, Kamehameha quickly inherits the kingship.
Kamehameha the Great's great-grandson, Kamehameha V, passes a royal decree in support of a celebration of Kamehameha I.
The filming of "The King," starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson begins.
Traditions of the Day
King Kamehameha is remembered with grand celebrations, colorful floats, flower decorations, and local marching bands in parades. The statue of Kamehameha titled ‘The Conqueror’ and the other four statues located in Hawaii, Oahu, Maui, and Washington D.C., are all adorned with flower leis. Ceremonial parades showcasing Hawaiian culture are performed.
Strings of flowers are stitched by volunteers and the members of the royal societies. These flower decorations are carefully carried by city workers in Honolulu who are lifted with a bucket truck to place on the statues of King Kamehameha. The flower leis are placed only over the outstretched arm of the king’s statue. The Annual King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade takes place in Waikiki. This is a magnificent display of Hawaiian culture for all, and with its dazzling pageantry and colorful displays, it is a true feast for the eyes.
By the Numbers
1758 – the year when King Kamehameha was born in Kohala, Hawaii.
7 – the number of Hawaiian islands King Kamehameha united under one kingdom.
1810 – the year when King Kamehameha became ruler of the Hawaiian islands.
2.5 ton – the weight of the Naha Stone that King Kamehameha could lift.
960 – the number of war canoes taken into the Kawela Battle by King Kamehameha.
10,000 – the number of men taken into the Kawela Battle by King Kamehameha.
20–30 – the number of wives King Kamehameha was rumored to have.
35 – the number of children King Kamehameha had.
4 – the number of statues erected to honor King Kamehameha.
1819 – the year when King Kamehameha died.
King Kamehameha Day FAQs
Why is King Kamehameha important?
King Kamehameha I was a great warrior and leader who united the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810 after years of conflict. Kamehameha was also legendary for his strength, reportedly overturning the Naha Stone, which weighed approximately 3.5 tons.
Is June 12 a holiday in Hawaii?
Yes, Kamehameha Day is a public holiday in Hawaii. Most businesses and schools are closed on this day.
Are there any living descendants of King Kamehameha?
95-year-old Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa is the only surviving blood-related member of Hawaii’s former royal family.
King Kamehameha Day Activities
Try pronouncing his full name
Go ahead, we dare you — "Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kauʻi Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea."
Visit all six King Kamehameha statues
Yeah, probably can't do all this on the actual day. They're spread across the U.S. with four on the islands, another in Las Vegas, and the sixth in Washington, DC. BUT, it could be fun to start planning trips to all those spots.
Craft your own lei
It's June, the weather is nice (in most spots) and flowers are blooming. Why not honor King Kamehameha at home? May be tough to knock out a 30-footer in a day, but a nice string of flowers couldn't hurt your mood.
4 Hawaii-esque Things We Could Not Live Without
Good for eating, making rope and obviously for bathing suit tops.
Excellent for picking out your loudest, most un-Hawaiian uncle at family reunions.
Wonderful for kids' Halloween costumes and pretending you actually have good hip movement.
A beautiful symbol of welcoming, or the start of a joke — the end of which you probably don't want to hear.
The splendid beaches of Hawaii are a sight to behold, with some of them being in unusual colors, such as black, red, and even green!
Why We Love King Kamehameha Day
The beautiful celebrations
Parades, floats, bands, and thousands of flowers make this holiday something to behold for all the senses. Hawaiians knows how to honor their first king.
A fun history lesson
Not everyone realizes that the beautiful islands were once in conflict with each other. As the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii, King Kamehameha united the islands and set up trade with Europe and the U.S. Hawaii officially became the 50th US state in 1959.
His family life was — interesting
Reports tally the great king's wife count between 21 and 30 and his offspring at somewhere around 35. Was he making sure he had a solid heir in there somewhere? Smart guy.
King Kamehameha Day dates