June 11 marks one of the most celebrated holidays in the Hawai’i — King Kamehameha Day. More than a state holiday, the day is a celebration of Kamehameha the Great, who established and united the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1810. Islanders come together for parades, lei draping ceremonies, and other festivities to honor Kamehameha, and to protect, preserve, and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture.
Kamehameha Day was first proclaimed in 1871 by Kamehameha V as a day to honor his grandfather. Early celebrations of Kamehameha Day featured carnivals, fairs, games and races. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Kamehameha Day was one of the first holidays proclaimed by the Hawai’i State Legislature.
Today, we celebrate Kamehameha Day on the island with festive events that would make any king proud. Kamehameha Day celebrations around the Big Island attract locals and visitors alike. Two of the largest of these celebrations are the Kamehameha Festival in Hilo and Kohala.
The Kamehameha Festival in Hilo features traditional Hawaiian dance, music, chant, practices, arts, and crafts that are enjoyed by thousands of island residents and visitors from around the world. Proudly presented by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Māmalahoa, Hilo Chapter, the festival takes place every year on June 11 in Hilo on Mokuola (Island of Life). People of all ages are invited to join in on this day of aloha in memory of King Kamehameha.
This year’s festival will feature traditional Hawaiian music and dance, a seashell blowing contest, ‘ono food, and ‘made-in-Hawaii’ art and craft vendors. In recent years Māmalahoa has partnered with organizations such as the Hawaii Tourism Authority, County of Hawai‘i Research & Development, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in the presentation of this historical and culturally significant event.
Another grand event celebrating this state holiday takes place in Kohala, on the northern tip of the Big Island. Kohala, the birthplace of Kamehameha, is a small community that goes all out to present a full day of celebration and tribute to Hawai’i’s first king. The towns of Hawi and Kapa’au welcome visitors to this historic area on King Kamehameha Day to take part in the floral parade, statue draping, and music in the park.
“North Kohala is proud of its connection to the king and reveres him as both leader and ancestor,” say event organizers. “This reverence is visible in the loving care with which the Kamehameha statue in Kapa’au is maintained, and in the grassroots effort that creates a full day of ceremonies each Kamehameha Day.”
At 8 a.m, the original statue of King Kamehameha I in Kapa’au will be drapped with 25-foot long leis. The statue decorating ceremony will begin with an opening blessing, followed by hula, history, and music. At 9 a.m., the traditional pa’u parade will boast horses and riders adorned in colorful flowers that represent each of the Hawaiian Islands.
Following the mornings festivities, guests will enjoy a ho’olaule’a (music festival) complete with local food, artisans, hula dancers and award-winning Hawaiian music. The ho’olaule’a starts at 10 a.m. and continues until 4 p.m. at Kamehameha Park.
So whether you’re on the windward or leeward side of the Big Island, there will be plenty of fun-filled events to fill your day and help you honor one of Hawai’i’s most celebrated historical figures.