Kamehameha united all of the Hawaiian Islands in 1810, establishing the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. King Kamehameha I ruled as Hawaii’s first king until his death in 1819. The Kamehameha Dynasty continued through four more monarchs, ending with King Kamehameha V (Lot Kapuāiwa). Lot was succeeded by Lunalio, grand-nephew of Kamehameha I and the first elected King of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Two more monarchs followed, King David Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani before the illegal overthrow of the sovereign nation in 1893.
Listed below is some history about the first Hawaiian king, and historic sites and statues you can visit today. Kamehameha the Great is especially honored every June 11, and we offer a calendar of King Kamehameha Day events at that time of year.
Brief history of the life of Kamehameha the Great
Born sometime between 1736-1761, Kamehameha’s birth is shrouded in mystery. Hawaiian legends prophesied his birth and becoming the ruler of all Hawaiian Islands. His mother was Hawaiian Chiefess Keku‘iapoiwa II (daughter of High Chief Haʻae of Hawaiʻi Island). His father is believed to be High Chief Keōua of Maui. One legend places his birth in November 1758 as Halley’s Comet streaked across the Hawaiian skies.
Named Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kauʻi Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea, as a young boy he was known simply as Paiʻea. Amidst ongoing wars between the chiefs of Hawaiʻi Island and Maui, Paiʻea was hidden as a child to avoid execution by an enemy. He was trained by his uncle King Kalani’opu’u, then ruler of Hawaiʻi Island.
Later in life, Paiʻea came out of hiding and was renamed Kamehameha, which can be translated from Hawaiian as “The One Set Apart” or “The Lonely One”. We think the first meaning makes the most sense as there had never been anyone like him before, or since.
In 1778, Kamehameha was with his uncle when they first met English explorer James Cook aboard his ship, the HMS Resolution. Kamehameha was also involved in the conflict that ended Cook’s life in 1779. It is a convoluted story involving suspicions and accusations, stolen tools and longboats, attempted kidnapping, and skirmishes between Cook’s crew and Hawaiians.
European history depicts Cook as a peacemaker, Hawaiians as a violent man. Regardless, Cook’s voyages also introduced gonorrhea, syphilis, and other diseases that ultimately decimated the Native Hawaiian population.
A formidable warrior, Kamehameha also honed his negotiation skills with the foreigners plying Hawaiian waters in increasing numbers. His proficiency as a fighter and a diplomat led to his uniting the Hawaiian Kingdom.
In 1819, King Kamehameha died at Kamakahonu, his residential compound in Kailua-Kona on Hawai’i Island. Per Hawaiian custom to protect his mana (divine power), his final resting place is still unknown. A Hawaiian proverb says: ʻo ka hōkū kakahiaka wale nō ka ʻike i kahi e kiaʻi ʻia ai nā iwi o Kamehameha (the morning star alone knows where Kamehameha’s bones are guarded).
Today, you can visit several sites significant to Kamehameha the Great on Hawaiʻi Island:
- Kamehameha’s birth site is in the Kapakai Royal Housing Complex on the northwestern tip of Hawaiʻi Island Hawaiʻi Island, near the town of Hawi. Located within the Kohala Historical Sites State Monument that includes the Moʻokini Heiau, one of the oldest and most sacred sites for Native Hawaiians.
- Pu’ukohola Heiau, constructed by Kamehameha the Great from 1790 to 1791, is now a National Historic Site. This “pile of rocks” on a dry and desolate hill is one of the last sacred temples built in the Hawaiian Islands. It represents one of the greatest periods in Hawaiian history—the unification of the Hawaiian people. You might also like: Treasured heiau you can visit on every Hawaiian island (hawaiionthecheap.com)
- Kamehameha’s last residence, Kamakahonu was located on Kailua Bay. Restored as a Hawaii State Register of Historic Places, it is also a National Historic Landmark. While the original heiau (Ahu’ena Heiau) and home (Hale Nana Mahina’ai) are long gone, today the site has several structures reconstructed in the 1970ʻs under the direction of the Bishop Museum. It is one of the most easily accessible sacred sites in Hawaiʻi.
King Kamehameha statues
Listed below are the locations of statues of Kamehameha the Great throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Every June 11 on King Kamehameha Day, dozens of lei are draped on these statues to honor the Hawaiian Kingdom’s first king.
- Hawaiʻi: Kamehameha statue in Kohala, Akoni Pule Hwy, Kapaʻau, HI 96755 (Google map)
- Hawaiʻi: King Kamehameha Statue in Wailoa River State Recreation Area (aka Wailoa River State Park), 774 Kamehameha Ave, Hilo, HI 96720. (This address takes you to Texaco station. Instead, turn off Hawaii Belt Rd/Mamalaoha Hwy 19 onto Bishop St).
- Maui: Kamehameha statue at entrance to Grand WaileaResort, 3850 Wailea Alanui Dr, Wailea, HI 96753.
- Oʻahu: Aliʻiōlani Hale (home to the Hawaii State Supreme Court), 447 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813. Across from ʻIolani Palace.
Two more statues of Kamehameha the Great are located in Las Vegas, NV and Washington, D.C.
King Kamehameha Day
Established by King Kamehameha V (Prince Lot) in 1871, King Kamehameha Day was first celebrated on June 11, 1872. The day was marked by grand festivities on every island. Following the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in 1893, the holiday continued to be recognized but in a more subdued manner. In 1904, Prince Kūhiō re-established the festive celebration of Kamehameha Day.
Today, there are lei draping ceremonies, parades, and other events across the Hawaiian Islands. Find a calendar of King Kamehameha Day events below across five Hawaiian islands.
More info: King Kamehameha Celebration Commission | State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (hawaii.gov)
Hawaiʻi Island: 2022 King Kamehameha Day events
- Hilo. June 10, 2022, 5:00 p.m. King Kamehameha Lei Draping Ceremony at Hilo Bayfront Park
- Hilo. June 11, 9:00 a.m. Royal procession from Moku Ola to the Kamehameha Statue in Downtown Hilo
- Kohala. June 11, 2022, 7:00 a.m. King Kamehameha Lei Draping Ceremony at King Kamehameha Statue, Kohala
- Kohala. June 11, 2022, 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. Pāʻū unit parade.
- Kohala. June 11, 2022, 10:00 a.m. King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade
- Kona. June 11, 2022, 9:00 – 11:30 a.m. King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade. Begins at Makaʻeo (Old
- Kona. June 11, 2022, 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. King Kamehameha Hoʻolauleʻa (festival) at Huliheʻe Palace. Live music, hula, local artisans and crafts, and food vendors. Palace gates will open at 11:00 a.m.
Kauaʻi: 2022 King Kamehameha Day events
- Līhuʻe. June 11, 2022, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. King Kamehameha Hoʻolauleʻa in Līhuʻe, at Royal Sonesta Resort
Maui: 2022 King Kamehameha Day events
- Lāhainā. June 18, 2022, 9:00 a.m. Nā Kamehameha Commemorative Hoʻolauleʻa in Lāhainā
- Lāhainā. June 18, 2022, 9:45 am Nā Kamehameha Commemorative Pāʻū Parade in Lāhainā; along Front Street from Kenui Street to Shaw Street. Awards Ceremony to follow under the Lāhainā Banyan Tree.
Molokaʻi: 2022 King Kamehameha Day events
- June 4, 2022, 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm. King Kamehameha Pāʻū Parade / Block party Hoʻolauleʻa at Kaunakakai
- June 3, 2022, 5:00 – 9:00 pm. The King’s Gala at Hiro’s ʻOhana Grill at Hotel Molokaʻi
- June 11-12, 2022 – 10 am – 5 pm. 2nd Annual Paniolo Heritage Rodeo at Jimmy Duvachelle Arena. More info: Molokai Paniolo Heritage (facebook.com)
Oʻahu: 2022 King Kamehameha Day events
- Honolulu. June 10, 2022, 2:30 – 5:00 p.m. King Kamehameha Statue Lei Draping at Aliʻiolani Hale, Honolulu. Royal Hawaiian Band performs 2:30 – 3:00 p.m.
- Honolulu. June 11, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. 105th King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade from Iolani Palace to Kapiʻolani Park. Tthe parade route begins at King Street fronting Iolani Palace, heads down Punchbowl Street to Ala Moana Boulevard and then to Kalākaua Avenue. The parade ends at Monsarrat Avenue and Queen Kapi‘olani Park around 11:30 a.m.
- Honolulu. June 11, 2022, 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. King Kamehameha Ho‘olaule‘a at Kapiʻolani Park. Following the parade, enjoy live music, food, and more.
Calendar of King Kamehameha Day events
Listed below are events on our calendar celebrating King Kamehameha Day every June as established by King Kamehameha V (Prince Lot) in 1871. Festivities include King Kamehameha statue lei drapings on several islands, plus parades, festivals, and other events.