Statewide Story Ideas
Uncovering a Royal Past in Contemporary Hawaii
Hawaii’s royal past is considered the only monarchy in the history of the United States. The Kingdom of Hawaii, established under Kamehameha I in 1796, operated as a monarchy under two major families, Kamehameha and Kalakaua, until 1893 when it was overthrown by the U.S. government. While the era of Hawaii’s political independence is long past, the mana (power or presence) of the Kingdom’s royal families are still felt in contemporary Hawaii, including these cultural and historical sites throughout the state:
King Kamehameha I Statue (Hawaii Island, Oahu) – Kamehameha I is said to have been born in 1758 in Kapaau, a small town in North Kohala on Hawaii, the Big Island. He would later become the Kingdom of Hawaii’s first monarch after unifying the islands under one reign. In 1880, a statue was forged in Florence, Italy to commemorate the King’s contributions to the Hawaiian Islands. When the statue was lost at sea during its voyage to Oahu, a replica was made which currently stands in Downtown Honolulu. Miraculously, the original statue was found and recovered in 1912 and rests today near Kamehameha I’s birthplace in front of the North Kohala Civic Center.
Iolani Palace (Oahu) – Adjacent to the Hawaii State Capitol in Downtown Honolulu stands Iolani Palace. Completed in 1882, the palace served as the official residence for the last two reigning monarchs: King David Kalakaua and later Queen Liliuokalani. After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893, the palace served as government headquarters for the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory and State of Hawaii until 1969 when the new Capitol building was built. Since 1978, Iolani Palace has been open to the public and serves as a proud reminder of Hawaii’s royal history. The palace is furnished with beautiful koa wood flooring and classic Italian architecture, with several informational displays highlighting paintings, jewelry and artifacts. IolaniPalace.org
Iao Valley State Park (Maui) – This lush and serene valley was once the grounds for one of the most significant battles in Hawaiian history. In his pursuit to unite the islands, King Kamehameha I and his forces defeated Maui’s army in the Battle of Kepaniwai. Today, visitors can explore the park and hike up the 1,200-foot Iao Needle to the lookout point used by Maui’s army. There are also interactive exhibits at the Hawaii Nature Center located within the valley. HawaiiStateParks.org
Kapiolani Regional Park / Royal Hawaiian Band (Oahu) – Look down from the summit of Mount Leahi for a pristine view of the 300-acre Kapiolani Regional Park, the largest and oldest public park in Hawaii. Neighboring Waikki, the park was originally built as a racehorse track by King Kalakaua and would later be dedicated as the first Hawaiian public space. Today, the park is maintained by the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Parks and Recreation and is set aside permanently as free public space. Although temporarily suspended due to renovations, every Sunday afternoon the Royal Hawaiian Band, founded by King Kamehameha III in 1836, puts on a free public concert at the park’s bandstand. The band will return to Kapiolani Park when the bandstand renovations are complete and continues to hold free public performances in other locations. RHB-Music.com
Hulihee Palace (Hawaii Island) – In historic Kailua-Kona rests several significant landmarks, including Hulihee Palace, once a favorite vacation residence of Hawaii’s royal families. Hawaii Island’s second governor, John Adams Kuakini contracted foreign seamen to build the palace in 1838. The elegant structure is comprised of native lava rock, coral lime mortar and koa and ohia timbers. Today, the palace serves as a museum, with several pieces of Hawaiian artifacts and beautiful furniture on display. HuliheePalace.net
Bishop Museum (Oahu) – Built in honor of his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendent of the royal Kamehameha family, Charles Reed Bishop founded Bishop Museum in 1889 to house an extensive collection of Hawaiian artifacts and royal family heirlooms. To learn more about the Hawaiian monarchy, visit the Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kahili Room. On display are portraits of the esteemed alii (royalty) and some of their personal belongings including the precious kahili or feather standards that symbolized royalty. BishopMuseum.org
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