Today is one of the few American holidays to honor royalty. (Don’t forget January 8th’s Birthday of the King!) June 11th is King Kamehameha Day, honoring King Kamehameha the Great, who united and ruled the Hawaiian island chain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Kamehameha was a grandson of a chief who ruled much of the big island of Hawaii, but Kamehameha’s succession was not forthcoming. Instead Kamehameha was appointed the guardian of Kuaka`ilimoku, the local god of war, in 1782.
In the 1880’s, Kamehameha battled against his cousin Kiwala’o for control of the big island, and eventually emerged victorious. In 1795 he had captured the islands of Oahu and Maui as well. Attempts to capture Kauai and Ni’ihau eluded the great king for years, due to epidemics and rebellions at home. In 1810 Kamehameha negotiated control of the last two islands, uniting the chain with himself as ruler. For his military expertise, Kamehameha is sometimes called the “Napoleon of the Pacific.”
As ruler, Kamehameha codified the legal system and set in place a legacy of stability that would prevent foreign occupation up until the end of the 19th century.
King Kamehameha died on May 8, 1819. Kamehameha Day was proclaimed in his honor by his great grandson, also King Kamehameha, in 1871. It’s been a Hawaiian holiday for nearly 140 years.