This year marks the 200th anniversary of King Kamehameha’s unification of the Hawaiian Islands, and Honolulu festivities that kick off today to celebrate the monarch will be accordingly bigger, breathing new life into gatherings that have in recent years struggled to secure funding and volunteers.
Celebration organizers say they have incorporated more traditional Hawaiian elements into the program this year, added to programs and enlisted more help from royal orders. They hope that will translate into bigger crowds, and more support in years to come.
Niniau Simmon, director of the King Kamehameha Celebration Commission, said this year’s festivities will be "geared to the expression of native Hawaiian cultural practices, rather than geared toward the entertainment or tourism perspective."
She added, "We can express in a modern-day way without having to resort to the Kodak Hula Show."
For example, in today’s annual lei-draping ceremony at the King Kamehameha statue, dancers will perform hula kahiko (ancient hula), and tomorrow a floral parade that had in past years followed a route through Waikiki instead will start at Fort DeRussy and wrap up at Iolani Palace. A hoolaulea will follow on the palace grounds, complete with educational exhibits and cultural demonstrations.
138TH ANNUAL KING KAMEHAMEHA CELEBRATION
» Lei-draping ceremony: Procession will start at Aliiolani Hale at 11:30 a.m., making its way to King Kamehameha statue for lei draping. Festivities will also include hula kahiko performance and speeches in Hawaiian and English at the statue.
» 94th annual King Kamehameha floral parade will start at 9 a.m. on Kalakaua Avenue at Fort DeRussy, continue on Ala Moana Boulevard, proceed to Punchbowl Street and then King Street, ending at Iolani Palace. Hoolaulea to follow on the palace grounds, with educational exhibits, cultural demonstrations and parade awards.
» For more information, go to www.hawaii.gov/dags/king_kamehameha_commission.
Longtime attendees today will probably notice another big change: When firefighters drape lei on the Kamehameha statue, none of the 30-foot flower strands will go around Kamehameha’s neck—a nod to traditional customs that dictated lei shouldn’t touch feather capes. The lei will be draped only on Kamehameha’s outstretched arms.
The time of the lei-draping ceremony has also moved—from late afternoon to noon, a sacred time of day.
"We’re not reinventing anything per se," said Kainoa Daines, chairman of the King Kamehameha Day Celebration Commission. "It’s a merging of various traditions … (a) coming together. By doing that, we’re educating ourselves and the next generation."
The 138th annual King Kamehameha Day Celebration lost state funding in 1996 and has struggled ever since to secure donations. In more recent years, escalating costs and dwindling resources have further threatened the festivities.
Simmon, commission director, said the bicentennial of Kamehameha’s unification has helped bolster the number of volunteers participating this year and has renewed interest—and support—for festivities.
"I feel hopeful for the future," Simmon said yesterday.
At the lei-draping ceremony today, Hiapo K. Perreira, a Hawaiian language and literature professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, will read a speech in Hawaiian that Prince Kuhio gave in the early 1900s to honor Kamehameha. The speech will then be reread in English.
Perreira said he appreciates the celebration’s seamless melding of old and new.
"That’s the only way culture survives," he said.
Meanwhile, there is also a host of Kamehameha Day events planned for today and tomorrow on the neighbor islands, including in Kohala, Kamehameha’s birthplace.
Last night, Kamehameha Schools kicked off festivities in Kohala with the launching of a book by one of its students, Kekauleleanae’ole Kawai’ae’a, a fourth-grader, that tells the story of how Kamehameha was saved from an edict of death as an infant. Kekauleleanae’ole, who wrote the book as a school project when he was in the third grade, is a descendant of the chief credited with saving Kamehameha.
Although Kamehameha’s forces never conquered Kauai, he became the acknowledged ruler of the islands in 1810.