We missed our annual celebration of Kamehameha Day, an official state holiday on June 11 established in 1871 by Kamehameha V, grandson of Kamehameha I. It’s a big day in Hawaii, with parades, lei-draping ceremonies and ho‘olaule‘a, but this year due to the pandemic, all events were canceled.
Born in mid-1700s, Kamehameha is sometimes called the Conqueror, sometimes the Unifier of the Islands. On Hawaii Island in his Kohala birthplace, you can admire a statue of him at Kapa‘au with a replica in Hilo at Wailoa State Park. Check it out and be impressed.
But. Did you know that he was American? If you think I’m making this up, I direct you to America’s Story for America’s Library ( americaslibrary.gov ), a site for young people where you will find King Kamehameha listed under “Amazing Americans,” between Benjamin Franklin and George C. Marshall.
Here’s a shortcut chronology of post-contact Hawaiian history.
In 1778, English navigator James Cook charted Hawaii on the map for the western world, opening the door to all kine stuff.
By 1795, Kamehameha I had unified the islands, established the Hawaiian Kingdom and became its first ruler. He died in 1819, and in 1820, the first American missionaries arrived.
Kamehameha I was succeeded by his son who became Kamehameha II, followed by Kamehameha III, then Kamehameha IV who, in the 1850s, opposed the movement by American missionaries to annex Hawaii to the U.S.
Next came Kamehameha V, Lunalilo and Kalakaua, forced at gunpoint in 1887 to sign the Bayonet Constitution imposed by haole landowners and armed militia which reduced the power of the monarchy, and finally, Lili‘uokalani who was illegally overthrown in 1893 by a cabal of American businessmen.
In 1896 Lili‘uokalani journeyed to Washington, D.C., and was reassured by President Grover Cleveland that her kingdom would be restored. But Congress rejected Cleveland’s request, which was buried when expansionist William McKinley succeeded him as president.
Next came annexation to the United States in 1898, which was protested by many islanders in the Ku‘e petitions. From here on you know the rest of the story.
Whew! That was my CliffsNotes version of Hawaiian history from 1778 to 1898, where you can see that not one of the Hawaiian ali‘i were American, least of all Kamehameha I. This is not a political statement, but a factual one.
Maybe adding him to the list of Amazing Americans is an attempt at inclusion. While I agree there are many who should be included, the king isn’t one of them. Kamehameha the Great — yes. Kamehameha the Great American — no.
Perhaps this is part of the pastime that says if you repeat something often enough, you can get others to believe it. And if it’s entered onto an official government website, it can become fact.
I sometimes hear complaints about education in Hawaii, but it’s just an extension of the American system. After teaching at community college in Seattle for nearly 30 years, I can confirm that many high school graduates arrive on campus in need of remedial English and math classes as well as more knowledge of the history of the United States. It’s lamentable.
If you need proof, go to America’s Story for America’s Library and read that Kamehameha the Great was an “Amazing American.” Whoever wrote that ludicrous factoid gets an “F” from this old teacher.
But, I’m just reporting what is on an official U.S. government website.
If you don’t like it, take it up with America’s Library.
Rochelle delaCruz was born in Hilo, graduated from Hilo High School, then left to go to college. After teaching for 30 years in Seattle, Wash., she retired and returned home to Hawaii. She welcomes your comments at email@example.com. Her column appears every other Monday.