Prince Kūhiō Day in Hawai‘iEvery March 26th, Hawai‘i comes together to honor Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana’ole, who is widely celebrated for his efforts to preserve and strengthen the Hawaiian people during his reign.
The History of Prince Kūhiō Day
In the early 1900s when Hawai‘i was still a U.S. Territory, it was the vision of Robert Wilcox and Prince Kūhiō to return the kanaka maoli (full-blooded Hawaiians) back to the ‘āina (land) with a land-based government program which we now commonly refer to as Hawaiian Homelands.
During those times, the Hawaiian population was in a massive decline due to Western diseases like cholera and displaced in their homeland. Many kanaka were living in squalor amongst the urban sprawl of Honolulu, residing in multi-family tenements with inadequate sewage systems and shared bathrooms and kitchens where the spread of disease ran rampant. Kūhiō observed his people’s plight and it was his deep belief that the way to heal the lāhui (nation) was to allow the kanaka to become homeowners, work the ‘āina and provide for their ‘ohana (family) in the process.
“The only method to rehabilitate the race is to place them back upon the soil,” stated Kūhiō.
As the Congressional delegate from the Territory of Hawai‘i, the Prince worked tirelessly and accommodatingly to get the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act passed. On July 9, 1921, with numerous concessions like the required 50% blood quantum, the U.S. Congress passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, allowing “any descendant of the not less than one-half part of the of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778 [could acquire homestead leases for] one dollar year for a term on ninety-nine years.”
Originally called the Kūhiō Settlement, Keaukaha on Hawai‘i Island, was the second Hawaiian Homestead project, behind Kalama‘ula on Moloka‘i. The significance of this ‘Āina Ho’opulapula in Hilo was the success of the original homesteaders and how their ‘ohana was allowed to thrive on these lots with 99-year leases. The Hawaiian Homestead Commission Act was passed by U.S. Congress in 1921.
Kūhiō passed away on January 7, 1922, and in 1949, a holiday was created to honor him.
How Hawai‘i Celebrates Prince Kūhiō Day
Today, Prince Kūhiō Day is a state holiday in Hawai‘i, meaning people are off of work and out of school. Across the Islands, the Prince is celebrated with parades, festivals, music, canoe races, cultural demonstrations, and luau (traditional Hawaiian feasts). While some of the customary festivities may be on hold, we hope our Hawai‘i ‘ohana (family) is finding new ways to commemorate Prince Kūhiō Day! This year, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement will be putting on a special concert series in celebration of the Prince’s lasting legacy.