March 26 – Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole Day

Posted on March 26, 2016

I love holidays, which is one reason I do these write-ups, and of course that means I know quite a few holidays. So when I looked at a list of March holidays and noted that today is Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole Day, in the United States, I was sort of amazed. Wait, who the heck is Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole? And why is he celebrated today? And why have I never heard of him?

Of course, I knew the answer to my own question, since the prince's name was distinctly Hawaiian. Presumably, if I'd ever lived in Hawaii, I would've known about this holiday. I guess traveling to Hawaii's many glorious beaches during four glorious weeks spread out over three glorious summers just didn't convey the necessary information about March holidays in Hawaii!

Hawaii used to be an independent nation, of course, and it had its own rulers. The last ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Lili'uokalani, had a cousin that she named as the heir to the throne. Of course, he then took on the title of “Prince,” and if you guessed that this cousin was Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole, you're right!

Kuhio was born on this date in 1871, on the island of Kaua'i.

Prince Kuhio was one of the best-known leaders in Hawaii's history. In 1893, his kingdom was overthrown by a group of American and European businessmen, and the “Republic of Hawaii” was formed. The businessmen didn't want Hawaii to become a republic, though; they immediately lobbied for the United States to annex Hawaii.

How awful is it that a bunch of American businessmen went to another country, stage an overthrow, and then demanded that their new “republic” become an American territory?

Pretty awful!

Well, Prince Kuhio was in his early twenties, and he and other Hawaiians planned a rebellion against the new republic. However, the rebels were no match for the troops and police, and soon all the participants were rounded up and put into prison. The prince was sentenced to a year in prison; everyone else was sentenced to death. The death sentences were (thankfully) commuted to prison sentences.

Kuhio—no longer a prince, I guess, at this point—was in prison for that entire year. His fiancee visited him every day. When he got out, he married her, and he and his wife traveled all over Europe. They were treated like visiting royalty.

Soon the U.S. did annex Hawaii, and Kuhio returned to his native land to serve his people in a new way: he ran for Congress! He ended us serving as a U.S. Congressman from 1903 until his death, and he did a lot for his state and his people. He helped develop Pearl Harbor and Honolulu Harbor, he made sure that mail service was well established, and he helped make sure that native Hawaiians could obtain homesteads and go “back to the farm.” 

He also did things to remember the royals who were his ancestors, such as reorganizing the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, starting the first Hawaiian Civic Club, and organizing a celebration of Kamehameha a century after his death.

During all that time, Hawaii was a U.S. “Territory,” not a state. In 1919 Kuhio introduced in Congress the first call to make Hawaii a state – but that didn't happen until 40 years later!

To celebrate Prince Kuhio, there are festivals that feature Hawaiian music and dancing and food and customs; health organizations hold events about health issues in Prince Kuhio's name; there are special services at Kuhio's grave; schools and government buildings, and many businesses, are closed. Some people participate in canoe races, cultural demonstrations, or luaus.

One way for Hawaiian visitors to participate in the holiday is the lei-draping – people drape leis on the statue of the prince on Waikiki, in Honolulu. 

  • Celebrate with your own luau! Here's how.  

Also on this date:

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