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Kamehameha I’s Hometown Celebration in Kohala

Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration Committee
Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration Committee

Today is Kamehameha Day, a state holiday honoring the chief who first unified the Hawaiian Islands. Some say the most heartfelt celebrations happen on Hawai‘i island, in Kohala, where Kamehameha was born.

Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration Committee
Credit Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration Committee
Kohala historian Fred Cachola talks about the circumstances surrounding Kamehameha's birth and explains how the place name, Hawi, like other place names in the area, was significant that night.

Kohala’s Kamehameha Celebration Parade starts at 9 a-m in H?w? and runs to the King’s statue in Kapa‘au.  Travel on Highway 270 will be affected from 9 until 10:30. Ho'olaule'a activities run from 11 a-m to 4 at Kamehameha Park and in the community gym.  There will be entertainment, halau, crafts, informational displays, and lots of food: Pastele stew, laulau plate, fried fish plate, loco mocos, acai bowls, chinese pretzels, dried fish and much more, they have 21 vendors this year.  The Ho‘olaule‘a is a Zero Waste event.

State, City and County offices are closed today, in observance of King Kamehameha Day.

Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration Committee
Credit Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration Committee

In Honolulu, TheBus is on a holiday schedule, and on-street parking is free, except for the meters along Kapi‘olani Park and metered parking lots. Emergency medical, fire, lifeguard, medical examiner, and police services will be available. For route and schedule information, please visit www.thebus.org.

Refuse will be collected and transfer stations, convenience centers, H-POWER, and the Waim?nalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill will be open.

Parks, municipal golf courses, botanical gardens, and the Honolulu Zoo will be open.

The Neal S. Blaisdell Center box office will be closed.

The People's Open Markets will not be held.

All Satellite City Halls and Driver Licensing Centers will be closed.

Today started early for a lot of folks in Kohala.

“Who gets up at 5 o’clock?  These guys.” That’s Kaui Nakamura, President of the Kamehameha Day Committee in Kohala.  She says the whole community turns out, “We experience the sunrise, do all kinds of prayers, so all kinds of joyous oli, and then you have the h?lau who dance on the road in front of the Kamehameha statue.”

How regal, that statue, after its recent restoration, flanked by the Royal Orders and Societies in formal dress!

Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration Committee
Credit Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration Committee

“This is the 99th year of the parade so we do want everybody to come, have fun, expect to spend the whole day with us,” says Michelle Kawai, Programs Coordinator with Feed Hawai‘i, at Kohala Village Hub.  The Hub helps sponsor the Celebration, so meetings are held there, and Kawai assists the committees in various ways. Nakamura says you may want to spend the whole weekend prior in Kohala, because it does take days!

The Ahahui Ka‘ahumanu usually starts two to three days ahead, they string four thousand plumerias.  Hotels and h?lau make carnation and t? leaf lei, and they start 2-3 days ahead. 

All the lei were dropped off this morning and several boys charged with maneuvering 20 foot bamboo poles to drape the royal statue, with all the community in attendance.  Watch the lei draping here.

“And it’s so nice,” says Nakamura, “Because we usually get the high school football players or high school kids to do this so they’ll experience it.”

Kawai agrees, they’re into it. “We try to get the kids involved and they’re pretty stoked every year it comes up.”

According to Kohala historian Fred Cachola, Kamehameha was born in Kohala, close to the northernmost point of Hawai‘i island in a place called Kokoiki. Cachola says there were signs that night.

Kohala Village Hub Facebook
Credit Kohala Village Hub Facebook

“The oceans were roaring, the waves were pounding, the thunder was great, the lightning was awesome, it was all those tremendous omens and signs that nature was giving which Hawaiians consider to be very significant for the birth of royalty.”

Cachola says the king was born at Kapaakai, in Kokoiki—a tiny spit of sand where a canoe could land along the rough shoreline.  Specifically, it was Kapaakai in Kokoiki ahupua‘a in the moku (district) of Kohala.  Cachola describes the area as barren, windy, and desolate.

Why was the future king born there?  Why would his mother, Kekuapoiwa, decide to have the baby there? That depends on who you think Kamehameha’s father is.  

According to Cachola, “Reason number one, at that time, the King of Hawai‘i was  Alapainui, he wanted  to seek revenge for an invasion from Kekaulike, so he gathered armies at ‘Upolu northern end of Kohala, to wait for the right moment to attack Maui.  One of the generals, Keoua, was there with his wife, Kekuapoiwa.  They were there because the army was waiting to invade Maui. That’s the primary reason.

There is another possibility, according to Cachola, “That takes another story that says his father actually was Kahekili, high chief of Maui, that Kamehameha was conceived on Maui, and his life was threatened so his pregnant mother was coming across the channel, and in some accounts, he was born in a canoe! Kamehameha was born in a canoe if you believe Kahekili was his father, as his mother was coming back from Maui to seek safety in Kohala.  The baby was born in a canoe, and they couldn’t do anything!  They rushed to the nearest point of land they could find, it was Kapaakai, it was the only place you could land a canoe.” 

Cachola continues, “Kekuapoiwa chose very carefully, a kahu, a guardian, who was assigned to take care of Kamehameha.  He was high chief Naeole of Kohala. As he moved Kamehameha from Kokoiki to Awini, different things happened along his secretive route. The place names of Kohala describe exactly what happened on that route.”

In the extended interview, Cachola describes the origin of the name H?w?, Ha meaning breath, and wi, hunger.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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