In March, Hawai’i celebrates the birthdays of two alii (royalty): Queen Ka’ahumanu (March 17, 1768-June 5, 1832) and Prince Kuhio (March 26, 1871-Jan. 7, 1922). Both birthdays are honored – one with a royal program and one with a state holiday.
More than any other woman in Hawaiian history, Queen Ka’ahumanu effected changes that live on today. She converted to Christianity, learned to read, ordered schools built on all the islands, overthrew the traditional kapu system, created the government position of kuhina nui or co-ruler and more.
Elisabeth Ka’ahumanu was born in a cave in Hana, Maui during the period of war between ruling chiefs. Her name means “feather cloak.” Her mother, Nāmāhana of Maui, married High Chief Ke’eaumoku of Hawai’i Island, Counselor to King Kamehameha I. Promised in marriage to Kamehameha, Ka’ahumanu went to live in the King’s household at an early age and became the King’s favorite wife. After the king died in 1819, Ka’ahumanu created the position of kuhina nui with the king’s young son Liholiho, and thus moved from influence to power.
In 1864, the Ahahui Ka’ahumanu, a royal society of Native Hawaiian women was founded and named after Queen Ka’ahumanu. In September 2004, the president of the Maui chapter sponsored me into the organization. Today, the statewide organization continues to honor the Queen and her legacy. Every March on a date near to her birthday, members of the Ahahui celebrates the Queen’s birthday with a special program open to the public at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center followed by a special church service at Ka’ahumanu Church in Wailuku.
Prince Kuhio served as Hawai’i’s second congressional delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives for 10 consecutive terms lasting 20 years and led the passage of the Rehabilitation Act that created the Hawaiian Homes Commission in 1921 that set aside almost 200,000 acres for homesteading by Native Hawaiians. He succeeded in obtaining federal funding for the creation of Pearl Harbor and a long list of other Hawaii projects.
Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole was born on Kauai and named after his two grandfathers who were high chiefs of Hilo and Kauai. His mother was Queen Kapi’olani’s sister and his father was the ruling chief of Kauai. After his mother died, Kuhio and his brother David Kawananakoa were adopted by their Aunt Queen Kapi’olani and Uncle King Kalākaua. Prince Kuhio lost his chance of ascending the throne when the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 when he was 22 years-old.
Prince Kuhio was of royal blood and always fought for the welfare of his people. Today his legacy lives on in two Native Hawaiian organizations, the Royal Order of Kamehameha and the Hawaiian Civic Club.
In 1949, the legislature of the Territory of Hawaii established Prince Kuhio Day on March 26 as an official holiday. When Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, the state continued this recognition which is only one of two state holidays that honor Hawaii’s ali’i on their birthday.
Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele