Planted firmly on the lawn of Aliiolani Hale, the State Supreme Court building, is the most visited of all the statues honoring King Kamehameha I in Hawaii. The 18-foot bronze icon with golden-colored detailing was erected in 1883 and depicts a spear-wielding and cloak-draped Kamehameha the Great, the first Hawaiian monarch and the ruler credited with uniting the Islands under single rule in 1810.
Each year on a date near the June 11 state holiday commemorating King Kamehameha, community groups build massive flower lei garlands and drape them over the Honolulu statue using the ladder from a fire truck. The popular lei draping ceremony commemorates the King’s significance and kicks off week-long celebrations of colorful parades and festivals throughout the Islands.
The story of the statue’s procurement also undoubtedly adds to its allure: Constructed in Europe, the sculpture took several years to make, and, when finally finished and rounding the horn of South America, (the Panama Canal wasn’t completed until 1914) the ship carrying it wrecked near the Falkland Islands. Using insurance money, a second statue was quickly built and arrived in Honolulu without incident; this is the statue that stands here today. Meanwhile, Falkland fishermen were able to retrieve the sunken original and sold it to back to the then-U.S. territory, where the strikingly similar sculpture still stands not far from the king’s birthplace on Hawaii Island. Another Kamehameha figure, made from molds of the Honolulu version, is one of two statues representing the state of Hawaii in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
Honolulu’s King Kamehameha Statue sits in the center of Aliiolani Hale’s circular front lawn at 417 S. King Street in the downtown government district. Several TheBus public transit routes pass alongside the statue leaving from Waikiki, and visits to the statue are also included in many Honolulu-area tours. If you plan on watching lei draping commemorative ceremonies on or around June 11, be sure to arrive before the usual 5 p.m. start time to get the best vantage.