Did you know today is a state holdiay in Hawaii? Throughout the islands we celebrate and honor Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole on the Friday closest to his birthday, March 26, 1871. It is one of only two state holidays honoring Hawaiian royalty. The other is King Kamehameha the Great. Prince Kuhio played a momentus role during the period of Hawaii becoming a territory of the U.S., and the overthow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.
You might see a few more residents on the beaches today, or enjoy some free parking at select spots. However, over time the true significance of this holiday has been lost a bit. So here’s a quick overview of a remarkable figure in Hawaiian history to enhance your visit to the islands.
Prince Kuhio was born on Kauai, decendent of Kauai and Big Island high chiefs. At age 13, following the death of his parents, he was adopted into the family of King David Kalakaua by the king’s wife Queen Kapiolani in the common practice known as hanai in Hawaii. Many of us here have informal hanai family- brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles, who are known and loved as blood relatives, and part of our ohana, or family.
Prince Kuhio is often described as a “renaissance man”: he was well-educated in Hawaii at Oahu College (now Punahou School) and attended a military school in San Mateo, California. He also lived in England, where he studied at the Royal Agricultural College and ultimately graduated from business school.
Prince Kuhio is credited with bringing surfing to the wider world while attending a military academy in San Mateo, California, stunning bewildered gawkers with his brothers on the beaches of nearby Santa Cruz. He and his brother Prince Kawananakoa were also the first to bring surfing to Great Britain, at Bridlington Beach in the frigid waters of the north. This was well before the time of thermal wetsuits, and he and his brothers wer unfamiliar currents and conditions. But they perservered!
Prince Kuhio was in the Kalakaua line of succession to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii. After King Kalakaua’s death in 1891, Queen Lili’uokalani came to power and continued to favor the young Prince. By the time he was 21 the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown by a coalition of American and European businessmen. In 1893 they created a provisional government which became a constitutional republic with no role for Hawaiian Royalty.He participated in the Wilcox Rebellion, seeking to put an end to the illegal overthrow. He and others were captured. Kuhio was sentenced by a “provisional” governent to one-year in prison while others were to be put to death (those sentences would later be commuted to prison time).
Prince Kuhio served his full prison term. While in lockup, he met and later married a Maui girl, Elizabeth Kahanu Kaʻauwai, cousin of Queen Kapi’olani. From 1900-1901, Prince Kuhio and his wife traveled the United States and Europe, receiving royal treatment wherever they went. Kuhio also traveled to South Africa during the Second Boer War.
He returned to take part in Hawaii politics and continued to fight for Hawaiian independence. One strong stand was rehabilitating the Hawaiian race by “placing them back upon the soil.” This is the early foundation of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1921. He was reelected to office ten times before his death in 1922. He also brought several bills forward on Women’s sufferage starting in 1915, finally succeeding with in local legislation in 1918, and he played an important part in the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, granting women in the US the right to vote. Prince Kuhio was instrumental in establish the official “Territory of Hawaii”. He was among the founders of Hawaiian civic organizations that remain active today.
Prince Jonah Kuhio remains a revered figure in Hawaii for his achievements as an ambassador for Native Hawaiian culture and as a political force that helped shape modern Hawaii. Schools, beaches, parks, and streets are named for him, including the main artery of Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki as well as the Prince Jonah Kuhio Federal Building in Downtown Honolulu. His is a legacy of study, sacrifice, diplomacy, justice, and an overarching love for the people he represented.
Hawaiian history is ripe with moving accounts, some endearing and powerful, some heart wrenching, but all part of understanding what make Maui nui and the rest of Hawaii unique. We hope you take time to discover more of our history on your next visit by exploring some island culture and talking story with kupuna (revered older generations) on Maui.