Every year on the Friday closest to June 11, the King Kamehameha statue in downtown Honolulu is decorated with lei to honor King Kamehameha, who unified the Hawaiian islands.
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This ceremony is part of Honolulu’s King Kamehameha Day celebration. The holiday was first created by King Kamehameha V to honor the warrior king and his defense of Hawaiian culture as the islands were increasingly subjected to western colonization.
This statue in front of Ali’iolani Hale was originally commissioned by King Kalakaua and is now one of the most well-known landmarks in the state, but not many people know that it is a replica. The original was lost at sea, but was later found and now stands in Kamehameha’s birthplace of North Kohala. A third statue, commissioned from Italy and originally meant to reside on Kauai, was eventually moved to Hilo, where it remains today.
For over 100 years, the Honolulu statue has been decorated by the ‘Ahahui Ka’ahumanu, a local civic group that is dedicated to preserving Hawaiian culture and honoring Queen Ka’ahumanu. The group gathers annually to thread up to 30 90-foot lei to drape over the statue. They also help in the Kamehameha Day festivities by gathering flowers to create elaborate floats, performing hula, and participating in many other activities throughout the day.
Parades and celebrations last all day across the islands, with parades, ceremonial lei drapings, and cultural performances.