This majestic King Kamehameha I statue that stands proudly out the front of Ali’iolane Hale in Downtown Honolulu, is a casting of one of Hawaii's most beloved and revered rulers Kamehameha the Great, who was the first to unify all the islands and welcome westerners to his lands.
Kamehameha was a revered warrior and leader, and he united Hawaii into one royal kingdom in 1810 after years of conflict. He also encouraged foreign trade and technology while avoiding foreign rule. He is depicted in the 18-foot bronze statue as extending his hand in a welcoming gesture of aloha.
King Kamehameha commissioned the construction of Ali’iolani Hale to be the royal palace of the Hawaiian Monarchy. It was built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style and its name means ‘House of the heavenly King’. Ali’iolani Hale eventually became an administrative building and now houses the Supreme Court of Hawaii as well as the Judiciary History Center.
The 18-foot bronze King Kamehameha I statue is the most recognized one of four statues that were cast in Paris from a model made by American artist Thomas Gould. It was commissioned by King David Kalakaua (who was the last king of the Hawaiian Monarchy) in 1878, and constructed in honor of Kamehameha’s unification of Hawaii. King Kalakaua was at the time completing the construction of ‘Iolani Palace, which was his tribute to King Kamehameha I and was originally to be the resting place of the statue. It is said that a kahuna (Hawaiian priest) at the time stated that the statue’s righteous home was to be in the land of Kamehameha’s birth.
There is quite a story to the building and delivery of the statue. Thomas Gould used John Baker as his model for the project. John was a part Hawaiian and a friend of Kalakaua. Although he had been sent photos of Polynesian people, he did not really make an appropriate likeness. He was in Italy studying Roman sculpture, so unfortunately the statue is reminiscent of a Roman general with European features. The part that most portrays the essence of the Hawaiian Monarchy is the belt around his waist: a symbolic rendering of the Sacred Sash of Liloa (the King of Big Island).
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Gould’s finished sculpture was sent to Paris for bronzing, however on its return to Hawaii, the ship was wrecked near the Falkland Islands, and the statue was presumably lost forever. Luckily the statue was insured and a second casting was made immediately, which arrived on Hawaiian soil in 1883, and it was then dedicated as part of King Kalakaua’s coronation ceremony.
Ironically, within weeks of the second statue’s arrival, the original one also arrived in Honolulu – it had been located in a junkyard in the Falkland Islands. Now Hawaii had two statues! King Kalakaua recalled the prophecy of the kahuna, and sent that original casting to King Kamehameha’s birthplace near the town of Kapa’au on Big Island. There are two other statues – one is located near Hilo, also on Big Island, and the third replica was commissioned in 1969 when Hawaii attained statehood and stands at the Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.
Twice a year, on May Day and year on King Kamehameha’s birthday, June 11, handmade leis are draped all over the statues to honor the king. The King Kamehameha I Statue that stands outside of Ali’iolani Palace in Honolulu is one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of Hawaii.
From Waikiki take Kalakaua Avenue toward the mountains. Turn left onto South Beretania Street and then another left onto Richards Street, then turn left onto South King Street. The statue will be on the right in front of the Ali'iolani Hale.
- Hours: Monday-Friday 8.00am – 4.30pm
- Admission: Free
- Phone: (808) 539 4999