Tales of the King Kamehameha Statues

One of the 4 King Kamehameha statues in Hawaii.

One of the King Kamehameha statues in Hawaii.

Where You Can Find the King Kamehameha Statues

There are a number of statues that honor Hawaii’s greatest king, Kamehameha the First. Because of his achievements, historians also refer to him as Kamehameha the Great. Kamehameha’s greatest achievement was that he unified the Hawaiian Islands under a single ruler. We’ll tell you where you can find the King Kamehameha statues in Hawaii and elsewhere.

Hawaii’s Greatest King

Kamehameha, born in 1758, was from Hawaii’s largest island of the same name, Hawaii. Kamehameha was able to conquer all of the Hawaiian Islands through warfare, except  Kauai. Kauai had voluntarily agreed to be placed under his rule. According to some, the unification of the Hawaiian Islands under Kamehameha was significant. This is because if they were not, they could been fractured apart by competing foreign countries. Such countries included the US, Britain and Russia.

The Most Famous of the King Kamehameha Statues

Today, you can find  most well-known King Kamehameha statue in downtown Honolulu. This statue is in front of Ali‘iolani Hale, the Hawaii State judiciary building, across historic Iolani Palace. Although this is, by far, the most famous statue of King Kamehameha, this was not the original statue. It is actually a replica and the saga behind it is a most interesting tale.

Walter Gibson, a member of the Hawaiian government, first proposed a statue of King Kamehameha in 1878. It was to be as part of a commemoration of the 100-year arrival of the famous British explorer, Captain Cook to Hawaii. David Kalākaua, who was the king of Hawaii at the time, was in the process of completing Iolani Palace. And he wanted to build this new statue near it.

The Story Behind the Statue

According to some historians, Gibson and four others raised money to build the statute. He sailed to America to meet with a Boston sculptor, Thomas Gould. He then hired Gould to do the work. But he actually did the sculpting in Florence, Italy. This was because he already had plans to study Roman sculpture there. There were great challenges in communicating between Hawaii and Italy. But Gould and Gibson regularly exchanged correspondence and photographs of the work in progress.

However, Gould generally ignored the images that Gibson sent of what a typical Polynesian would look like. As he was studying Roman sculptures, it’s not a surprise that Gould incorporated European characteristics into the statute. After looking at photographs, even a local Hawaiian newspaper complained that the statue’s footwear resembled Greek sandals.

Replacing the Original Statue

Unfortunately, Gould did not complete the statue in time for the 100th anniversary. He finally completed the statue in 1880. But then a disaster happened. This occurred when the ship carrying the statue sank near the Falkland Islands. The Hawaiian Kingdom then ordered a replacement statue and paid for it with insurance money. On January 1883, the British ship Aberaman finally delivered the replacement statue. Unfortunately, it was four years after the centennial celebration of Cook’s arrival to Hawaii. On February 14, 1883, King Kalākaua unveiled the new impressive statue, albeit not the original one.

Miraculously, some Falkland Islanders eventually found and recovered the original statue. They then sold it to the captain of a ship sailing to Hawaii. According to reports, the captain then sold the original statue (less some lost parts), to Gibson. At the time, he was King Kalākaua’s prime minister.

What to Do with Two King Kamehameha Statues?

So now, Hawaii had two identical statues of King Kamehameha. Leaders then decided to ship and install the original statue in Kapa’au on Big Island. This was an appropriate choice as it was near the birthplace of King Kamehameha. Along with King Kalākaua, Princess Kekaulike officially unveiled the original statue on May 8, 1883.

More King Kamehameha Statues

A third Kamehameha statue was commissioned after Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959. Each state can install two statues in Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. So as a new state, Hawaii decided that one of statutes would be of King Kamehameha. It became the first statue of a king in the Capitol Building. It would also be the largest statue on display at the nation’s capital.

The Story of Kauai’s Statue

The fourth statue of King Kamehameha also has an interesting story. The Princeville Corporation had planned to erect a statue of the king at its resort development on Kauai. But some of the island’s residents vehemently opposed it. This was because Kamehameha never conquered Kauai through warfare and some were very proud of this fact.

Princeville even attempted to give the statue to the local county government in Kauai. But it also didn’t want it, presumably for the same reasons given before. Enter the Kamehameha Alumni Association of Hilo. It led the effort to get the Princeville Corporation to donate the statue. They shipped it from Kauai to Big Island. Then they installed it at the Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo in June 1997. Some say that this is the most impressive of all statutes of Kamehameha, which stands 14 feet high. Many say that the Big Island, as home of Kamehameha, is an appropriate permanent location for it.

Other King Kamehameha Statues

There are a fifth and six statues of Kamehameha. The fifth one is on the grounds of the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa on Maui. Local artist and historian Herb Kawainui Kane sculpted it. Some say it is the most lifelike representation of Kamehameha. The sixth statue is on the Las Vegas Strip. To some, this may be an appropriate location of a famous Hawaiian icon, such as King Kamehameha. This is because Las Vegas just might be the most popular travel destination by residents of the Aloha State. As a result, many refer it as “Hawaii’s Ninth Island” as an extension of the eight major Hawaiian Islands.