The statue of King Kamehameha, the only one of a king in the National Statuary Hall Collection, was unveiled April 15, 1969. The statue is a duplicate of the original statue of King Kamehameha by American artist, Thomas R. Gould. In the late 1870s, the legislature of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i commissioned Gould to create a statue honoring their first king. In his studio in Rome, Gould created a bronze statue of “heroic size,” about 8 ½ feet tall. In 1879, the model was cast into bronze at a foundry in Paris.
The finished bronze statue depicts Kamehameha in his regal garb, including a helmet of rare feathers and a gilded cloak, based on one made for him by his subjects by weaving yellow feathers of native birds into a fine mesh net. While his sandals are not historically accurate, they suggest the type of footwear that Kamehameha would have worn. When it was time for the statue to be shipped to Hawai‘i, it ended up lost at sea in a shipwreck. A second statue, cast from the same model, arrived safely and was unveiled by the last king of Hawai‘i, Kalakaua, in 1883. The original statue was recovered and brought to Hawai‘i 32 years later, in 1912.
Before his reign as king, Kamehameha was said to have a “divine right” as the leader to unite the Hawaiian islands. At the age of 14, stories credit Kamehameha with lifting the 5,000 pound Naha Stone. Hawaiian legend gives divine right to whomever moves or overturns the stone. His divine right was exemplified by a rare explosive eruption of Kilauea Volcano, which wiped out parts of the opposing army during a battle.
When Kamehameha I died, his remains were placed in an unknown sacred burial cave; the location remains a mystery. According to ancient tradition/customs, “only the stars know his final resting place.”
To honor his legacy, annually King Kamehameha Day is celebrated on June 11 and the statues of King Kamehameha in the Capitol and in Hawai‘i are draped with leis. Before or during the celebration, a conch shell, or Pu, is blown, a religious and secular tradition in Hawaiian culture. The blowing of the Pu is a call to the divine. For many Hawaiians, it also symbolizes the first four Hawaiian male gods (Kane, Lono, Ku, and Kanaloa). King Kamehameha Day is the only holiday in the United States that celebrates a king.
To learn more about Kamehameha I, download our augmented reality app, Who Are the People?, for an interactive experience.
Kamehameha I Image Source List.