31 Days of History: 31 July

In 1990, Governor of Hawaii John Waihee proclaimed 31 July to be Ka Hae Hawaiʻi Day, or the Hawaiian Flag Day. It has been celebrated each year since then on this day.

Hawaii, the 50th state to be accepted into the Union on 21 August 1950, has a unique flag. It’s the only flag that has flown over a kingdom, a protectorate, a republic, a territory, and a state. It is also the only flag that incorporates the British Union Jack as part of its design—the Union Jack is a holdover of the period in Hawaiian history when it was a British protectorate (1794–1843).

The field of the flag is composed of nine horizontal stripes symbolizing the nine major islands that compose Hawaii (Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Maui, Molokaʻi, Niʻihau and Nihoa).

There are various accounts of the how the flag came into the current design. The most commonly accepted version relates how King Kamehameha I flew a British flag, given to him by British explorer Captain George Vancouver, as a token of friendship with King George III. Kamehameha would often fly the flag from places of honor until one of his advisors noted that the British Flag could draw Hawaii into international conflict as his kingdom could be seen as an ally of the United Kingdom. During and after the War of 1812, a flag of the United States was raised over Kamehameha's home, but British officials objected to this as well. To placate the two nations, Kamehameha combined the two into a new creation.

King Kamehameha

(A brief bit of background: Kamehameha (1738-1819), also known as Kamehameha the Great, conquered the Hawaiian Islands and formally established the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1810. He was the first ruler to bring all the Hawaiian islands under central rule. His full name was Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea).

King Kamehameha's statue in the Capitol Visitors Center

The DC connection: In the United States Capitol, you can find the National Statuary Hall Collection. Congress has invited each state to select and make two statues of famous, noted individuals from each state and send them to the Capitol. With the addition of New Mexico's second statue in 2005, there are 100 statues scattered throughout the Capitol. (For example, you can find John C. Calhoun and Wade Hampton from South Carolina.) One of Hawaii’s statues is King Kamehameha, and it is the largest statue in the collection, weighing more than 6 tons. You can find it in the New Capitol Visitors Center.

Hawaii's other statue, Father Damien

So if you have a Hawaiian flag, today is the day to fly it proudly!

You can find 50 statues here.

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