About a month after Americans honor the Fourth of July, a lesser-known historical day comes around that also celebrates independence. Called La Hoihoi Ea, or Sovereignty Restoration Day, and honored on Jul. 31, the holiday remembers a time before American occupation of Hawai‘i.
In February of 1843, after complaints from British living in Honolulu, Lord George Paulet arrived in the islands to issue a list of demands to the king. Paulet would not hear Kauikeaouli’s (King Kamehameha III) statements that emissaries had already been sent to Britain to resolve the disputes. By Feb. 15, 1843, the Hawaiian flag was lowered and replaced by the British flag, and control of the kingdom handed to occupying government under the threat of force.
Word of the situation eventually got to Queen Victoria who sent Admiral Richard Thomas to restore the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. On Jul. 31, 1843, after five months of occupation, the Hawaiian flag was raised once again and control of the Kingdom restored to Kauikeaouli, who declared, “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘aina i ka pono” (The sovereignty of the land is perpetuated in righteousness).
On Maui, a small group gathered at Maui Lani Regional Park on Jul. 30 to recognize this holiday. There were no fireworks or hotdog barbecues (at least while I was there, the event lasted from dusk Jul. 30 until dawn Jul. 31), but the group that came together was willing to share their reasons for recognizing this day, and what it meant to them.
The question of the meaning of independence and sovereignty in a land where the kingdom was overthrown was at the front of the conversations I had. “People say ‘Happy Fourth of July!’ I say, ‘I don’t celebrate it,’” Karen Alohilani Heu Sing told me. “As a Native American, as a Native Hawaiian, it’s not my holiday. What is independence? To be able to live in the way I should, and I don’t need to celebrate the American holiday – it’s not mine!”
Kaniloa Kamaunu added, “For us it’s as the United States on July Fourth, it’s a time that we recognize that we’re sovereign – the kanaka is still sovereign.”
He said that he recognizes La Hoihoi Ea “to let [the United States] know that we’re still independent, that you guys are still occupying foreign soil.” Talking about the history of the British occupation, he added, “We’re saying the same thing to the United States: You have to rectify the situation… We do this in hopes that this situation will be rectified.”
After centuries of occupation, hope for sovereignty was a recurring theme. “This La Hoihoi Ea we keep celebrating so that we can keep hope alive,” Kaniloa told me. It was a meaningful hope for Heu Sing, who emphasized the importance of recognition: “I realized that I am sovereign, I am independent… It’s like recapturing our souls to know who we are.”
The hope was not only personal but a desire for self-determination over the use of lands, and there was overlap at the group between members involved in disputing sand mining in Central Maui where iwi kupuna (ancestral bones) rest, restoring kuleana lands to families, and protesting development atop Haleakala.
“We’ve been doing this fight for almost 12 years now, trying to bring recognition to the area [the Central Maui Inland Sand],” Kamaunu told me regarding sand mining. He has been “trying to get developers and the county and the state to realize that what they’re doing is wrong and they should leave everything as is. But it’s all about developing, making money… This La Hoihoi Ea we keep celebrating so that we can keep hope alive.”
For Wilmont Kahaialii, knowing this history and educating others is empowerment for those who want to fight these battles. “They need to realize there was a time when it became important for the sovereignty to be restored to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i,” he said, “because that allows us to go, ‘Wait a minute, if Britain saw fit to do what was right, what was pono, then we need to take a look at the things leading up to the overthrow that were not pono and ask, ‘What would be the pono thing to be done?’”
Keeaumoku Kapu, who has had success fighting a long court battle to restore his family’s ownership of lands following clouding of land titles after the Mahele (a division of lands in the 1800s that changed Hawai‘i’s traditional land management system to comply with Western land ownership principles), told me his reason for recognizing the La Hoihoi Ea.
“For myself,” he said, “it’s trying to get the word out there. I’m constantly telling people that when they tell you you cannot, just remember you can. I’m living proof of that. A lot of people told me – even my dad told me – ‘Why you bothering with this case?’”
“I tell my father, ‘Because we’re rooted in it, that’s us, that’s our story… Now I’ve been able to prove them wrong. That’s something to celebrate and to give everybody hope out there. If I can do it, you can do it.”
As the evening went on, the breeze picked up from across the valley and the fact that we were just feet away from zones that had been marked off as burial sites, across the street from housing developments on contested land, became more prominent. Kaniloa and Wilmont worked on getting a generator started to power their vigil that would go on for at least another 10 hours.
“The bottom line is we don’t want anybody to be ignorant anymore,” Wilmont said. “Coming to these gatherings will allow us to share that information and teach you how to walk pono.”
Take the poll: Should we recognize more Hawaiian Kingdom historical days like La Ho‘iho‘i Ea (Sovereignty Restoration Day)?
Vote and leave a comment below for a chance to appear in print!
Take The Poll: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Hawaiihistoricaldays