By Imaikalani Winchester
In Hawaiʻi, the month of July is an important time to celebrate justice and independence for Hawaiians, not Americans.
This month commemorates a critical moment in our national history: ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, or Sovereignty Restoration Day, our first Hawaiian national holiday.
Ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea was established on July 31, 1843, after British forces, under Captain George Paulet, temporarily occupied Hawaiʻi and raised the Union Jack over the Hawaiian nation for five months. The matter was resolved when Admiral Richard Thomas sailed to Hawaiʻi to remove Paulet and restore ea – Hawaiian sovereign authority – to King Kamehameha III.
Kauikeaouli honored this act of pono, or justice, by naming the site where the restoration ceremony took place after Admiral Thomas. Thomas Square became the very first public park in the Hawaiian Kingdom, and it remains a significant national monument to justice and sovereignty for Hawaiians today. For 50 years, from 1843 to 1893, Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea was celebrated widely throughout the kingdom. Games and feasts in celebration of the holiday lasted up to 10 days. The Hawaiian language newspapers documented these national observances for decades.
This national holiday, however, was banned following the infamous American overthrow of 1893, an act designed to systematically suffocate the memory of Hawaiian independence and to appropriate the symbols of Hawaiian nationality as ornaments of American occupation. Like our mother tongue, our national memory was nearly torn from us.
But in 1986, in an act of love and resistance, Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea was resuscitated by a new generation of poʻe aloha ʻāina. Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, renowned physician and Hawaiian independence leader, led the revitalized celebration of ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea with a public gathering at Thomas Square.
Blaisdell believed that the over-representation of Kānaka Maoli in the worst indicators of health and wellbeing – poverty and homelessness, crime and incarceration, depression and suicide – could all be linked to the overthrow of Hawaiʻi and the dislocation of the Hawaiian people from their land and country. He believed that the only way to reverse and repair this condition was to “hoʻihoʻi ea,” restore Hawaiian sovereignty and put Hawaiian lands and government back under Hawaiian control.
Today, the celebration of ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea across our lāhui continues rising in various communities and by present generations. The reclamation of our holidays is a good sign of our progress and momentum as a lāhui. Together in solidarity – from Thomas Square to Waiʻanae, from Hāmākua to Ulupō, from Waimea to New York City, from Lahaina to Tokyo – communities join the effort to resuscitate our national memory through the raising of the hae Hawaiʻi on July 31 at noon, in a conscious and political declaration that the Hawaiian Kingdom lives!
If we are to rise as a nation again, we must make ourselves whole. We must repair the breaks in our historical and political identity and fill the dark pockets of our memory, obscured by the Americanization of our lāhui. The emancipation of our nation lies with the restoration of our consciousness, the struggle to resist American indoctrination, and the commitment to transform the condition of occupation into one of liberation and self-determination.
The contemporary celebration of ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea reminds us that justice is possible if we fight for it. It reminds us that powerful nations of the world can still do what is right, despite their own self-interest.
Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea reminds us that our actions to restore our nation must continue for our children and their descendants. Many of our keiki today speak our native language, attend Hawaiian schools, and celebrate Hawaiian national holidays like Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea and Lā Kūʻokoʻa (Hawaiian Independence Day), as naturally as they would celebrate Christmas or New Year’s Eve. We have filled the gap in our collective memory, and they are becoming more whole than the generation before them.
In this month of July, we call upon our lāhui to assemble in collective celebration and to reassert the truth of our history. We must demand that the just and righteous example of the British also be followed by the United States of America, in the name of pono. We Hawaiians must continue to struggle for justice and pono.
One simple step you can take is to fly your hae Hawaiʻi throughout the month of July and start celebrating Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea with your ʻohana. We also welcome you to join us, Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea – Honolulu, in celebrating our history, our resistance and our independence, through a series of events scheduled throughout the month.
E mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono!
For more information and a calendar of events visit: www.lahoihoiea.org
Imai Winchester is a Kanaka Maoli educator-activist from the island of Oʻahu. He has been the lead organizer for the celebration of ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea at Thomas Square since 2005 with the help and support of community activists, artists, farmers, educators, and healers. He is a son, a brother, a husband and a father who loves his family with all his heart.