Last month, we celebrated the birthday of Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole. Celebrations were held on Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Moloka‘i, Kaua‘i, and O‘ahu, to commemorate his birthday and celebrate his legacy.
Born of nobility in 1871, Kūhiō was a Prince of the House of Kalākaua who received an education in Honolulu and overseas. Following the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani, Kūhiō participated in a rebellion against the Republic of Hawai‘i in 1895, and was imprisoned for a year.
Kūhiō is also remembered as a statesman, who first served the Kingdom of Hawai‘i’s Department of Interior under King Kalākaua. Later, he would go on to become the Territory of Hawai‘i’s second Delegate to the United States House of Representatives, succeeding Robert Wilcox. Kūhiō would win ten elections to Congress, serving from 1903 until his death in 1922. It is noteworthy and inspiring that both of Hawai‘i’s first two Delegates to Congress, Kūhiō and Robert Wilcox, were both Native Hawaiian.
During his tenure in Congress, Kūhiō’s milestone legislative success was the enactment of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Warren G. Harding in 1921, continues to benefit the beneficiary lessees who reside on Hawaiian homestead lands statewide to this day. Although Kūhiō initially had a larger vision for the HHCA than what became the resulting law, it is historic that he was able to secure its passage despite not having voting privileges in the House. He did so through establishing strong relationships with his colleagues in Congress.
Kūhiō’s contributions in civic leadership are also significant in the Hawaiian Civic Club movement, which has been celebrating its 100th year anniversary since December of 2018. Kūhiō was the founder of this movement, and of the Hawaiian Civic Club of Honolulu, often called the “mother club.” These numerous civic clubs continue to serve communities across Hawai‘i and even on the U.S. continent. Civic club leaders are prominent advocates for Hawai‘i and for Native Hawaiian at all levels of government, but particularly at the Hawai‘i State Legislature.
These are just two ways we see Kūhiō’s contributions to Hawai‘i. We honor his memory in many ways. Throughout Hawai‘i, we have roads, parks, beaches, and schools named in his honor, and even statues of him. We have not forgotten his accomplishments and we have much work to continue in his proud legacy.