Aloha Lā Kūʻokoʻa
It’s ka Mahina o Nowemapa (the month of November)! While so many of us are getting in the fall spirit and doing our holiday shopping, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on an important day in Hawaii’s history: Lā Kū'oko'a.
Did you know that November 28 is Hawaii’s Independence Day? If you didn’t, you’re sadly not alone. Lā Kū'oko'a has been around since 1843 but it took until *this year* for it to be officially recognized by the state. In April 2023, Governor Josh Green signed a new bill that officially recognizes Lā Kū'oko'a as a day of remembrance in Hawaii.
So what is Hawaii’s Independence Day all about? Remember back in July when we celebrated Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea? Well, these two holidays are related. (Psst: if you missed that post, check it out here!)
To refresh your memory, waaaay back in 1840, the first British ambassador to Hawaii falsely claimed ownership over the islands. This prompted King Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha the Third) to send Timoteo Ha‘alilio, William Richards, and Sir George Simpson as diplomatic agents to negotiate treaties with the world’s three powerhouses: the United States, Britain, and France. Their goal was to get these countries to formally recognize Hawaii’s sovereignty and independence.
Timoteo Ha‘alilio and William Richards first set off for America. There, they successfully secured a verbal affirmation from President John Tyler that the United States recognized the Kingdom of Hawaii’s independence. They then traveled to Europe to aid Simpson in his negotiations with France and Britain.
During their time abroad, a British Captain named Lord George Paulet forcibly took over Hawaii and King Kamehameha III had to cede his kingdom under protest. It took until the summer of 1843, but ultimately the diplomatic mission was successful. In July of 1843, British Admiral Richard Darton Thomas arrived in Honolulu Harbor and put an end to the illegal British occupation and reinstated Hawaii’s sovereignty. This is the day we know as Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, or Sovereignty Restoration Day.
It wasn’t until several months later on November 28, 1843, that the British and French governments formally recognized Hawaii’s independence by the signing of the Anglo-Franco Proclamation. This document was a joint declaration by France and Britain that officially recognized the Kingdom of Hawaii’s independence. This is the day that we know as Lā Kū'oko'a, or Hawaii’s Independence Day.
Fun fact: Hawaii was the first non-European country whose independence was formally recognized by the major European powers! How cool is that?
Lā Kūʻokoʻa and Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea were widely celebrated in Hawaii for five decades. Residents honored these holidays with visits to the palace, feasts, music, races, and more. It wasn’t until the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy that Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday and began overshadowing LāKūʻokoʻa and Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea. In time, the majority of Hawaii’s residents no longer observed these historic dates.
Thankfully, there has been a resurgence of interest in celebrating Lā Kūʻokoʻa and learning more about Hawaii’s rich history. We hope that this November 28, you take a moment to celebrate Hawaii’s Independence Day, and remember how our home came to be.
Happy Lā Kūʻokoʻa and a hui hou! (Until next time)
Mahalo to the resources that were used for this article: