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Lā Kūʻokoʻa & Haʻalilio

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

On November 28th, we will be celebrating Lā Kūʻokoʻa. The Hawaiian Kingdom has two major national holidays: Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea (Restoration Day) and Lā Kūʻokoʻa (Independence Day). As we near Lā Kūʻokoʻa, it is a good time to reflect on the events that led to Lā Kūʻokoʻa and celebrate the life of one of Hawaiʻiʻs sons and diplomats, Timoteo Kamalehua Haʻalilio. It is because of his effort and diplomacy that our Kingdom gained recognition as an independent nation.

“... the 28th of November was the day that the Hawaiians gained its independence from the other power of the nations of Britain and France. On that day in the year 1843, the great powers of Britain and France joined together to discuss the bestowing of independence on the Nation, and the two of them agreed to this and we gained this independence… we are overjoyed, and can boast that we are amongst the few Independent Nations under the sun. There are many islands like us, who live peacefully under the powers over them, but Hawaiʻi lives clearly with any power placed above itʻs head. Therefore, the commemoration by the Hawaiian hearts from the East to the West of these islands on this day, is not a small thing, but it is important, and we know by heart the foundational words of our Kingdom. 'E mau ka ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono.' The gaining of this Independance, was not by the point of a sword or the mouth of a gun, but was gotten peacefully…” Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, Buke V, Helu 48, Aoao 3, Dekemaba 1, 1866.

Timoteo Kamalehua Haʻalilio was born in 1808 in Koʻolau, Oʻahu, the son of Koʻeleʻele and Eseka Kipa. After his father passed away when he was quite young, his mother married the Governor of Molokaʻi. At eight years old, Haʻalilio was taken in by the family of Kamehameha Paiʻea and became a close companion of Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III. Through this companionship, Haʻalilio grew up to be a trusted advisor to Kamehameha III and he held several key roles in the Hawaiian Kingdom. He was a personal secretary to Kamehameha III, the Lieutenant Governor of Oʻahu, President of the Treasury Board, where he controlled the finances of the nation, and commissioned Hawaiiʻs Coat of Arms. He also advocated for the rights of people in the lower class by helping to draft the 1839 Declaration of Rights and 1840 Hawaiʻi Constitution.

Because of his respect, skill, and esteem, Haʻalilio was drafted for an important mission. Feeling the foreign pressures on Hawaiʻi at the time, Kamehameha III felt it necessary to establish Hawaiʻiʻs independence as a sovereign country. In doing so, Hawaiʻi would be the first non-European nation to gain this recognition. Kamehameha III sent three men on this mission as Commissioners: Sir George Simpson, Reverend William Richardson, and Timoteo Haʻalilio. When first asked to go aboard and secure this recognition, Haʻalilio was reluctant of the Kingʻs request, in which Kamehameha III responded, “There is no one I trust more with the welfare of our country than you.”

On July 18, 1842, Haʻalilio and Richardson went on a lengthy journey of diplomacy to gain recognition of Hawaiʻiʻs independence by the current countries of world power: Britain and France. From Hawaiʻi, they traveled through Mexico, the continental United States of America, England, France, and Belgium. Before heading to Europe, Haʻalilio and Richardson received a letter from the U.S. Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, on December 19, 1842. It stated:

“... the U.S., therefore, are more interested in the fate of the Islands, and their government, than any other nation can be; and this consideration induces the President to be quite willing to declare, as the sense of government of the U.S., that the government of the Sandwich Island ought to be respected; that no power ought either take possession of the Islands as a conquest, of for the purpose of colonization; and that no power out to seek for any undue control over existing government, or any exclusive privileges or preferences in matters of commerce.”

Haʻalilio faced racism and prejudice but he continued to combat that with goodness, knowledge, and skill. He was regarded as articulate, 'a great observer of men,' and intelligent. Through his travels and diplomacy, Haʻalilio was entertained in high courts of government and society. During his 15-month stay in Europe, Haʻalilio and his fellow Commissioners received recognition of Hawaiʻiʻs independence from England, France, and Belgium. The British Earl of Aberdeen declared, “Her Majestyʻs Government are willing and have determined to recognize the independence of the Sandwich Islands under the present Sovereign.” Alongside recognition of independence, Hawaiʻi also acquired a guarantee from England and France that their independence would be respected.

After this great accomplishment, Haʻalilio and his fellow Commissioners traveled throughout the continent of America, spanning Washington D.C., New York, Boston, and Canada. Throughout his travels, Haʻalilio made it a point to take in the sights and visit the people. He went to museums, hospitals, palaces, cathedrals, bridges, dockyards, mausoleums, public schools, and churches. Unfortunately in his travels, Haʻalilio also became very sick with what we suspect to be tuberculosis. Despite receiving much care, he unfortunately passed away while on his way back home to Hawaiʻi on December 3, 1944. He was a prayerful man and often ended his prayers with "Aia no ia ʻoe", it is with thee or thy will be done.

Timoteo Kamalehua Haʻalilio completed the mission set by Kamehameha III for our Kingdom and received recognition of independence for Hawaiʻi. He advocated for our nation. He used his words, relationships, and intelligence to gain this recognition from countries of power. As you celebrate Lā Kūʻokoʻa this year, remember this man and allow Haʻalilio to be a source of inspiration and an example of sacrifice, determination, and aloha ʻāīna.

Lā Kūʻokoʻa Celebrations and Information:

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