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The State of Aloha

July seems to be the month for celebrating freedom. Perhaps it’s the weather. The summer heat and oppressive sun may cause tempers to boil over. Summertime is a good time for old grievances to bloom into revolution.

France has Bastille Day. During the summer of 1789, something must have been in the air. On July 14 the ancient fortress in Paris was stormed by revolutionaries. The storming of the Bastille was a high inflection point in the French Revolution. It’s a national holiday in the French Republic and celebrated as a day of freedom.

And, of course, here in the United States we have the Fourth of July. In the summer of 1776, the Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson noted the weather the day the Congress declared its independence from the British Crown. The day began at a cool 68 degrees and crept up to 76. Sounds pretty good, no? But then again, the men who sat around and debated were wearing heavy suits and some had wigs — making them easily hot and bothered.

A more recent example comes from Cuba. Temperatures hovered around 90 degrees on July 26, 1953 — when Fidel Castro’s forces attacked army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. It sparked the start of his overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator and establishment of a free and independent Cuban nation.

July is indeed a month for celebrating independence — Hawai’i is no exception. About 180 years ago, the British Empire’s first ambassador to the Hawaiian Kingdom was an unapologetic imperialist. He aggressively claimed prime lands in an area that is now downtown Honolulu. The monarch at the time, Kauikeaouli, whose title includes Kamehameha III, rejected the claim.

The ambassador left the islands in a huff. His plan was to go back to London and air his grievances to the Foreign Office. On the way there, however, he stopped in Mexico. There he convinced the like-minded Lord George Paulet, a captain in the Royal Navy, that wholesome British subjects were being wronged in the islands. Paulet took his warship to Honolulu and threatened the kingdom with a violent overthrow.

Paulet and his men occupied the islands. The Hawaiian nation’s flags were lowered and burned. Kauikeaouli acted quickly and dispatched two diplomats to England. They raced across the globe and pleaded their case to Queen Victoria’s government that the islands were unlawfully overthrown and occupied. Their arguments carried the day.

Admiral Richard Thomas arrived in Honolulu in 1843 to relieve Paulet of his duties. On July 31, a group of subjects gathered outside of Honolulu town and witnessed the formal reestablishment of their government. Bernice Pauahi was just 11 years old when she wrote in her journal that the ships in Honolulu Harbor and soldiers at Punchbowl Crater fired a 21-gun salute.

Later that day, the king addressed the congregation at Kawaiahao Church to commemorate the restoration. It was there he spoke the words that would become the motto of the kingdom and later our state: “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono” — the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. The king also proclaimed the first national holiday in the country. July 31 was La Ho’iho’i Ea, Restoration Day.

The site of the formal restoration became a park as the city expanded eastward. Today it’s called Thomas Square and the straight pathways meeting in the center of the park resemble the three crosses of the Union Jack.

In the decades that followed, the day was largely forgotten. The restoration of the monarchy in 1843 meant something very different after an unlawful overthrow. Still, the day was recognized privately primarily among Native Hawaiians.

That changed in the 1980s when a remarkable doctor, Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, and other activists revived the holiday. Steadily the celebrations gained momentum. In 2018, a bronze statue of Kauikeaouli was dedicated and this year, it was formally recognized as a day of celebration in our state.

The Paulet Affair and restoration compelled Kauikeaouli to establish a more formalized constitutional monarchy to strengthen his government. He moved the capitol from Lahaina to Honolulu and purchased a large house on the grounds of what is now Iolani Palace. He named his home Ho’iho’i Ea, the Restoration. Just as Reconstruction redefined the United States, July 31 can be seen as a second founding of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

The restoration of independence from one of the mightiest governments on the planet meant that its subjects — Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian alike — rejected the notion that they could just be bullied and taken over by military power. It is a time to reflect and celebrate that those of us living in the islands should demand and deserve freedom and independence — two things that are frighteningly fragile these days.

* Ben Lowenthal is a trial and appellate lawyer, currently with the Office of the Public Defender, who grew up on Maui. His email is 808stateofaloha@gmail.com.

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