November 28th Is [Our] Independence Day

By Pualani Ovono
Pictures by Alexi Jimeno
Graphics by Lucky Lemieux

“E ku kakou a olioli pu / No ka la Kuokoa o Hawaii nei*” (Na W.D.N i haku ʻia, Novemaba 26, 1870).

Mural of Edith K. Kanakaʻole on the side of Edith Kanakaʻole Hall at UH HiloThe mural of Edith K. Kanakaʻole painted on Edith Kanakaʻole Hall. This line is from a song found in the newspaper Ka Nupepa Kuokoa. It translates to, “Let us stand up and rejoice together / For the Independence Day of Hawaii nei.” It goes on to describe how the different islands and their natural monuments rejoice at the creation of this day.

Lā Kūʻokoʻa is a Hawaiʻi specific holiday that commemorates the becoming of the nation of Hawaiʻi as a sovereign nation. It literally translates to Independence Day, and commemorates a turning point in Hawaiʻi’s history.

In June 1839, King Kauikeaouli installed a declaration of rights that ensured all makaʻāinana (commonfolk) and aliʻi (chiefs) had equal protection in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. This was the start of an attempt to create a formal government structure. In July of the same year, Captain Cyrille LaPlace of the French Navy arrived in Hawaiʻi, bringing with him the threat of war over treatment of Catholics in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, and was dubbed the Laplace Affair. While this was resolved with a treaty a few days later, King Kauikeaouli realized the vulnerability of the Hawaiian nation, and sought to resolve it by gaining international recognition of Hawaiʻiʻs independence.

Two years after the incident, he appointed Timoteo Haʻalilio, Reverend William Richards, and Sir George Simpson to serve as envoys in his mission of securing recognized independence for Hawaiʻi. The trio first met with several world power representatives, and secured assurance from Great Britain, France, United States of America, and Belgium that their countries would recognize Hawaiʻiʻs independence.

On Nov. 28, 1843, Great Britain and France signed a declaration that formally recognized the independence of the Hawaiian Nation. The envoys later returned to Belgium and the USA to gain formal recognition from both countries as well. Nov. 28 is celebrated annually to celebrate the success of the envoys mission in securing independence of the Hawaiian Nation.

Following the annexation of the Hawaiian Nation in 1898, Lā Kūʻokoʻa became forgotten and was not celebrated until the resurgence of Hawaiian culture in relatively recent years. Now, this holiday is celebrated across Hawaiʻi with festivities, food, and education. Sayings such as “November 28th is My Independence Day,” and certain charter schools recognizing the day as an official school holiday are further examples of how Lā Kūʻokoʻa has reemerged as a an important part of celebrating Hawaiʻi's culture in modern times.

A mural of a line from the chant "E hō mai" painted on the side of Edith Kanakaʻole Hallat UH HiloA line in an oli chant composed by Aunty Edith for students to seek knowledge.

“This is an advisable lesson for all of us to have faith in without any doubt, for this is the day our Nation was made Independent. And it is necessary for the native children of my birth land... to maintain this day and commemorate it with aloha and justice. Those who commemorate and celebrate this day with goodness and true aloha, this act will bring you true fortune. Let the commemoration of this day go on forever, from this time until the last generation of our lāhui lives.” 1869, Kauwahi. (Translated by J. Uʻilani Au).

ʻOkina and kahakō were purposefuly left out of the lines, as it was published in the original newspaper without them. It is speculated that the author’s initials may stand for W. D. Naonohielua. The whole mele can be found at:

A graphic of The Hawaiian Flag posted on a hill