Lā Kūʻokoʻa: Hawaiian Independence Day – November 28th

#128 in the Moʻolelo series, this is a further look at how Hawaiʻi became a recognized independent state, or country. It is adapted from a 2011 article I wrote in The Hawaiʻi Independent. Iʻll be speaking at an online conference on the topic on November 28th, organized by Kale Gumapac. Other speakers will include Donovan Preza, Kaleikoa Kaeo, Keanu Sai, Dexter Kaʻiama, Niklaus Schweitzer, Manu Kaʻiama, and Steven Laudig. So Iʻll be blogging about this topic often as we approach the holiday.

Lā Kūʻokoʻa, literally “the day of standing separate” – Hawaiʻi’s independence day, went unnoted for many decades. While Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea has been observed, at least by a few, since 1987, thanks to Kekuni Blaisdell, the same is not true of Lā Kuʻokoʻa, arguably an even more important holiday.

Kekuni Blaisdell and myself in 2011

Two simultaneous events were involved with the creation of Lā Kūʻokoʻa, efforts to gain diplomatic recognition of Hawaiʻi’s soveriegnty, and the “Paulet Episode,” which immediately tested that sovereignty. The strategy used by the Hawaiian Kingdom to attain sovereignty was to gain entry into the family of nations – the de facto international system of independent states, which are subjects of international law. On April 8 1842, Kauikeaouli (King Kamehameha III) sent three envoys – William Richards, Timoteo Ha‘alilio, and Sir George Simpson – to Europe and the US to gain formal recognition from the US, France and Great Britain.

Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III

It is such recognition that bestows on a nation the status of independent state. Haʻalilo and Richards braved many hardships crossing Mexico to get to its East Coast and to Washington. Simpson travelled directly to Europe through Siberia, and the group met in Western Europe.

Beamer writes of the mission:

Haʻalilio and Richards traversed Mexico on the backs of mules, enduring extremes of terrain, weather and hunger (hoʻomanawanui hoʻi I ka pōloli) on their way toward the United States. When they finally reached Washington DC, the Hawaiian envoys had difficultly meeting with President Tyler, as his secretary of state was less than enthusiastic about the mission.

Beamer, 2014, 133.

Simpson first went to Belgium to gain recognition from King Leopold. The King of Belgium was a relative of both Queen Victoria and King Louis Phillipe of France. Using this leverage, the delegation sought the recognition of Britain and France. The two countries jointly granted Hawai‘i formal recognition and pledged “never to take possession” of Hawai‘i in the Anglo-Franco proclamation of November 28, 1843. The declaration read:

“Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and his majesty the King of the French taking into consideration the existence in the Sandwich Islands of a government capable of regulating the relations with foreign nations have thought it right to engage, reciprocally, to consider the Sandwich Islands as an Independent State, and never to take possession … of any part of the Territory of which they are composed.”

Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty was being recognized and tested simultaneously. While the envoys were on their mission, Lord George Paulet seized HawaiʻI in February 1843 and King Kamehameha III ceded the Kingdom under protest while following a diplomatic path to undo the action of Paulet. This was successful five months later on July 31st, and led to another holiday, Lā HoʻihoʻI Ea, but that’s a story to be covered in July.

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