Old Summer Palace in Nuʻuanu Home to Historic Celebration

Jul 16, 2018

The stone path leading to the entrance of what remains of Kaniakapupu - the 19th century summer palace of Kauikeaouli King Kamehameha III and his wife Queen Kalama in Luakaha, Luakaha, Nu'uanu.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

July 31 is a national holiday in the Hawaiian Kingdom called Restoration Day. The first observance of this holiday was in 1843 at the Nuʻuanu summer palace of Hawaiʻi’s longest-reigning monarch.HPR Reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

A muddy path off the Old Pali Highway in an area of Nuʻuanu known as Luakaha takes you through a bamboo forest, alongside ancient irrigation ditches to what remains of Kaniakapūpū – the summer retreat of Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III and Queen Kalama. 

A daguerreotype ca. 1853 includes Kamehameha III (center) and his wife, Queen Kalama (left); Kamehameha IV (left rear), Kamehameha V (right rear) and their sister, Victoria Kamāmalu (right).
Credit Hugo Stangenwald / Bernice P. Bishop Museum

“Its said that Kauikeaouli came up here to get away from the rigors of running the government,” says Baron Ching, “So it was a good place for him. He would gamble, you know, drink, and get away from the pressures of running the country.” 

Ching is a member of a group of volunteers who care for the ruins and the surrounding area.

Kaniakapūpū was built in 1835, at about the same time and in similar fashion to Kawaihaʻo Church in downtown Honolulu. 

An 1853 drawing of Kaniakapupu.
Credit Paul Emmert / U.S. Library of Congress

“Built sorta western style with mortar, plaster, pili grass roof. Basically it was one big room. And thatʻs the cooking house,” says Ching, “You had a wooden lanai that went around to the edge of these stones, a pili grass roof that extended to the end of these stones, and of course a paved stone walkway was a lot smoother in those days.”  

The dry stack platform of the cooking house can be seen in the foreground covered in ferns and moss. In the background, the west-facing wall of Kaniakapupu. All four walls included two windows on each side of a door.Credit Ku'uwehi HiraishiEdit | Remove

Kauikeauouli reigned for 29 years beginning in 1825. Ching says, it was here that he wrote parts of the first Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1840.

Kaniakapūpū was also the site of one of the biggest party in the history of Hawaiʻi – the 1843 celebration of Restoration Day or Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea. 

Baron Ching at the entrance to Kaniakapupu.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“You know the British occupied Hawaiʻi from about February 24, 1843, until Rear Admiral Richard Thomas arrives in Honolulu Harbor on July 25,” says Ching, “Thomas decides that yeah it was all hyped up and there was no reason to seize Hawaiʻi.” 

That’s right. For five months in 1843, the Hawaiian Kingdom was occupied by rogue agents of the British Crown. 

Kaniakapupu was one of the first structures to be built in the western style using coral mortar and plaster as well as wooden floors. The roof, however, was made of pili grass - the same material used to thatch entire homes in ancient times.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“And so what happens is that July 31st becomes the official day to restore Hawaiʻi, the independence of Hawaiʻi,” says Ching, “They said the entire city of Honolulu came. Ten thousand people came up that road you just came up and celebrated Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea. 

According to Ching,Kaniakapūpū was abandoned shortly after Kauikeaouli’s death in 1853. Thesite was added to the National Register of Historic Placesin the 1960s, and stewardship of the area continues through today. 

Lā HoʻihoʻI Ea festivities also continue every year at Thomas Square in Honolulu, but Ching hopes to one day return the celebration to Kaniakapūpū, where it all began.