Honolulu firefighters Ocean Kaowili, left, and William Kapua draped leis yesterday on the statue of King Kamehameha across from Iolani Palace. The annual event kicks off a weekend of events dedicated to Hawaii's king.

Garlands keep king’s
legacy alive

Lei-draping organizers say the
annual event helps to preserve
Hawaiian culture

Under the shade of palm trees, their lawn chairs facing the King Kamehameha statue outside the state Judiciary building, four kupuna chatted yesterday about the importance of preserving Hawaiian culture, traditions and knowledge.

On a day that kicks off a weekend dedicated to the king, they expressed hope in Hawaii's future generations. But there are also plenty of reasons to worry.

"King Kamehameha was the original leader of all the islands, but the tourists know more about King Kamehameha than some Hawaiians," said Lucy Akau, seated next to longtime friends as Kamehameha's statue was draped -- for the 89th year -- with more than 50 leis, bright with yellow and white plumeria, red ginger, purple bougainvillea and pink carnations.

"He may be a statue but he represents Hawaii."

Organizers of the lei draping agree. This year's theme is "Keepers of the Treasure" -- reflected in the dozens of plumeria leis for Kamehameha. Part of their responsibility, they say, is to preserve Hawaiian culture.

"We're the keepers," said Jennifer Viernes, co-chairwoman of the Kamehameha Celebration Commission. "We keep on going on with Kamehameha's legacy."

The lei draping starts a month-long series of events to honor Kamehameha's designated birthday, including today's King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade. The 32nd Annual King Kamehameha Hula Competition is set to start on June 24.

More than 500 tourists and residents sat side by side, cameras clicking and video recorders rolling, on beach towels and blankets to watch Kakaako firefighters use a fire engine and cherry pickers to gently drape 13-foot-long leis around the Kamehameha statue's neck.

Across King Street, another hundred or so lined up along the gates at Iolani Palace to take in the sights. All the while, the Royal Hawaiian Band played music to honor Kamehameha, including "For You a Lei, Kamehameha."

Three Asing siblings -- 15-year-old Aina, 14-year-old Jerico and 11-year-old Hiilani -- were scarfing down a quick snack of chips and soda as the musicians were just warming up nearby.

They said it was their first time at the lei draping -- an event, they said, of real cultural significance.

"This is important," said Aina, throwing a chip in his mouth. Jerico piped in, "Yeah, so we can learn from it and pass it on so it won't be forgotten."

And that, said Ben Yim, is the whole point.

"We're the only state in the U.S. that can honor a king. It's our history, our culture," said Yim, also a co-chairman of the Kamehameha commission.

He said he has volunteered for 15 years to help coordinate today's parade and yesterday's lei draping. Every year, the number of donated flowers and groups offering help increases, even as monetary support thins.

"These," he said proudly waving his hand over the leis still waiting to be draped on Kamehameha's statue, "are made by volunteers."


The King’s Tomb

A history expert asks the state to
look into an 1819 map marking
Kamehameha’s tomb

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii » An expert on Hawaiian culture and history has asked the state Burial Council to look into his discovery of an old map that might indicate the burial place of King Kamehameha the Great.

Clarence Medeiros Jr. said that during a visit to the Survey Division of the state Department of Accounting and General Services, he found an August 1819 survey map of "Kairua Bay" that includes a feature labeled "Tamehamehas Tomb." Kamehameha died in Kailua-Kona on May 8, 1819.

The map maker listed the coordinates of the site, and Medeiros said that location is Thurston Point, on Kailua Bay in Kailua-Kona.

A portion of the property was dredged in the 1950s to create a channel from the sea and a lagoon out of what have been labeled on some maps as "royal fishponds."

Rosanne Saludares, left, and Alissah Longboy danced hula with other members of Halau Hula Olana yesterday during the annual draping of leis on the King Kamehameha statue across from Iolani Palace.

To protect the channel, property owner Lorrin Thurston also had constructed a seawall and breakwater, which encroached on state property.

The structures became an issue last year when the new owner, Big Surf Trust, received permission from the state to purchase the public land.

The former Thurston Estate is widely rumored to be the home of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The burial site might have been destroyed when the channel was built, Medeiros said. "I'm just wondering if he might still be out there under something."

DeSoto Brown, collections manager for the Bishop Museum, said there is no way to confirm or deny that the map is accurate. But he said he has never heard of a tomb for Kamehameha and that his rank was so great that it is more likely his bones were hidden in a secret spot.

"I cannot imagine he would have been buried in a public place," Brown said.

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