The Hawaiian Flag – How Did the Hawaii State Flag Come To Be and What Does It Mean

by Charles Koehl - Your Vacation Rental Specialist on February 19, 2009

When you travel in Hawaii, perhaps staying at Big Island Condo or a Kauai Vacation Rental, you will likely see the Hawaii State Flag flying over homes and buildings. The flag design is also seen on everything from t-shirts to bumper stickers displaying “Hawaiian pride.”

Have you ever wondered how the design of the Hawaii State Flag came to be? Well it all began in 1794 when King Kamehameha I received a gift of a British flag (a Union Jack) from British Captain George Vancouver. Kamehameha and Vancouver had become friends, and King Kamehameha wanted assurance that Hawaii would be under British protection.

Though King Kamehameha I flew his British flag for the next 22 years at different locations in the Hawaiian Islands it is unknown what he considered this flag to represent because the cession agreement with Vancouver was never officially acknowledged by the British Parliament.

By 1816, a unique Hawaiian flag had been created, though its precise origins are not known. It is believed that King Kamehameha I had some help from various people in creating this Hawaiian flag.

The upper left corner of the flag is a British Union Jack, though it is unknown if the Jack was intended to represent King Kamehameha’s belief that the Hawaiian Islands were under British protection, or perhaps it was just a sign of Kamehameha’s respect for Captain Vancouver.

Alexander Adams is thought to be the person who first placed the Union Jack at the upper left corner of the flag. Adams first came to the Hawaiian Islands in 1810 aboard the ship Albatross and was soon placed in charge of several ships owned by Kamehameha.

Before the Hawaiian flag was created, the Hawaiian people had not used flags, at least not in the way that other major nations used flags as symbols of their countries. As commander of the sandalwood trading fleet of Kamehameha, Adams sailed to China in 1817 with a cargo of sandalwood but was denied entry into the harbor at Macao because the ship’s flag was not acknowledged. This was the first time the flag of Hawaii was flown on a vessel sailing to a foreign port.

The Hawaiian flag’s eight horizontal stripes are said to represent the eight main Hawaiian Islands. The flag’s red stripes are said to symbolize Hawaii gods, while the white represents truth, and the blue signifies the ocean.

The Hawaiian flag originally represented the Kingdom of Hawaii. After the overthrow of the monarchy the flag came to represent the Republic and then the Territory of Hawaii. Eventually it represented the State of Hawaii. There was originally a ninth stripe, but after statehood it was reduced to just eight.

And so that is the story of Hawaii’s State Flag. I will continue to contemplate these events and appreciate this unique flag as I gaze out the window of my Maui luxury rental and see the flag flying over some nearby buildings.

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