King Kamehameha became the first ruler of the Hawaiian kingdom in the late 1700s. He was born into a family of powerful chiefs and became chief of the western Big Island district in 1781 before waging war against other chiefs. He conquered all the islands except one, Kauai, which joined the kingdom voluntarily.

When he became king, he encouraged his people to grow crops and restore the land. He introduced new breeds of animals and plants to the islands, transforming Hawaii into a prosperous nation. He united all the Hawaiian islands into a single kingdom through war and diplomacy. Some believe he was ruthless and used Western weapons to kill his own people, but he ruled the kingdom peacefully until his death.

The first Kamehameha Day was honoured in 1872 on his birthday, by the instruction of King Kamehameha's great-grandson. A statue stands at the front of the Kohala courthouse  near to Kamehameha's birthplace. Celebrations today include an international hula competition, parades on every island and arts and crafts fairs.