Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

The Hawaiian islands are renowned worldwide for their beautiful beaches, volcanic landscapes, and vibrant culture. An iconic part of Hawaiian culture is its music, which expresses stories of the land and people through melodies, drums, and graceful hula dances.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Hawaii’s state song is titled “Hawaii Ponoʻī” and the lyrics were written by David Kalakaua in 1874 when he was still a prince. The melody was composed by Henri Berger, bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the history behind Hawaii’s state song, the meaning of the Hawaiian lyrics, and the song’s continued cultural importance today.

The History and Background of the Song

King Kalakaua Writes the Lyrics

In 1874, King David Kalakaua wrote the Hawaiian words to the song during his coronation. He wanted a royal anthem to honor Hawaiian culture and history. The lyrics expressed his visions for prosperity and unity in the kingdom.

Henri Berger Composes the Melody

German bandmaster Henri Berger was asked by King Kalakaua to compose the melody for the song. He had migrated to Hawaii in 1872 to organize and lead the Royal Hawaiian Band. Drawing inspiration from traditional Hawaiian chants and dances, Berger created an uplifting tune to match the spirit of the lyrics.

It Becomes the Royal Anthem

In 1876, the song was first publicly performed by the Royal Hawaiian Band in Honolulu. It quickly became popular across the islands. The song served as the royal anthem and national anthem of Hawaii until the overthrow of the Kingdom in 1893.

Later Designated as the Official State Song

In 1967, the Hawaii State Legislature passed Act 195 to make “Hawai’i Pono’ī” the official state song. Today, it continues to be an important cultural symbol and reflection of Hawaii’s rich history as an independent nation.

The song also promotes cultural pride and collective identity for the state’s diverse population.

The unique history behind Hawaii’s state song showcases the islands’ Polynesian heritage and how that evolved during Hawaii’s monarchy period in the late 1800s. The multilayered meanings of the song lyrics tie together visions of unity, prosperity and pride that still resonate today.

This distinctive song has firmly woven itself into the cultural fabric of Hawaii over the past 150 years.

Lyrics and Translation

The Hawaiian Lyrics

The Hawaiian lyrics of Hawaii’s state song “Hawai’i Pono’ī” were written by the famous Hawaiian composer Kalākaua. The lyrics are very poetic and filled with pride for the beautiful islands of Hawai’i. Here is the Hawaiian version of the song:

Hawaiʻi ponoʻī

Nānā i kou mōʻī

Ka lani aliʻi,

Ke aliʻi

Hawaiʻi ponoʻī

Nānā i nā aliʻi

Nā pua muli kou

O Hawaiʻi

The lyrics talk about looking to the sovereign, the heavenly chief, the chief of Hawaii with pride. It refers to the chiefs and beloved children of Hawaii. The song extols the virtues of loyalty and faithfulness to the islands.

English Translation and Meaning

The English translation of the Hawaiian lyrics captures their poetic spirit. Though some of the deeper meaning in the Hawaiian language is lost, the essence still shines through.

Hawaii’s own true sons

Be loyal to your chief

Your country’s liege and lord

The chief

Hawaii’s own true sons

Be loyal to your chiefs

The children of Hawaii’s chiefs

Of Hawaii

This English version translates the Hawaiian lyrics while retaining its rhythmic chant-like quality. It talks about being loyal to the chief (king) of Hawaii, who is described as the “country’s liege and lord.”

It also urges loyalty to the ali’i (chiefs) of Hawaii and their descendants, who are referred to poetically as “the children of Hawaii’s chiefs.”

Cultural Significance and Continued Relevance

Performed at Important Occasions

“Hawai’i Pono’ī” continues to be performed at various ceremonies and events of cultural importance in Hawaii. Some examples include:

  • The opening ceremonies of the state legislature each year
  • Hawaii Statehood Day celebrations on the third Friday in August
  • Prince Kūhiō Day on March 26th honoring an important Hawaiian leader
  • Graduations, commencements, and convocations at schools and universities

The emotional, swelling melody of the song evokes deep feelings of pride and belonging among native Hawaiians and long-time residents when performed on meaningful occasions.

Represents Hawaiian Identity and Pride

“Hawai’i Pono’ī” powerfully represents key aspects of identity for the state’s diverse population, including native Hawaiian culture as well as the blending of immigrant cultures from across Asia, Europe, and America.

The Hawaiian lyrics speak deeply to those who cherish the islands’ Polynesian roots and unique way of life. For later immigrants, the song’s theme of defending Hawaii also reflects their experiences establishing new homes and communities.

The song continues to be a popular selection at events like college graduations and political conventions as a source of shared pride and unity for all who call Hawaii their home.

Promotes Tourism

In addition to its cultural significance for Hawaii residents, “Hawai’i Pono’ī” serves an important role in tourism marketing. The song’s bright, cheerful melody and lyrics celebrating Hawaii’s sublime natural beauty have drawn visitors to its shores for over a century.

Travel agencies and airlines frequently use the song in promotional campaigns seeking to inspire trips to Hawaii.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 9.95 million visitors came to Hawaii in 2019, spending over $17 billion that supported 216,000 tourism jobs statewide. Research shows the state song contributes to this economic impact by promoting powerful visions of Hawaii as an alluring vacation destination.

Controversies and Attempts to Change It

Criticisms of the Monarchist Lyrics

Some critics have argued that the lyrics of “Hawai’i Pono’i” promote monarchism and are therefore outdated or inappropriate as the state song. Specifically, lines like “Your lord, your lani, Kalākaua” directly reference and praise King David Kalākaua, who reigned over the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1874-1891.

With Hawaii now a state republic governed by elected officials, some believe continuing to exalt past monarchs goes against democratic values.

There have also been objections to the frequent references to Kamehameha I, who originally united the Hawaiian islands under his rule at the turn of the 19th century. With the context of Hawaiian history, phrases like “Kamehameha e” and “Long live the brightness of Kamehameha’s kingdom” carry royalist overtones that some find problematic.

As ethnic diversity has grown in the islands, a song focusing so narrowly on monarchical Hawaiian history can seem exclusionary.

Proposals for a New State Song

In light of such criticisms, there have been various attempts since statehood in 1959 to change Hawaii’s official state song. In 1967, state legislators considered adopting “The Queen’s Prayer” as a replacement but did not move forward with the idea.

More recently in 2000, House Concurrent Resolution No. 39 called for holding a contest to select a new, less controversial state song, but this resolution did not succeed either.

Those supporting a revision or replacement of “Hawai’i Pono’i” argue that the song should better represent the diversity of cultures now present in Hawaii. For example, finding a song that incorporates English, Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, and other languages prominent across the islands.

However, opponents counter that the Hawaiian language lyrics help preserve an important part of Hawaii’s cultural heritage.

Defenses of the Song

Despite calls for change, many still defend “Hawai’i Pono’i” as an appropriate state song. They argue that avoiding all references to monarchs would diminish Hawaii’s history and identity. The lyrics poetically capture moments that were pivotal to the development of the islands.

Simply because Hawaii now has different leadership does not negate the song’s cultural value.

Additionally, when Queen Liliʻuokalani originally wrote “Hawai’i Pono’i” while imprisoned, she conveyed deep love for her land and people. There is debate around when she exactly penned the classic song, with dates ranging from 1866 prior to her reign, to 1893 during the overthrow, to 1898 while under house arrest.

Regardless, for those defending the anthem, the Queen’s emotional connection to her homeland shines through in a moving way that still resonates today.

So while the monarchist lyrics incite some debate and opposition, many in Hawaii still take pride in their unique state song. The Hawaii State Senate even passed Resolution 16 in 2000, responding to attempts to change the song by explicitly supporting the preservation of this distinctive anthem tied to Hawaiian history.


As one of the symbols of Hawaiian culture, Hawaii Ponoʻī promotes local tradition and identity. The song poetically expresses love for the islands’ striking scenery and way of life. Even through changes in Hawaii’s government, the song persists in celebrations, schools, and tourism.

The next time you’re visiting Hawaii, listening to Hawaii Ponoʻī transport you back in time, connecting the islands’ complex history to the aloha spirit of its people today.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts