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Hawaii: historical flags

Last modified: 2006-07-08 by rick wyatt
Keywords: hawaii | kuhina nui | kanaka maoli |
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History of the Hawaii flag

Summarizing the book "The History of the United States Flag", by Quaife, Weig, and Appleman (1961):

  • Only U.S. state flag to have flown over a kingdom, a territory, a republic, and a state.
  • Captain Vancouver established a UK-Hawaii friendship in 1793-4 and obtained a "cession" of the Islands to the UK, but the British government apparently never took notice of it. He gave a red ensign to the king then, which on later visits he found flying in places of honor.
  • During the War of 1812, an American asked why the King (this was Kamehameha) was flying the "enemy" flag. He lowered it and raised the U.S. Flag, only to have the same thing happen when a British ship put into port. To avoid trouble, they decided to combine the two flags into one.
  • A captain Adams (British) apparently helped design this flag for the king. Some scholars credit a Captain Beckley, however.
  • The number of stripes varied, but was standardized at eight after 1843, for the eight principal islands in the group. In 1843 the UK declared that Hawaii was definitely independent and the Hawaiian flag was raised in a ceremony. However, this flag had stripes in the order white-red-blue through some mistake, which is why it is that way today, not red-white-blue as was originally done.
Dipesh Navsaria, 21 November 1995


  • 1794-1816 Hawaii flew Union Jack as its National Flag
  • 1816-1843 Hawaii flew early version of present flag
  • 25 Feb - 31 July 1843 British occupation; all Hawaiian Flags were destroyed
  • 31 July 1843 King Kamehameha III spoke his famous prayer of thanksgiving, a part of which serves today as the State Motto while a Hawaiian Flag that included a dove and olive branch was hoisted.
  • 20 May 1845 present Hawaiian Flag adopted
  • 1 Feb - 1 April 1893 U.S. Flag flown in Hawaii
  • 1894 Republic of Hawaii readopts Hawaiian Flag
  • 1898-1959 Territory of Hawaii uses Hawaiian Flag (confirmed 1903)
  • 1959-present State of Hawaii uses Hawaiian Flag (confirmed 1959)
I don't know if this is (or was) Standard Operating Procedure, but the British did confiscate all Hawaiian flags and burned them in 1843. This was the reason for the Hawaiian "revolt" which led to a British withdrawal in July (or so says a book I have on Hawaiian history). The "revolt" consisted of the total ignoring of the presence of the British by the Hawaiians. No talking, no notice, no nothing. Actually, the occupation was not sanctioned by London and Feb to July is how long it took word to go to London and back again. But the Hawaiians say they defeated the British by ignoring them!

Dave Martucci, 19 April 1997

The Hawaiian flag is traditionally held to have been commissioned, and possibly designed, by King Kamehameha I, who was, of course, not haole. However, this site at quotes the following from the "Polynesian Newspaper" of May 31, 1845:

"At the opening of the Legislative Council, May 25, 1845, the new national banner was unfurled, differing little however from the former. It is octo (eight) parted per fess (horizontal band), first, fourth and seventh, argent (silver represented by the color white): second, fifth and eighth, gules (the color red): third and sixth, azure (light purplish blue), for the eight islands under one sovereign, indicated by crosses saltire, of St. Andrew and St. Patrick quarterly, per saltire counter changed, argent (white) and gules (red)."

The Hawaiian flag previous to 1845 differed only in the amount of stripes, which was formerly "seven", and also the arranging of the colors. Previous to 1845 the white stripe was at the bottom instead of the present position of at the top. The person accredited with the designing of the new flag, which was unfurled before the 1845 Legislative Assembly, was Captain Hunt of H.B.M.S. (Her British Majesty's Ship) Baselisk. The Union Jack represented the friendly relationship between England and Hawai'i, and also noting that it was England and France that formally recognized the Hawaiian Kingdom as an Independent State and admitted her into the Family of Nations on November 28, 1843."
Unfortunately, they don't give any further source citation for this than the name and date noted above. Not that Capt. Hunt is credited with the design of the new (and current) flag, which doesn't preclude the traditional association of the earlier design with King Kamehameha I.

Andrew S. Rogers, 23 October 2003

Historical Variant

image by Andreas Birken

Meyer's Konversations-Lexikon of 1897 had a different version of the Hawaiian flag. The Union Jack is smaller, the height corresponding only to three stripes instead of four. This could be the pre 1903 version.
Andreas Birken, 4 October 2001

Kuhina Nui flag

image by Randy Young

This flag is from the book "Flags to Color, Washington to Lincoln," and is on page 30. It's listed as "Kuhina Nui's flag, 1850s."
Quoted from the book:

"Colors: Crown, letters, comma and period red; field white."

"Hawaii is the only part of the United States which was previously a separate monarchy. In the 1850s one of the important advisors to the king was the Kuhina Nui; her flag is shown here and incorporates the distinctive royal crown of Hawaii. American settlers overthrew the monarchy in 1893 in the hope that the islands would be annexed by the United States, but this did not happen until 1898 when concern was raised about way-stations for ships heading to newly acquired territories in the Far East."
Randy Young, 11 October 2004

Hawaii King's flag

[Hawaii King's flag] image by Rick Prohoska, 14 September 2005

A flag like this, but with a white field only, is described and shown at The Royal Standard of King Kalākaua was displayed in 1881.
Mohamed Hossam el Din, 4 April 2006

Kanaka Maoli flag

[Hawaii King's flag] image by Nelson Luis Román, 9 July 2002

The Kanaka Maoli flag has green, red, yellow stripes. At the center of the flag is a green ornamental, protective shield that bears the coat of arms that is composed of a Kahili in front of two crossed, pointed paddles.
Lil Morris, 6 July 2002

A copy of this flag can be viewed at It is alleged to predate the current red/white/blue Kingdom of Hawaii, later State of Hawaii, flag.
Ned Smith, 8 July 2002

I find this idea strange in the light of the fact that the Hawaiian flag as a state in the USA is the same as the flag used by the Kingdom of Hawaii before it was annexed to the USA in the late 19th Century. Why come up with another flag?
Elias Granqvist, 8 July 2002

My curiosity is piqued by the Hawaiian Kingdom authorities not accepting their "documentation" as satisfactorily convincing. The statement "we’re not going to give it any more life than it deserves" is pretty strong.
Rick Wyatt, 8 July 2002