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Hawaii: historical flags

Last modified: 2023-12-30 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 Variants in Older Publications

[Hawaii Flag Variant] image by Clay Moss, 22 August 2007

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.
Andreas Birken, 4 October 2001

I am guessing that this is simply an erroneous illustration as I have seen several photographs of Hawaii's flag from the 1890's and the Hawaiian flags in all of the photos are pretty much what we know as today's Hawaiian state flag. I lived in Haleiwa as a kid and there was once a big colonial type resort near town. I have seen a picture of the resort taken in the late 1890's showing the US and Hawaiian flag flying prominently over the main building. Both flags appear to be between 10x15 feet and 15x25 feet.
Clay Moss, 22 August 2007

[Hawaii Flag Variant] image by Clay Moss, 4 October 2006

I think this flag is illustrated in Whitney Smith's state flag book.
Clay Moss, 4 October 2006

Nicholson's 1832 Code of Signals for New South Wales shows a flag for the Sandwich Islands, the name Cook gave to Hawaii, under Proposed Miscellaneous Flags for N.S.Wales and the South Seas. It has four red and three white stripes with the Union resting on the second white stripe.

Siebmacher's 1876 Flaggen has a similar flag for Sandwichs Inseln, but with a fourth white stripe at the top, and also a flag for Hawaische Inseln. This has w/r/b/w/r/b/w/r with the bottom of the Union overlapping two thirds of the second white stripe.
David Prothero, 11 October 2006

1837 The Flags of the Principal Nations in the World issued in Philadelphia USA R.N.Barnes shows w/b/r w/b/r w/b/r nine stripes with the Union on the second red.

1842 The Maritime Flags of All Nations issued in London Richard H Laurie shows r/w/r/w/r/w/r/w/r nine stripes with the Union on the 3rd red

1862 Bromme Flag Chart issued in Germany shows w/r/b w/r/b w/r/b nine stripes same as 1837 chart

1880 Flags chart issued in Spain shows w/r/b w/r/b w/r eight stripes with the Union on 2nd white stripe

1896 Flag Chart issued in USA shows eight stripes same as 1880

1897 The Flags of All nations issued in UK shows r/w/r/w/r/w/r/w/r nine stripes same as 1842

Nozomi Kariyasu, 12 October 2006

Hawaii Territorial Governor flag

[Hawaii Territorial Governor flag]
image modified from the State Governor's Flag image by Clay Moss, 25 December 2006

The Wikipedia article at shows the flag of the Hawaii Governor from the pre-1959 period.
Valentin Poposki, 5 January 2011

The Hawaii Territorial Governor's Flag is a horizontal bicolor, very dark blue (B++) over dark red (R+) with eight equal distance white stars. The stars represent the main islands of the Hawaii State. This flag was designed by an adjutant general of the Territorial Governor.
Source: "About Hawaii". Hawaii Public Library Systems,
Steve Shumaker, 6 January 2011

Hawaiian Crown flag of King Kamehameha III 1833

[Hawaii King's flag] image located by William Garrison, 4 August 2008

The Hawaiian Crown flag of King Kamehameha III 1833, said to be first flag of the Monarchy which hung at the Kings home in Nuuanu, Oahu. The flag is one sided, center is hand sewn; one (blue) strip is torn. Flag was kept in a family of the kings and has never been revealed. Flag dimensions 6 feet by 17 feet. Flag was listed for sale on EBay by Kahanamoku Estate Foundation. At point of identification on EBay, it was listed at $900,000.
William Garrison, 4 August 2008
See also: Flag design in quilt

Kuhina Nui flag

[Kuhina Nui Flag] image by Randy Young, 11 October 2004

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 Darrell Neuman, 24 February 2007

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

I had purchased a flag from a retail store located in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. The store merchant indicated that the flag unofficially represented the Hawaiian Monarchy and was displayed during the rule of King David Kalakaua who reigned over the Kingdom of Hawaii from February 12, 1874 until his death on January 20,1891.
Darrell Neuman, 24 February 2007

Queen Liliuokalani's Royal Standard

[Queen Liliuokalani's Royal Standard] image by Pete Loeser, 19 June 2023
based on photo located by William Garrison, 18 June 2023

An important flag and documents related to Queen Liliuokalani are on their way home.
"Queen Liliuokalani’s Royal Standard", her personal flag that flew over her Washington Place home on the day [Jan. 1893] the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown. This flag was seized on 22 Jan 1893 by Col. John Soper. "On the 20th of January 1893, the queen was flying the standard in front of Washington Place. He [Col. John Soper] dispatched his troops to go tell her to not do that. Two days later, it was back up again," Jansen said. "He dispatched an officer to go seize the flag and keep it and that is something that stayed in the Soper family."
William Garrison, 18 June 2023

My drawing of the Hae Kalaunu of Queen Lili'uokalani - the one that she refused to take down at her home on Washington Street. She actually did take it down at first, but as things began to go badly re-flew it several days later when it was seized by Col. Soper. I have it on my website at:
Pete Loeser, 19 June 2023

[Queen Liliuokalani's Royal Standard] image by Kazutaka Nishiura, 21 July 2010

When I visited Honolulu Hawaii last month I found a photo of Queen Liliuokalani's Royal Standard in a book on the Hawaii Kingdom (History of the Hawaiian Kingdom by Norris W. Potter, Lawrence M. Kasdon and Ann Rayson (Apr 2003)). The flag is not 1:2 but 7:10.5 in proportion. Her flag is the Hawaii Kingdom flag with her emblem of a crown and yellow shield having her initial and motto of ONIPAA in red in the fly. They say ONIPAA means Straight Forward.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 21 July 2010

Kanaka Maoli flag

[Kanaka Maoli flag] image by Eugene Ipavec, 22 April 2012

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

In "Hawai'i Today", 21 October 2008, Chris Bailey presents the flag as follows:
"The Kanaka Maoli - or "native Hawaiian" - flag is said to have been Kamehameha's personal flag long before the modern Hawaiian flag. British navy Captain Lord George Paulet destroyed it when he took control of Hawaii for five months in 1843. At the flag's center is a green shield bearing a coat of arms, which include a kahili, the original Hawaiian royal standard, and two paddles, meant to represent the voyaging tradition of the Native Hawaiians. The flag's color scheme is red, yellow and green, meant to represent different groups within Hawaiian society. The yellow is symbolic of the alii, the powerful royal class. Red represents the konohiki, the landed caste that served the alii. Green signifies the makaainana, or commoners. You may have noticed the Kanaka Maoli flag on recent trips to the islands. It has become popular in the community in recent years and can be found on everything from t-shirts to bumper stickers."

The information given above seems to come from "The Honolulu Advertiser", 12 February 2001, in which Yasmin Anwar describes the "resurrection" of the "original flag". This source is given above but not developed. Since "Hawai'i Today" shows an image of the flag that resembles a lot the image above, they probably also import material from the original article via FOTW. Therefore, it seems better to develop the original source, "The Honolulu Advertiser", than its sequel, in the FOTW website.

Quoting Yasmin Anwar, "The Honolulu Advertiser", 12 February 2001:
"Gene Simeona of Honolulu [...] says he's resurrected the 'original' Hawaiian green, red and yellow striped flag, destroyed by British navy Capt. Lord George Paulet when he seized Hawai'i for five months in 1843. To Simeona, his newly unearthed flag says, "We are not British. We are kanaka maoli." Simeona says he ran into a descendant of Lord Paulet on the grounds of 'Iolani Palace in 1999 who told him the present Hawaiian flag is not the original. That provoked Simeona to scour the Hawai'i State Archives, where he found the design, then reproduced it. Since then, he and his business partner Stan Fonseca have been churning the emblem out in hopes that it'll catch on as a fresh, non-colonial symbol of the restored Hawaiian kingdom. According to Fonseca, the green in the flag represents the maka'ainana (commoner) caste, the land and goodness; the red represents the landed konohiki who served the ali'i, genealogy and strength; and the yellow represents the ali'i, spirituality and alertness to danger. At the center of the flag is a green shield bearing a coat of arms of the kanaka maoli, made up of kahili and crossed, pointed paddles that represent the voyaging history of Hawaiians.

Anna Marie Kahunahana, founder of A Call for Unity, which seeks to restore the independent Hawaiian nation, wholeheartedly endorses the flag. "It represents who we are as a people and a nation," she said. Others aren't so sure about the design. "I had it up for a while, but I took it down. It's too reggae for me," said Aopohakuku Rodenhurst of the Nation of Ku spiritual group. Still, Simeona and Fonseca are selling and giving away the flags faster than they can make them. On Feb. 25, they will fly the "Hawaiian people's flag" on the grounds of 'Iolani Palace to commemorate "the crime" of Paulet's fleeting takeover of Hawai'i. "Please leave your Union Jacks at home," said a recent notice announcing the event in the Hawaiian News.
Kekuni Blaisdell, a physician and leader of the independence group Ka Pakaukau, said perhaps it's time for a flag that is void of colonial symbols. But others say Hawaiians shouldn't be in a rush to embrace the new flag without establishing its authenticity. Peter Umialiloa Sai, a spokesman for the Council of Regency of the Hawaiian Kingdom, says when his organization first learned about Simeona's flag a year ago, they conducted research to try to pinpoint its origin, but found no clues. In the meantime, Sai said, they amassed extensive documentation validating the traditional Hawaiian flag as the official emblem of the former Hawaiian kingdom.
Ivan Sache, 22 October 2008

At NAVA 47 in Salt Lake City Hawaiian flag scholar Patrick Ka'ano'i presented evidence debunking the Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) flag which is said to have been Kamehameha's personal flag long before the modern Hawaiian flag. According to this controversial story, British Navy Captain Lord George Paulet destroyed it when he took control of Hawaii for five months in 1843. However, the popular Kanaka Maoli flag appears to be a modern commercial invention hoping to appeal to those supporting a modern Hawaiian sovereignty movement. The Kanaka Maoli Flag was created in 2001 by Gene Simeona and produced by his business partner Stan Fonseca. There is no historical evidence of the flags existence before this time.

A long and detailed article on the flag of the Kingdom (and now State) of Hawaii was published in Crux Australis Volume 25.1 No 101 January-March 2011.

The flag that Paulet confiscated was the red, white and blue striped Hawaiian flag devised around 1816 for Kamehameha I and of which the modern US State flag is directly descended.
Pete Loeser, 16 October 2013

[Kanaka Maoli flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 21 November 2023

So far, the claims that the flag originated from the 19th century have not been verified. On the other hand, another design had been introduced in 1993, six years prior to the alleged rediscovery of the Kanaka Maoli flag, which may have provided the inspiration to its creation: in that year, the essay "A Pro Active Symbol" by Louis “Buzzy” Agard was published in the book "He Alo A He Alo" ("Face to Face"), presenting a flag aimed to represent the native Hawaiians. Agard's flag had nine horizontal stripes in black, yellow and red, with a yellow square canton, occupying two-thirds of the flag width, charged with the puela (Hawaiian royal standard, also called the kahili) and two crossed alia (spears), all three in black. Black, yellow and red colors were attributed to the ali'i, konohiki and maka'ainana castes, respectively, while the stripes stood for the Hawaiian Islands, one stripe for each of the eight main islands and the ninth stripe for all the other islands in the archipelago. The charges in the canton were borrowed from the inescutcheon of the royal arms of Hawaii, although puela was mis-explained as the Polynesian canoe sail and drawn in a simplified way so as to resemble one. This flag is still not known to have ever been flown.

A comparison between two flag designs may be summarized as follows:

  • the number of stripes is the same, although the color sets differ, the individual colors were attributed differently and no explanation for the ninth stripe was given by Gene Simeona; how correct the color attributions are, though, can only be told by someone expert in the Hawaiian native culture
  • the puela/kahili was explained incorrectly by Agard and correctly by Simeona; also, its design varies (Simeona drew it simpler)
  • the alia were explained correctly by Agard, but mis-explained as the paddles by Simeona and Fonseca, although they are drawn almost identically on both flags
  • while Agard drew the inspiration from the Hawaiian state flag, placing the three symbols in the canton, Simeona placed them upon a shield in the center of his design and colored the whole device as in the Hawaiian royal arms.
It is quite possible that the Kanaka Maoli flag is actually a derivation of Louis Agard's proposal, which has been much less known until recently; all similarities between the two designs speak in favour of the assumption. However, some elements of Simeona's design could appeal better to the targeted users: central device, which is a simplified redesign of a traditional emblem, and a more vivid color set which, regardless of the actual historic correctness of its symbolism, might recall the colors of lush tropical vegetation and thus look "more Hawaiian". These were combined into a "non-colonial" design, which thus did gain some popularity.

Source: Hawaiian Kingdom Independence Blog - Kanaka Maoli Flag origin:

Tomislav Todorovic, 21 November 2023

Flag design in Quilt

This is a work of native Hawaiian folk art dating from the pre-American period; the coat or arms is that of the Kingdom of Hawaii, I believe, and as such some of the colors are extremely faded. However, I think it is a very striking piece:
Ron Lahav, 25 March 2008