”’This is a letter from U.S. Democrat Reps. Ed Case and Neil Abercrombie to Alan Hantman, Architect of the U.S. Capitol:”’
This letter addresses two important matters relating to our state of
Hawaii’s statue of King Kamehameha the Great located in Statuary Hall.
The first is to express our concerns with what appear to be frequent
mischaracterizations of King Kamehameha by Congressional staff providing tours of the Capitol and to ask your assistance with corrective action.
The second is to request that you evaluate the positioning of the Kamehameha statue, which has been placed in an isolated corner of Statuary Hall since its location to the Capitol in 1969, and, if structurally possible, relocate it to a position of prominence in the Hall.
Background. King Kamehameha I (Kamehameha the Great) is by far the most prominent figure in the history of Hawaii.
Historically, in the late 1700s and early 1800s Kamehameha unified the islands of Hawaii under one government and led the difficult transition from pre-Western contact to integration with the external world with extraordinary foresight and wisdom.
Today, Kamehameha embodies the strength and vitality of the Native Hawaiian people and their culture and the rich history of all of Hawaii’s peoples.
For all of this, Kamehameha is revered to this day not only by Native
Hawaiians, but by all who call Hawaii their home. He also is respected and acknowledged as among the great leaders of the cultures of both Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.
After Hawaii achieved statehood and was entitled to place two statues in Statuary Hall, the selection of Kamehameha was a foregone conclusion. The statue was dedicated in April 1969 and was located to its present location in the back corner of Statuary Hall. (Hawaii’s other statue is of the famed and soon-to-be-sanctified Belgian priest, Father Damien, who gave his life to the service of Hansen’s Disease patients at Kalaupapa, Molokai; Father Damien’s statue is located in the House connecting corridor on the Capitol’s First Floor.)
The Kamehameha statue is a replica of two statues of Kamehameha located in Hawaii. The first stands outside the current Supreme Court of Hawaii building in downtown Honolulu, while the second stands near Kamehameha’s birthplace at Kapaau on the Island of Hawaii.
To people who are not familiar with Hawaii, the Kamehameha statue may appear “different” from most if not all of the remainder of the Statuary Hall collection. First, of course, Kamehameha was a full-blooded Native Hawaiian, and to this day he represents but one of only a few statues in the collection who are not Caucasian males.
Additionally, he is garbed in non-Western attire; this was the traditional attire not only of the Native Hawaiians of his time, but of the “alii nui,” or high chiefs, of ancient Hawaii. For these reasons, even the Hall’s own guidebook describes the statue as “easily the most striking.”
For all of these reasons, a visit to the Kamehameha statue by those of us who call Hawaii our physical or spiritual home is akin to a pilgrimage.
This is especially true for Native Hawaiians, who each year since 1969 have conducted a moving ceremony in honor of Kamehameha in Statuary Hall on Kamehameha Day, including the placing of lei on the statue.
For the same reasons, please understand that any slight to the statue, however innocent, can easily be perceived as a slight upon Kamehameha, Native Hawaiians, Hawaii, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and minorities everywhere.
Last Friday, one of our staff members was conducting a tour of the Capitol with a constituent who is also a Hawaii television reporter. She observed, and the reporter videotaped, a staff member from another Congressional office (not an official Capitol Tour Guide) make the following statements to a group about Kamehameha’s statue:
”’King Kamehameha is kinda an interesting statue. I’ll just tell you the story behind it. He was the first king to unite all the Hawaiian Islands under a peaceable kingdom. And of course, King Kamehameha was honored by the Hawaiian people by being placed in Statuary Hall. But when they first sent the statue over they discovered that it wasn’t wearing any clothing. Congress was very upset and sent the statue back and said put some clothes on it. So Hawaii took it back and they dressed it as you see here. But even then Congress wasn’t happy because he wasn’t that decently dressed, he’s not really covered and so they decided to put him back here as punishment. They stuck him back here in this corner where nobody would notice him.”’
This was reported throughout Hawaii on the evening news last Tuesday, July 15th.
If this were possibly an isolated occurrence, we may simply have taken the matter up with the member to caution his staff. However, yesterday one of our staff observed two other staff members of other offices making comparable remarks to the effect that the Kamehameha statue was “sent back three times because he was morally indecent” and he was “put in the back because he was naked.”
First, the statements made are factually inaccurate. Second, regardless of motive, they are highly insulting.
We would greatly appreciate your immediate assistance, especially in this summer visitor peak, in taking whatever action is necessary to assure that Congressional staff, whether official guides or member office staff, are knowledgeable of the facts on the Kamehameha statue and sensitive to the concerns of those who care deeply about these matters. It may also be an appropriate time to provide a broader review of the accuracy and sensitivity of information provided about all statuary in the Capitol, as it may be that comparable situations exist with other statues of our fellow states’ revered citizens.
Location. As noted, the Kamehameha statue has always been located in the most remote, inaccessible and nonvisible portion of Statuary Hall. From the time of his original placement in 1969, long before these staff mischaracterizations, Kamehameha’s location has been the source of endless questions and concern from Hawaii residents and others.
Anecdotally, at least, the official position has been that Kamehameha was located there for structural reasons; that, as what has been represented to be the heaviest statue in the collection, it was necessary to place him there and that no other location in the Hall would suffice. However, given the above and the fact that Kamehameha has essentially been isolated for 34 years, it is appropriate that we now ask you whether, in fact, Kamehameha’s location is exclusively structural. If not, we believe it is fair that Kamehameha have his turn at a position of prominence in the front lines of the statues in Statuary Hall.
We greatly appreciate you prompt attention to this matter of great
importance to us personally and to those we represent. We stand ready to
assist you in whatever way you feel appropriate, and look forward to your
prompt response and action.