The history of the state seal of Hawaii is representative of the island group’s transition from a tribal monarchy to a US state under the rule of a democratic government. Based on the royal coat of arms of the Republic of Hawaii, the state seal of Hawaii retains a similar layout of two figures facing an emblem, but with symbolic changes that represent Hawaii’s new status as a state. A precursor to the current state seal of Hawaii was designed in 1895 by Viggo Jacobsen, although at that time it was used for the Republic of Hawaii, as it was known. The final design was completed when Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959.
Several design elements of the state seal of Hawaii were retained from the royal coat of arms that served as its inspiration. One feature that remained unchanged was the shield that hovers between the two figures on both the emblem and seal. Divided into four quadrants, two opposing quadrants contain stripes of Hawaii’s state flag and represent the eight major Hawaiian islands. The remaining quadrants feature a ball and rod shape, or poululu, that was a royal symbol of power. Both the royal coat of arms and the state seal of Hawaii contain the state motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono,” which translates as, "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”
Prior to Hawaii’s statehood, the islands were under the rule of a kingdom with strict laws. The punishment for any violation was to pay with one’s life. Hawaii’s establishment as a US state meant that Hawaiians would be under a democratic form of government. This was symbolized by a red phoenix added below the shield to represent new life from ashes. Similarly, a rising sun replaced the crown above the shield, symbolizing the replacement of the monarchy with a new day of freedom.
The two warriors on the coat of arms were replaced with images of unity and freedom. King Kamehameha, who unified the Hawaiian islands under one rule during his reign from 1782 until his death in 1819, appears to the left of the shield. A woman representing Liberty appears to the right of the shield, holding a Hawaiian flag.
Several additions were made to the seal of Hawaii when it became a state. The words “State of Hawaii” were added above the year 1959, for the year Hawaii was made a US state. Finally, a star was added to the center of the shield to symbolize Hawaii as the 50h US state and the 50h star to appear on the US flag.