The Last Monarch of Hawaii
Aloha. Connie, here. There are orchids for our hair and coconut milk and pineapple juice for refreshment. Come, stroll across the warm sand and hang loose with me for a moment . . .
I live in Pair-a-dice. Queen Lili`uokalani lived in Paradise.
At least, my personal concept of paradise.
Hawaii is a place I’d travel to time and time again. There aren’t many places I can say that about. It’s like an old favorite movie or book, one I’d watch or read over and over. Which is extremely rare. I very seldom watch a rerun and most books I read and pass on. The Bible, Mrs. Mike, and Redeeming Love are exceptions.
Most destinations I visit and check off my Bucket List.
But, ah, Hawaii. I’ll never tire of visiting the lush islands and its people. So different from my desert home, yet I see God's hand in each.
Queen Lili`uokalani is a woman I’ve admired for years, since my first visit to her islands as a young teen when I heard her story and saw the statue of her on the grounds of the State Capital in Honolulu.
But before I introduce you to my fascinating Inky persona, let me set the stage.
Before 1778, the Hawaiian Islands were unknown to the west. The native people accepted nudity and lived very simple, happy lives. It’s estimated there was a total of 800,000 native-born Hawaiians in 1778. By 1828, just fifty years later, 80% of the native population had perished, largely as a result of the ‘diseases of foreign contact’. 80%! Unbelievable.
The first Congregationalist missionaries landed on the islands between 1818 and 1820. By 1838, the year Queen Lili`uokalani was born, nudity was prohibited and the native religious dance, the Hula, was outlawed. She never knew her heritage. The missionaries devised the first alphabet for the Hawaiian language and taught the natives how to read and write. Convinced that the future of the islands lay with lands outside their islands, the chiefs of the seven principal royal families turned their princely children over to a missionary couple to educate.
This was Lili`u’s fate. Born in Honolulu on September 2, 1838 to high-ranking chief Kapaakea and the chiefess Keohokalole, she became the hanai, the adopted child, of chiefs Laura Konia and Abner Paki and was given the name Lydia Lili`u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka`eha-a Kapa`akea.
Her name was longer than her reign.
Her adoptive parents enrolled her in the Royal School where she became fluent in English and was influenced by the Congregational missionaries, who were using their influence to usurp political control and westernize the traditional society of Hawaii. She grew up and matured in a changing society, one that slowly and silently took away the rights and lands of the native people. Laws not fully understood by the reining monarchy were passed that not only confiscated their land, but made it illegal for the native people to own the land.
At age 24, she married a ha`ole, John Owen Dominis, who eventually served the monarchy as Governor of O`ahu and Maui. According to her private papers and diaries, her marriage was not fulfilling. They had no children of their own, though they raised three hanai children.
In 1874, Lili`u’s brother David Kalakaua, an intensely nationalistic prince known as The Merry Monarch, became king. He was successful in returning the Hula dance to the Hawaiians and was intent on limiting the powers of the missionaries. He negotiated the treaty that opened the US market to Hawaiian sugar.
In 1881, while the king was on a world tour, Crown Princess Lili`u closed the port of Honolulu to a ship loaded with 4,000 Chinese infected with the deadly smallpox. This infuriated the “Missionary Boys,” the white plantation owners who needed cheap labor to work in their fields. They characterized her lifesaving measure as a ‘tyrannical act’ because it interfered with their financial interests. The grumblings and struggle for power that had been slowly simmering underground began to pick up steam.
Lili`u headed a delegation that attended the Golden Jubilee of their valued ally, England’s Queen Victoria in 1887. But tidings of trouble at home brought the royal party back early. At gunpoint, King Kalakaua had signed what came to be known as the Bayonet Constitution. With this, the monarchy lost all authority and the Hawaiian people lost the right to vote in their own native land! This weighed heavy on Kalakaua’s heart and eventually killed him.
On January 29, 1891, the day the queen ascended the throne, hope once again filled the disenfranchised and disposed Hawaiian people. On that day, there were only 40,000 native Hawaiians left on the islands. She was determined to strengthen the political power of the monarchy and to limit suffrage to subjects of the kingdom.
Believing she had the support of her cabinet, Queen Lili`u drafted a new constitution restoring veto power to the monarchy and voting right to Native Hawaiians and Asians. But already an overthrow was in the process. American and European businessmen asserted the queen had “virtually abdicated” by refusing to support the 1887 constitution. Annexation to the United States was actively sought.
On January 17, 1893, aided by the American minister in Hawaii who ordered troops from the U.S.S. Boston ashore, the queen, to avoid bloodshed, yielded her authority:
“…Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.” [Queen Lili`uokalani to Sanford B. Dole, January 17, 1893.]
Does that name Dole sound familiar?
A year and a half later, on July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed and Dole became it’s first president and later the territorial governor.
In 1895, an abortive attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore the queen to power resulted in her arrest. On January 16th, she was forced to sign a document of abdication relinquishing all future claims to the throne. Following this, she endured a humiliating public trial before a military tribunal in her formal throne room.
Though she denied knowledge of the royalist plot, she was sentenced to five years of hard labor and fined $5000. The sentence was commuted to imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom of Iolani Palace, during which time she was denied any visitors other than one lady-in-waiting.
After eight months, she abdicated her throne in return for the release of her jailed supporters and lived out her days as a private citizen with an annual pension of $4000 until her death in 1917. Upon her death, Lili`uokalani dictated that all her possessions and properties be sold to raise money for the Queen Lili`uokalani Children’s Trust to help orphaned and indigent children. The Trust Fund is still in existence today.
I admire Lili`u’s passion for her people and the Hawaiian tradition. It’s heartbreaking that while the Hawaiian people were open to change and betterment, those who came in under the guise of missionaries and friends took such advantage of them. She held her head high and thought only of the safety of her people as she made the tough decisions. A mom to her nation.
In 1897, Lili`uokalani wrote Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, in which she gives her account of Hawaiian history, including the overthrow of the monarchy.
She was also a talented musician and an accomplished composer. She wrote over 160 poetic melodies and chants, including Ike Aloha O Ka Haku, the Queen’s Prayer, written during her imprisonment, and He Mele Lahui Hawaii, one of the four Hawaiian National Anthems, commissioned by King Kamehameha V in 1868. Through her music and lyrics, she expressed her love for Hawaii and it’s people.
Aloha Oe, her best known composition, (of Elvis and Blue Hawaii fame) was written in 1878 after she witnessed a particularly affectionate farewell between a colonel in her party and a lovely young girl from Maunawili. The opening lines translate literally to: The proud rain clinging to the cliffs and passing into the forest, seeking the bud of the lehua flower. The literal translations are important because of the Hawaiian tradition of kaona, or hidden meanings to words and phrases, which Lili`u placed in her songs.
The kaona recounts the origin of the Hawaiian people, of Wakea, the sky father, seeking Papa, the earth mother. It’s from Kumulipo, the story of the origin of their cosmos, all in the first line of Aloha Oe. It’s a stunning example of how the queen incorporated pre-Western traditions of thought and expression in what at the time was modern Hawaiian music. For more information about this recording, visit the Wanui Records web site.
A few facts:
The color of her reign was yellow.
Her motto was “E onipa`a…I ka `imi na`auao” (Be steadfast in the seeking of knowledge)
The royal standard of the Kalakaua family was the Burning Torch
She was the translator of the Hawaiian Creation Chant, Kumulipo.
In 1993, 100 years after the overthrow, President Clinton signed a Congressional resolution (Public Law 103-150) in which the United Stated Government formally apologized to the Native Hawaiian people.
And so, with the Christmas season right around the corner, let me close by saying, Mele Kalikimaka, which is Hawaii’s way to say Merry Christmas to you.
Do you have a special paradise, some place you'd revisit time and again? I'd love to hear about it, to see if it's on my Bucket List or already crossed off.
Have a blessed day.
My thanks and acknowledgement to: