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The History of Queen Lydia Liliuokalani: The Last Monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii Essay

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Queen Liliuokalani
Queen Liliuokalani (Hawaii for Visitors)

Queen Lydia Liliuokalani was the last monarch to rule the Kingdom of Hawaii before it was annexed to the United States of America.

Birth & early life

Lydia Kamaka’eha was born on 2 September 1838 in Oahu, one of several islands that comprised the Hawaiian Kingdom. She was the third of 10 siblings born to Caesar Kapa’akea and Anale’a Keohokahole, who was highly placed in the social hierarchy of the Kingdom. Soon after birth, Lydia was given in adoption to another high-ranking Hawaiian couple named Abner Paki and Laura Konia (Miller-Webb). The latter was the granddaughter of King Kamehameha I. The couple changed the name of their adopted daughter to Lydia Liliuokalani (Hawaii for Visitors).

Liliuokalani began her schooling at the age of 4. Her foster parents enrolled her in Oahu’s prestigious The Royal School that had been established by King Kamehameha III. Liliuokalani soon became proficient in English, arts, and music. She also came under the increasing influence of the American Congregational Missionaries who had first set foot in Hawaii in 1819 and then quickly carved an impressive niche for themselves in the social hierarchy, while at the same time emerging as some of the wealthiest landlords in the Kingdom. Many of Liliuokalani’s fellow students at The Royal School were descendants of the original Congregational Missionaries called Ha’oles, meaning citizens of Hawaii whose parents were American (Miller-Webb).

Marriage

After graduating from school, Liliuokalani became inexorably drawn to the Hawaiian Royalty. She initially became part of the royal court that was associated with King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. Liliuokalani was married in 1862 to a Ha’ole called John Owen Dominis. The couple relocated to live with Dominis’ mother in Washington Place . Their marriage lasted for 29 years. During this time, Dominis went on to serve for short periods as governor of Oahu and Maui. He died soon after his wife ascended the throne in 1891. Apparently disenchanted with marriage , the widow chose not to marry again (Miller-Webb).

Heir to the throne

Kamehameha IV was succeeded by Kamehameha V. When the latter died in 1874, Liliuokalani’s natural brother David Kameka’eha was chosen by the Kingdom’s legislature to be the new monarch, and the name King Kalakaua was bestowed on him. The new king escalated the status of his sister in the Kingdom (Miller-Webb). He not only named her as heir to the throne (Hawaii for Visitors) but also appointed her regent who was authorized to rule while he was away on world trips. It was during King Kalakuaua’s 1881 international trip that Hawaii was hit by a vicious outbreak of smallpox disease, carried there by migrant Chinese laborers who worked in the sugarcane plantations. Liliuokalani acted swiftly and decisively. She ordered that all the Kingdom’s seaports be shut as a measure to contain the epidemic while also preventing it from spreading. This action precipitated 2 reactions: it earned her the ire of the powerful lobby of Ha’ole sugarcane and pineapple plantation owners, but at the same time it gained Liliuokalani the wholehearted gratitude and love of the Hawaiian natives (Miller-Webb).

King Kalakaua’s doctors, worried about the monarch’s failing health, advised him to go on a ‘health trip’ to the U.S. The trip, however, did not serve its purpose; the king died in San Francisco in 1891. His death paved the way for his named heir, Liliuokalani, to rise to the throne on 20 January 1891 (Miller-Webb). As she did not have any children of her own, Queen Liliuokalani named her sister’s daughter to be her heir (Hawaii for Visitors).

Attempt to rectify mistakes of past monarchs

All the monarchs who ruled the Hawaiian Kingdom had been guilty of depriving the natives. Starting with King Kamehameha I, who established the Kingdom by using inter-island tribal fighting with the assistance of Englishman John Young who supplied British-made guns, every succeeding monarch set up European-style governments in Hawaii. They also enacted Constitutions that increasingly curtailed the rights of the natives while increasingly permitting the import of foreign laborers to work in Ha’ole plantations. King Kalakaua was an exception to this trend in that he did not voluntarily enact such a Constitution, but was forced to sign it into law in 1887. Called the Bayonet Constitution, it was the brainchild of a devious group of Ha’ole militia who called themselves the Honolulu Rifles. It enfranchised them wealthy Ha’ole owners of plantations and mills while disenfranchising the natives and Asian immigrants. Members of the Honolulu Rifles forced King Kalakaua to sign the Constitution at rifle point (Miller-Webb).

Although she knew about it but could do nothing while her brother ruled the Kingdom, she burned with resentment at the Bayonet Constitution, and it became Liliuokalani’s premier target as soon as she became Queen. She decided to totally nullify the Constitution by exercising her power to establish a new law by formulating a new Constitution in 1892 that would cancel all the terms of the Bayonet Constitution while not only returning control and authority to the ruling Hawaiian monarch but also enfranchising the natives and disenfranchising the Ha’oles. The Ha’ole community, however, got news of the impending new Constitution and acted swiftly to counter it (Miller-Webb).

Overthrow of the monarchy

The Ha’ole community charged that by attempting to outlaw the existing Hawaiian [Bayonet] Constitution, Queen Liliuokalani was guilty of neglecting her duties as monarch (Hawaii for Visitors). They formed a ‘public safety committee’ that forced her to vacate the throne on 17 January 1893 (Miller-Web) and installed a provisional government to rule the Kingdom (Hawaii for Visitors). Liliuokalani lost no time in lodging a strong protest with U.S President Grover Cleveland who responded by dispatching his emissary James Blount to conduct an investigation and report back on the happenings in Hawaii. Blount’s report was ethically correct. It blamed American minister John Stevens for orchestrating the unlawful overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani (Miller-Webb). President Cleveland next dispatched another emissary, Albert Willis, to relay his message to Liliuokalani on 16 November 1893. The President admitted that Liliuokalani’s overthrow as monarch was unlawful, and assured her that her crown would be restored provided she pardoned all those who had participated in her dethroning. Liliuokalani responded by rejecting the President’s call for pardon to the miscreants, preferring instead to sentence them to death. She stubbornly maintained her stance for a long time. When she eventually relented and agreed to President Cleveland’s terms, a month had already passed and the delay proved to be too late for her (Hawaii for Visitors).

The month-long delay by Liliuokalani was a providential gift to a powerful group of Ha’oles who had been in favor of Hawaii’s annexation to the U.S ever since the 1890 McKinley Tariff legislation came into existence in the U.S that greatly curtailed the main market for Hawaiian sugar. The members of this group used their power to influence members of the U.S Congress in their favor (Miller-Webb). Their pressure tactics succeeded on 4 July 1894 when Congress formally declared the Republic of Hawaii and appointed Sanford B. Dole as its first President (Hawaii for Visitors). John Stevens, the American minister in Hawaii, reacted immediately to the Congressional proclamation by mobilizing troops, attacking the Iolani Palace and various government structures, and removing the provisional government that had been in power since 1893. Liliuokalani had no choice but to retreat to her home in Washington Place (Miller-Webb).

Failed uprising

In 1895 a band of natives under the leadership of Robert Wilcox attempted to restore the throne to Liliuokalani. Many days of fighting followed, but in the end, the natives were defeated and taken prisoner. Liliuokalani was suspected of being implicated in the uprising when guns and ammunition were found buried in her garden. She was arrested, formally charged with wilfully not revealing treason, and kept under palace arrest for 8 months. In the trial that followed, she was declared guilty and handed a sentence of 5 years’ hard labor plus a $ 5,000 penalty (Hawaii for Visitors). The sentence, however, was not executed but reduced to retention in one room at the Iolani Palace with one female attendant, but no visitors (Miller-Webb).

Final years of her life

Liliuokalani was freed from palace retention in September 1896 but placed under house arrest for the next 5 months in her Washington Place home. She was released from house arrest in February 1897 but prevented from traveling out of Oahu until the end of that year. Hawaii was formally assimilated into the United States of America on 17 July 1898 when a joint resolution to annex it was approved by Congress and signed by President William McKinley (Miller-Webb).

Liliuokalani was granted a yearly income of $ 4,000. She continued to reside at her Washington Place house until her death at the age of 79 due to a stroke on 11 November 1917 (Hawaii for Visitors). According to her last Will and Testament, her estate was held in the trust to look after poor and orphan kids in Hawaii. This move paved the way for the establishment of The Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center. The centenary of Queen Liliuokalani’s overthrow was marked by the passing of a Congressional resolution in 1993 wherein the U.S government officially expressed its apology to the Hawaiian natives (Miller-Webb).

Liliuokalani’s legacy

Liliuokalani was extremely proficient in music and literature. She composed as many as 150 songs during her lifetime, including the famous ‘Aloha Oe.’ During her confinement at Iolani Palace in 1895, she translated the Kumulipo that not only relates the tale of the origin of life and the history of Hawaiian monarchs but also gives details about the connection between the Hawaiian people and surrounding nature, while explaining why they should always be in friendly accord with nature in order to survive (Miller-Webb).

Besides The Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center, the songs composed by Queen Liliuokalani as well as her meticulously proficient translation of the Kumulipo represent the legacy left by her that serves a two-fold purpose in the short term and the long term. In the short term, it disproves the contention of the pro-annexation lobbyists who overthrew her that the Hawaiians were nothing but illiterate and wild people who were bereft of culture before the arrival of Captain Cook (Miller-Webb). In the long term, it is a constant reminder to the Hawaiians that they are a noble and honorable race. Queen Liliuokalani’s legacy has ensured that the memory of the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom will always be treasured by the Hawaiian people.

Following in the footsteps of the U.S, the world too belatedly acknowledged the greatness of Queen Liliuokalani by naming the biggest international long-distance canoe race in her name. The Queen Liliuokalani Canoe Race began in 1972 on September 2 , featuring long-distance canoe races between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Molokai. Since then, the race is held each year on Labor Day Weekend for 2 days. The first day features the single-hull canoe race, and the second day features the double-hull as well as single-person canoe races. Participants from all over the world, particularly Hawaii and the U.S Mainland, vie for honors during the annual race (Kai’Opua Canoe Club).

References

Miller-Webb, Armour Fentress. “Queen Liliuokalani.” About.com. 2009. Web.

“Queen Liliuokalani Canoe Race.” Kai’Opua. 2004. Web.

“Queen Lydia Liliuokalani.” Hawaii for Visitors. (N.d). 2009. Web.

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