Lili‘uokalani: Out of the Fog of History

Oct 17, 2017

Recreation of the gown Queen Liliuokalani wore to Queen Victoria's Jubilee in London. Display from a collection of memorabilia at UH Manoa Hamilton Library.
Credit noe tanigawa

The Hawai‘i State Archives is joining the centennial commemoration of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s death with a unique viewing of Kingdom era flags, and, next week, an open house.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports a more complete picture is emerging of Hawai‘i’s last queen. 

This Saturday, enjoy Welo Haʻaheo An Exhibition of Hawaiian Royal Flags, at the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama campus.  Rare banners include the twenty by thirty foot royal flag that accompanied King Kalākaua around the world.  It will be on view this Saturday for the first time in decades.  Conservation demonstrations are planned, along with these lectures:  

10:30---“ʻKuu Hae Hawaii’: Poʻe Aloha ʻĀina and the Hawaiian Kingdom Flag,” Dr. Ronald Williams, Jr. – President, Hawaiian Historical Society

1pm--- “Royal Standards of the Hawaiian Kingdom,” Dr. Douglas Askman – Associate Professor of History, Hawaiʻi Pacific University

Find the full schedule here.

Next Friday, October 27th, 2017, the Hawai‘i State Archives celebrates “Liliʻuokalani: Her Life, Her Legacy, Her Words” with special exhibits at the Hawaiʻi State Archives, on the ʻIolani Palace Grounds.  All are welcome to view a selection of original writings, including her published autobiography, from the Queen’s own hand as well as photographs and artifacts from her life.  

Liliʻuokalani: Her Life, Her Legacy, Her Words

Friday, October 27, 2017

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Hawaiʻi State Archives, Kekāuluohi Building, ʻIolani Palace Grounds

Moanikeala Nanod-Sitch is part of a group that gathers to reflect and remember Queen Lili‘uokalani every Wednesday evening on ‘Iolani Palace grounds.  That’s where we are now, under the trees between the Palace and the state capitol—imagining this place a hundred thirty years ago when it was known as Apahu’a.

Nanod-Sitch:  “She was a profound composer.  Look at the mele (songs) she wrote, the Hawaiian language, the layers of language and hidden meanings---because they knew the past and our story, they make references and connect everything to everything.

Moanikeala Nanod-Sitch, one of several community members who gather weekly to reflect on the Queen's legacy.
Credit noe tanigawa

Nanod-Sitch:  Here we are at the Palace, in this sacred ‘āina (land), if the trees could speak!  From this very ‘āina laa, sacred land, our kūpuna (elders) lifted up their mele and their pule (prayers).  I think in understanding Lili‘uokalani that’s one way, to be able to hear her heart, is to be able to hear her mele.

Nanod-Sitch:  There is a mele called Ke Aloha ‘Āina, I just am thinking of that now.  Ke Aloha ‘Āina being the name of the newspaper that Emma and Joseph Nawahi had.

Joseph Nawahi was a Hawaiian legislator, lawyer, and newspaper publisher, his wife, Emma, was a confidante of the Queen.  They were among the majority of the population of the Hawaiian Islands who remained loyal to Lili‘uokalani after her overthrow in 1893.  For more on that eventful period, don’t miss the extended interview with Dr. Ronald Williams included with this story.

Ronald Williams, president of the Hawaiian Historical society, holds the first PhD. in Hawaiian History.  His focus has been inclusion of native voices in recorded history.  Williams points out that 95% of published historical material about Hawai‘i comes from English language sources.  This, he contends, skews our perceptions since at least one knowledgeable historian estimates English speakers were only about 6% of the population at the time of the overthrow.  Williams says the provisional government that seized control and ran Hawai‘i for five years after 1893 consisted of 13-15 men representing about two thousand supporters.  The 1890 census reports 48,117 Hawaiian subjects.

Cover of Queen Liliuokalani's autobiography, Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen, required reading in Hawaii.
Credit noe tanigawa

Williams:  1893-98 there was an oligarchy, a small group of white men who ran Hawai‘i.  Becoming part of the United States and the United States deciding there was going to be one person one vote in Hawai‘i meant that whites were massively outnumbered.  So from that point on, from 1898 on they had to create a narrative about why they just did, which is take over the nation.  Hawai‘i was an independent sovereign nation, there was no question on that, so the oligarchy who had done this had to make some kind of argument.  They started to go back and make the argument that the Hawaiians didn’t qualify.  They didn’t run the country well enough, and so forth, they weren’t human, and so this racial narrative  comes in.  They flood the landscape with historical material talking about Hawaiians as not human, as not competent and so forth.

Williams:  And I think that’s one of the untold stories, is that there was a theory in Pacific Island studies that‘s called “fatal impact.”  It’s that the white man went through the Pacific and in his wake, native governments just fell by the wayside.  We know that not to be true.  We know the fact that in Hawai‘i we came within a sliver of having the Queen restored to power.  In November-December of 1893, President Cleveland had taken the treaty of annexation out of congress, he sent a new minster to Hawai‘i, Minister Willis.  Minister Willis negotiated with the Queen, it took a while, but they finally came up with a plan to reinstate the Queen.  That was U.S. policy at the time.   

Ronald Williams, PhD. in Hawaiian History, President of the Hawaiian Historical Society.
Credit Hana Hou Magazine

Williams:  We need to be careful when we talk about the U.S.  What had happened here at that time was Minister Stevens and some U.S. businessmen, it wasn’t U.S. policy.  U.S. policy was a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship with Hawai‘i.  Cleveland follows through with that, he talks with the Queen, he says okay, I’m going to reinstate you to power.  This is U.S. policy.  The minster, Minister Willis goes to meet with the Provisional government, to tell them, Now you need to step down, We’re going to bring the Queen back, and a very important thing happens.  Dole, Sanford Dole and others, kind of say, well, (there was an agreement they wouldn’t be executed or put in prison or so forth,) so Well, we’re protected from that, so I guess we lost. 

Williams:  But Lorrin Thurston, the most vociferous of the group, Lorrin Thurston says, No, I think we should call their bluff.  I don’t think the U.S. President is going to put force behind this.  I don’t think he’s going to shoot on a group of Americans and white citizens in order to restore a brown Queen to power.  Williams:  The President of the United States has ordered Willis to reinstate the Queen, but hasn’t given him any military power to do so. 

Williams:  And so the Provisional government surrounds the Palace and says, We’re not backing down, and the U.S. is stuck!  There’s a stalemate and that stalemate continues until 1894, when these gentlemen declare a Republic and move forward. 

Williams:  And it’s so interesting because at that point, they’d been begging the U.S. for annexation since 

1893, and now they say, This is none of your business, butt out, because the U.S. wants to reinstate the Queen. 

Williams:  We came within a sliver of the Queen actually being reinstated to power and the matter actually being settled and that’s because of the Queen, that was because of messengers, because of Hui Aloha ‘Āina that collected the petitions.  In 1897, Hui Aloha ‘Āina, the native political group that was formed in March of 1893, collected and brought tens of thousands of signatures of Native Hawaiians to the U.S. congress and presented them.  That work defeated the treaty of Annexation.  They couldn’t get a two thirds vote.  They convinced American legislators. 

Williams:  If you read the debates in the American legislative logs, they’re brilliant.  There are gentlemen saying, Wait a minute, the people don’t want to be annexed, we can’t take them.  There was a Hawaiian who gave a speech that, We don’t want to be bartered away like a herd of cattle, we’re men and we have a treaty with you.  This courageousness, this steadfastness worked.  They defeated the Treaty of Annexation.

Credit noe tanigawa

Williams:  The U.S. congress went kind of around the rules and passed a resolution to annex Hawai‘i and so forth and that’s being debated today, whether that was legal and so forth, But the only reason we can have that debate is because Hawaiians stood up at the time and fought for their Queen and fought for their nation.

What actually did happen?  

Williams:  The annexation?  I’m not a lawyer, I’m a historian I can tell you from a historian’s point of view that it’s pretty cut and dry.

Still, fascinating.  Check Dr. Williams’ extended interview for a look at the history and some recent discoveries.

Through it all, the Queen composed.  Nanod-Sitch gazes at the Palace, imagining where the compositions would be heard, and who might be there. 

Young Princess Lydia Kamaka‘eha at 15.
Credit noe tanigawa

Nanod-Sitch:  As she writes these mele, she’s thinking not only for her people to encourage them in that moment but she knows that for generations to come we will have her mele.  We’ll have her songs and she’s still speaking to us, She’s still calling to us to arise and ‘onipa‘a (immovable, steadfast, firm, resolute.)  She wants us to remember these things.

Nanod-Sitch:  In that song, Ke Aloha Aina, in that mele in particular, of course it uses the beauty of the ‘āina, but it also calls us to go forward.

Nanod-Sitch:  Haliu i ka mea mana, and to draw near.  To be strengthened in spirit, is what I think she’s saying, to not lose heart, to have na‘au ha‘aha‘a, to go forward with humble hearts because she also knows that aloha is our mana.  No one can take that from us.