September 2 – Happy Birthday, Lili'uokalani

Posted on September 2, 2014

She was the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

She was also Hawaii's only queen who ruled in her own right, rather than being just the-wife-of-the-king.

And she lost her throne because of some pretty shady dealings by the U.S.!

What's in a name?

The first thing I noticed about Queen Liliuokalani (aside from the fact that she was born on this date in 1838) is her long name. But then I read that her name was at birth was much longer: Lydia Lili'u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka'eha!

Wow! That's a mouthful, even for a Hawaiian name!

Still, like other Hawaiian names, it is lovely and flowing. Imagine my surprise when I realized that her name roughly translated to “Lydia smarting tearful burning pain sore eyes”!!!

That's because the Premier, Elizabeth Kina'u, developed an eye infection just when Lili'u was born.

When Lili'u's brother made her the Crown Princess, he also change her name. (For some reason, he didn't think that her birth name was regal enough for a queenLOL!) He changed it to Lili'uokalani, which means “the smarting of the royal ones.” I think that is still a bit weird, but a whole lot better than that burning-pain sore-eyes stuff!

Shady Dealings by the U.S.

The Kingdom of Hawaii lasted from 1795 until 1893. It originated when a warrior chief conquered and subjugated the people of various islands using the help of western weapons and British advisors. That warrior chief became King Kamehameha the Great (because history is written by the winners). Kamehameha's children and grandchildren and great grandchildren ruled the unified kingdom—but with constantly diminishing strength. When Kamehameha had died in 1819, he'd left his son with an army and navy of tens of thousands of men, weapons, and many warships. But the people of Hawaii began to catch diseases from the increasing number of European and American visitors, and the Hawaiian population began to plummet. The armed forces also decreased in number as soldiers and sailors caught diseases and died. The army and navy, which had put down revolts in 1819 and 1824, were unable to stop a French invasion in 1849, and Honolulu was sacked. Kamehameha III sought help from powerful forces and made Hawaii into a protectorate of the United States.

By the time Queen Lili'uokalani came to power, there was no Hawaiian navy, and the army was just a few hundred men. She did not have the power to stand against a group of Americans and Europeans who pretended to be concerned about the safety of American citizens in Hawaii – but who really wanted to overthrow the monarchy and join the U.S. The Americans and Europeans formed what they called the “Committee of Safety,” and U.S. Government Minister John L. Stevens called up one company of U.S. Marines and two companies of U.S. Navy sailors.

So, yeah.

I don't know why the U.S. would
even want you?
The queen was deposed, but she didn't yield her authority to the Committee of Safety, and she didn't yield her authority to the provisional government they set up. Instead, she formally protested the takeover and yielded her authority—under protest—only to the U.S. government.

She was counting on the U.S. government to do the right thing...

Okay, I DO know why the U.S. wanted
Hawaii: it is strategically located in the
middle of the vast Pacific Ocean!

But you know how this turns out, right? The U.S. government hemmed and hawed, passed around the responsibility of deciding what to do, and eventually found the conspirators who had overthrown the queen “not guilty” of having caused the overthrow. A group tried to overthrow the new government and restore the queen to power, but the plan failed. Lili'uokalani was arrested and ended up in house arrest. She was eventually given a full pardon, and she traveled to the U.S. to protest against the annexation of Hawaii by the U.S. She even sued the United States, seeking payment for the land her family had owned in the past.

Basically, the U.S. just grabbed Hawaii with
the threat of force.

None of that worked, either.

In 1993, about 100 years later, the U.S. Congress admitted wrongdoing and issued an apology. Is that one of those "better late than never" things? Or is it more like "too little, too late"?

Peace and poetry...

Lili'uokalani was a peaceful woman who believed in principled stands and peaceful resistance. We often celebrate people who use these ideas and win against greater powers – people like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi – but we can also honor peaceful people who lost against greater force.

One way that Lili'uokalani expressed her feelings for her people and her country was in her writing, including in her writing of song lyrics and melodies. The queen played guitar, piano, organ, 'ukulele, and zither. She sang alto. She loved performing music written by others – in Hawaiian and in English, sacred music and secular music – but she became known for her own compositions.

Her most famous song, “Aloha Oe” (which translates to “Farewell to Thee”), became a symbol for her sorrow over the loss of her country. It became even more popular when Elvis Presleysang it in the movie Blue Hawaii. 

Learn more about Hawaii and Kamehameha from this earlier post.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the installation of the first ATM

Anniversary of the last day of the Julian calendar

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