For Our Mōʻī Wahine Liliʻuokalani on Her Birthday

Mōʻī wahine Lili'uokalani

For kānaka maoli, every day is a reminder of how our last mōʻī wahine Liliʻuokalani (I last mentioned her here) gave everything she had for us, but we specifically honor and celebrate her memory today, on her birthday. Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamakaʻeha, later given the name Liliʻuokalani, was born on September 2, 1838 to high ranking aliʻi Caesar Kapaʻakea and Analeʻa Keohokālole in Honolulu. The Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī Coalition described the definitions of her names, saying, “She was given the name Lydia Lili‘u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka‘eha – the smarting (Liliʻu), the tearfulness (loloku), the burning pain (walania), and soreness of the eyes (kamakaʻeha) of Kīnaʻu. In her youth she was called “Lydia” or “Lili‘u”. After our mōʻī wahine was born, she became the hānai daughter of Abner Pākī and Laura Kōnia—the parents of ke aliʻi Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who founded the Kamehameha Schools (aka my elementary-high school).

In 1887, a group of white missionary descendants who become sugar plantation owners and businessmen devised a plan to take control of the Kingdom when King Kalākaua was on the throne. They drafted the Bayonet Constitution, named after the weapons at which they held Kalākaua, forcing him to sign the new Constitution that took almost all power away from the Aliʻi and turned it over to his white cabinet members. The Constitution made it impossible for Native Hawaiians (along with Asian immigrants) to vote for their Aliʻi on their own homeland. In 1893, mōʻī wahine Liliʻuokalani, Kalākaua’s sister and new heir to the throne, drafted her own Constitution, which granted voting rights back to kānaka maoli and restored the throne’s power, to the avail of the white supremacists in her cabinet. Days after Liliʻuokalani announced her new draft, the cabinet declared they would fight the Constitution, with bloodshed or without. Liliʻuokalani tried to protect her people as best as she could so when the United States’ armed military marched toward ʻIolani Palace and threatened violence on unarmed kānaka maoli 127 years ago, Liliʻuokalani said,

“I, Liliʻuokalani, by the grace of God and under the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom. That I yield to the superior force of the United States of American, whose minister plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu and declared that he would support the said Provisional Government. Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”

She didn’t back down willingly, but Liliʻuokalani did not want to risk any harm to her people, so she believed that the U.S. President would eventually reinstate her to the throne and give the Kingdom back its power. In December of the same year, President Grover Cleveland denounced the violent military act, but handed all power over to Congress, should they have taken action in granting Liliʻuokalani’s request. However, Congress refused to do anything, and the illegal Republic of Hawaiʻi, led by Sanford Dole, became the new government. A group of kānaka, in protest of the actions taken against their queen, tried to fight back with force, but the demonstration ultimately led to Liliʻuokalani’s arrest and home imprisonment, where she was charged with treason and held until 1896. 29,000 kānaka submitted a petition of the new government with their signatures to Congress, but the Senate ignored any votes. In 1898, the Hawaiian flag was lowered from ʻIolani Palace as the American flag was lifted and the Star Spangled Banner played. There were records of wailing coming from every kānaka maoli who watched in horror.

Liliʻu survived a months-long home imprisonment, violent and illegal overthrow, and the colonization of her home and people. And throughout the whole of her darkest moments, she penned some of her most beautiful works such as “Aloha ʻOe,” Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen, and a translation of the Kumulipo. She was a brave, brilliant, talented, and compassionate mōʻī wahine who was always fought for the good of her people. Especially now on her birthday and as we struggle under the rule of oppressive and incompetent political leaders, it’s imperative to remember Liliʻu—our beloved mōʻī wahine—always and forever.