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Queen Liliuokalani: The heart of a leader

One cannot consider Hawai’i and it’s fallen kingdom without thinking almost right away of Queen Liliuokalani, the last recognized royal of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.  In the late 19th century Hawai’i was a nation on the verge of collapse.  The greedy haole (Hawaiian for “the white man”) businessmen looked to take whatever they could from the soil and sea.[1]  Queen Liliuokalani could not have been prepared for the disrespect, humiliation, and abuse that she would endure at their will.  There are three sources that I have assessed in order to get more information on the circumstances surrounding the downfall of Hawai’i’s Kingdom.  Each is connected to the other by the Queen yet offers unique details and insight that have helped shape my own interpretation more clearly.  The first source is a letter by the Queen herself dated January 18th, 1893 and addressed to the President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, pleading her case for the preservation of her kingdom.  The second is an article by an extensively educated artist, Paul X. Rutz, who enjoys a focus on military history.  In his article “Queen’s Ransom: How Hawaii’s indebted last queen lost her throne to sugar barons and the American rush to empire” Rutz lays out the history of 19th century Hawai’i leading to the overthrow of the Queen.  And lastly, I have found a historiography by a professor from Virginia Wesleyan College, Dr. Richard Bond.  In his historiography, Bond reviews a book by a native Hawaiian who tells the story of Queen Liliuokalani, and a connection to her own ancestors.  I aim to provide interesting information from each of these sources and compare them to one another to find similarities and/or differences.

As her Kingdom faced imminent conclusion, Queen Liliuokalani sent dozens of letters to various American government leaders, and representatives begging on behalf of her people.  As evidenced in a letter addressed to President Benjamin Harrison in January 1893, the message was always sent with respect and aloha (Hawaiian for “love and peace”): “MY GREAT AND GOOD FRIEND,”.[2]  But to anyone with compassion for an indigenous people the letters are also cringeworthy and uncomfortable: “This request has been refused and I now ask you that in justice to myself and to my people that no steps be taken by the Government of the United States until my cause can be heard by you,”.[3]  Within her correspondence is the plea of a leader who reveals her courage yet sadness to a growing super power.  Such lines as “This appeal is not made for myself personally, but for my people,” provide insight to her heart.[4]  Simply, her plea was this: allow me to rule alone and in peace.  It should not be missed that in a time when Hawai’i allowed and demanded respect for female leadership there stood in stark contrast the United States whose women would not even be allowed a voice at the ballot for decades to come.

Paul X. Rutz, recounts the history leading to the depose of Queen Liliuokalani in his article “Queen’s Ransom”.  He explains how in 1819 American missionaries traveled to Hawai’i to evangelize and educate and that their governmental ways soon had heavy influence there.[5]  It seems that Rutz might agree with many Hawaiians: that with the discovery of Hawai’i by the haole came quick, drastic, and even devastating changes.  Hawai’i was affected by introduction of diseases and viruses previously unknown to the natives, new ways of worship and dress, haole domination of Hawai’i’s natural resources, and thus a beginning to the disintegration of Hawaiian tradition and monarchy.  Rutz accuses wealthy sugar plantation owners of lending money to locals and the monarchy out of a desire for leverage to gain more political power in the nation.[6]  To prove this, he explains how in an 1874 election for the monarchy, King Kalakaua was voted in by the white dominated legislator despite being the less popular candidate of the natives.[7]  Rutz claims that a secret society formed of American and European men who believed they could prey on the weaknesses of Kalakaua, and indeed, at gunpoint they forced the king to sign a new constitution relinquishing much of his power while allowing him to remain, at least in imagery, as king.[8]  This has become known as the “Bayonet Constitution”.

In 1891, Kalakaua died, leaving his sister Liliuokalani to become Hawai’i’s Queen, and last monarch.[9]  It appears that Rutz might argue that Queen Liliuokalani had a lot of mess to clean up after her brother.  She had to repay debts, repair broken trust with the natives, and regain control of her government.  Rutz spins it as, once again, the haole men saw a moment of weakness in the Hawaiian Kingdom, so they planned a coup d’état that would lead to annexation (against the wills of most of the natives and Hawaiian leaders), and thus further the disintegration of Hawaiian culture and tradition.[10]

A third written work agrees in tone with the previous two.  Richard Bond wrote a brief historiography on a book, The Queen and I, by Sydney Lehua Iaukae who is a native Hawaiian.  According to Bond, Iaukae illustrates the United States confiscation of land, and the Queen’s struggle to keep control of her million acres.[11]   Furthermore, Iaukae shares the story that, like the Queen, the Queen’s ‘ohana (Hawaiian for “family”), and their descendants, her own ancestors suffered great loss at the rewriting of laws and land division by the new government.[12]  Iaukae also touches on the idea that a sense of true Hawaiian history and therefore culture was also taken.[13]  This story resonates with Bond.  He claims that Iaukae should have written more about how her culture and history were lost to Americanization, saying “It is unfortunate that Iaukae’s monograph never fully traces this part of her story,”.[14]  It is apparent that he too writes with a sensitivity to the Hawaiian natives and their culture that was almost erased.

In connecting the sources, consider first that Rutz confirms the many letters from Queen Liliuokalani sent to the United States government, as well as petitions full of signatures from locals who protested annexation.[15]  He asserts that the Queen mortgaged her estate and used all of her money, time, and resources to gather supporters and plea her case for two full years.[16]  Rutz displays a compassion for the history of Hawai’i and he attempts to display it honestly and out of respect for an indigenous people exploited by white America.  Consider the imagery he uses in his closing paragraph, “The annexation ceremony outside Iolani Palace marked the last step in Hawaii’s Americanization. On August 12 native Hawaiians in Western suits and dresses offered up Christian prayers… while their flag was lowered… The sight proved too much for the Hawaiian players, who abandoned their instruments and left the ceremony in tears”.[17]

All sources are in agreement that with Hawai’i annexation much was lost for Hawaiians.  In all three, most of the white American men are displayed as selfish and deceitful.  The disregard that the Queen sensed surely came at least in part by her dark skin and gender.  Indeed, in “Queen’s Ransom” Rutz agrees with this.  He writes, “She reportedly told Stevens’ replacement, U.S. Minister Albert S. Willis, the coup leaders deserved to be “beheaded.” Whether or not she meant that literally, the idea of the dark-skinned queen bringing back sacrificial practice made the American press howl,”.[18]

All three sources are tied by an empathy for the native Hawaiians and for the dissolution of their kingdom and culture.  Bond writes, “Historical memory is certainly a powerful inculcator of identity… it would be interesting to see [Iaukae] trace the construction of this regime of truth in order to demonstrate that the lack of discussion regarding the territorial government and its actions was a deliberate erasure by institutional forces…”.[19]  He insinuates that America erased Hawai’i history in order to assert their power over the land.

But perhaps one question that must be asked is this: did any good come from Hawai’i annexation for the people of Hawai’i themselves?  Although it is impossible to know the truest answer to a question that must be asked about a time that cannot reoccur, this question does cause intrigue.  It is possible that the Hawai’i nation could have thrived and entered into the industrial age of the 20th century without the economic and political power of the likes of America.  But it is also possible that Japan, or Russia would have eventually overthrown the monarchy pursuing their own exploitation ventures.  After the landing on the islands by Captain James Cook, was it inevitable that the Kingdom of Hawai’i would find its collapse at the will of a more powerful government and military?  As evidenced by these sources, one thing is certain.  From the standpoint of the United States government and businessmen, Hawai’i was a “pear… now fully ripe,” and it was “the golden hour for the United States to pluck it,”.[20]  Perhaps, not much has changed.

Bibliography

Bond, Richard. 2012. “Book Review.” Journal of American Culture 35 (2): 201. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2012.00807

Pukui, Mary Kawena. 1986. Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii to President Benjamin Harrison, January 18, 1893, The Annexation Of Hawaii: A Collection Of Document, Hamilton Library. University of Hawaii Manoa. http://libweb.hawaii.edu/digicoll/annexation/protest/liliu3.php

Rutz, Paul X. 2017. “Queen’s Ransom: How Hawaii’s Indebted Last Queen Lost Her Throne to Sugar Barons and the American Rush to Empire.” Military History. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsggo&AN=edsgcl.504179585&site=eds-live&scope=site.

John L. Stevens to John W. Foster, February 1, 1893. The Annexation Of Hawaii: A Collection Of Document, Hamilton Library. University of Hawaii Manoa. http://libweb.hawaii.edu/digicoll/annexation/blount/br0402.php

Citations:

[1] Mary Kawena Pukui, Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986) 58.

[2] Mary Kawena Pukui, Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986) 21.; Queen Liliuokalani to President Benjamin Harrison, January 18, 1893.

[3] Queen Liliuokalani to President Benjamin Harrison, January 18, 1893.

[4] Queen Liliuokalani to President Benjamin Harrison, January 18, 1893.

[5] Paul X. Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom: How Hawaii’s Indebted Last Queen Lost Her Throne to Sugar Barons and the American Rush to Empire,” Military History, (2017): 65.

[6] Paul X. Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom: How Hawaii’s Indebted Last Queen Lost Her Throne to Sugar Barons and the American Rush to Empire,” Military History, (2017): 66.

[7] Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom”, 66.

[8] Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom”, 66.

[9] Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom”, 67.

[10] Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom”, 68.

[11] Richard Bond, “Book Review”, Journal of American Culture 35 no.2 (2012): 201.

[12] Mary Kawena Pukui, Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986) 512.

[13] Richard Bond, “Book Review”, Journal of American Culture 35 no.2 (2012): 201.

[14] Bond, “Book Review”, 201.

[15] Paul X. Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom: How Hawaii’s Indebted Last Queen Lost Her Throne to Sugar Barons and the American Rush to Empire,” Military History, (2017): 69.

[16] Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom”, 69.

[17] Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom”, 69

[18] Paul X. Rutz, “Queen’s Ransom: How Hawaii’s Indebted Last Queen Lost Her Throne to Sugar Barons and the American Rush to Empire,” Military History, (2017): 69.

[19] Richard Bond, “Book Review”, Journal of American Culture 35 no.2 (2012): 201.

[20] John L. Stevens to John W. Foster, February 1, 1893.

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