By Steve Beard
Queen Liliʻuokalani was the first queen regnant of the Kingdom of Hawaii and its last sovereign monarch (1838-1917). She ruled from January 29, 1891, until her overthrow in January 17, 1893, by unscrupulous sugar barons. While Queen Lili’uokalani had her own armed soldiers at her command, she chose a peaceful resolution in hopes that the situation would be resolved without violence.
She appealed to the U.S. government about the toppling of her reign and found a sympathetic ear with President Grover Cleveland. Though he lobbied for her rightful return to power, annexation of Hawaii was enacted in 1898 by the U.S. Senate and Queen Lili’uokalani was placed under house arrest while non-Hawaiians ruled the islands. It is a painful story to read if you believe in self-rule, liberty, and justice (highly recommended is “Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure” by Julia Flynn Siler).
After the annexation of Hawaii, President Grover Cleveland wrote, “Hawaii is ours. As I look back upon the first steps in this miserable business and as I contemplate the means used to complete the outrage, I am ashamed of the whole affair.” One small sliver of justice decades later occurred in 1993 when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed an unprecedented joint resolution that read in part: “Congress apologizes to native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii Jan. 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States.”
Queen Lili’uokalani was a remarkable woman who worked tirelessly to bridge radically different cultures with the generous spirit of aloha. While she embraced Western fashion, Christianity, and governmental structures, she labored to strengthen traditional culture, art forms, and ideas indigenous to Hawaii.
“I could not turn back the time for the political change, but there is still time to save our heritage,” she wrote to her adopted daughter in 1917. “You must remember never to cease to act because you fear you may fail. The way to lose any earthly kingdom is to be inflexible, intolerant and prejudicial. Another way is to be too flexible, tolerant of too many wrongs and without judgment at all. It is a razor’s edge. It is the width of a blade of pili grass. To gain the kingdom of heaven is to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable – that is Aloha. All things in this world are two; in heaven there is but one.”
Her book Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen presented her perspective on the overthrow of her reign. In addition to being an author, she was also a prolific songwriter (“Aloha ʻOe” – the most recognizable Hawaiian song) and accomplished musician – playing the guitar, piano, organ, ‘ukulele, and zither. She truly was a renaissance woman.
Mahalo, Queen Liliʻuokalani, happy birthday, and warmest aloha.