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Liliuokalani: The Story of Hawaii’s Last Monarch

iolani palace

It’s hard to share the story of Hawaii’s monarchy without the name “Liliuokalani.”

Those who visit the island of Oahu can still find traces of her legacy to this day, but none more visible than in downtown Honolulu where a statue bearing her likeness near the Iolani Palace stands.

Rise of the Queen

As the last reigning queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani is a name synonymous with Hawaiian royalty. Born Lydia Kamakaeha on September 2, 1838 to a high chief and chieftess, she did not assume the name Liliuokalani until she became she became queen at the age of 60.

As was common among Hawaiian royalty, Liliuokalani was adopted at birth by Abner Paki and his wife, Laura Konia. She received an education at the Chief’s Children’s School where she learned to speak English fluently, and traveled Europe and America. This exposure to western art and culture influenced much of the more than 160 songs that she composed in her lifetime, many of which are still frequently played throughout the islands today.

In 1862 Liliuokalani married John Owen Dominis, who in time became the governor of Oahu and Maui.

As the elder sister to King David Kalakaua, Liliuokalani became the queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii upon the King’s death in 1891.

A Fight for Hawaii’s Freedom

When Liliuokalani inherited the throne, she took up the cause of her people, moving to repeal the Bayonet Constitution, which stripped the Hawaiian monarchy of authority and gave power to foreign elite. She drafted a new constitution that would once again restore power to the monarchy.

In January 1895 Liliuokalani was arrested following the failed Counter-Revolution in Hawaii – a brief and often forgotten war to return Liliuokalani to the throne. At her trial Liliuokalani denied any knowledge of the revolution but was found guilty and sentenced to five years of hard labor in prison and a fine. That sentence was later commuted to imprisonment to an upstairs bedroom of Iolani Palace. Iolani Palace stands to this day as the only royal residence on American soil.

During that time she composed many works including songs lamenting the lost kingdom and for her people as a form of peaceful resistance. This included the well-known song Aloha Oe. Her compositions were compiled into The Queen’s Songbook in 1999.

Liliuokalani’s Legacy

In 1896, Liliuokalani was granted a full pardon by the now annexed Republic of Hawaii. She resumed her attempts at appealing annexation and traveled to the United States many times in the process. Despite her efforts, Hawaii became a Territory of the United States in 1898 and in one last push in 1910 Liliuokalani unsuccessfully sued the United States government for the loss of the Hawaiian crown land.

The last queen of Hawaii lived in Washington Palace until her death in 1917 as a private citizen.

Liliuokalani still remains an icon and much beloved by the Hawaiian people. She was the first activist for Hawaiian culture and sovereignty, a movement that still exists to this day. Her legacy also lives on in the Queen Liliuokalani Trust Fund, which works to serve the children of Hawaii.

Edited on 01/11/16 based on feedback from Mr. Kahaialii. Mahalo for sharing your knowledge!