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Her Story

Queen Liliʻuokalani lived a life of leadership, dedication, and service to the people of Hawaiʻi. As a member of the Hawaiian royalty, she was loved and respected by her people. The Queen was an inspiring role model, and a model of hope and perseverance. Her legacy of love (aloha) is captured in her story, her music, and also in her special commitment to care for needy Hawaiian children.

- Judge (Ret.) Thomas K. Kaulukukui Jr., Judge (Ret.) Patrick K.S.L. Yim, and Dr. Claire Asam, Trustees of the Liliʻuokalani Trust. Excerpt from the Foreword of Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani, published by Hui Hānai in 2013.

Birth and Early Life


"I was a studious girl; and the acquisition of knowledge has been a passion with me during my whole life, one which has not lost its charm to the present day."


Lydia Lili‘u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka‘eha was born on September 2, 1838, in Honolulu to high-ranking Ali‘i Analea Keohokālole and Caesar Kapa‘akea.


She became the hānai child of Aliʻi Laura Konia and Abner Paki and hānai sister of Bernice Pauahi. She was also the sister of James Kaliokalani, David Kalākaua, Anna Ka‘iulani, Ka‘imina‘auao, Miriam Likelike and William Pitt Leleiohoku.


When she was four years old, the princess began attending the boarding school run by missionary Amos Starr Cooke for the Royal Chiefs’ children. When she was 10, the school closed as a result of the measles epidemic that took the lives of about 10,000 people, most of whom were Native Hawaiian. Her three-year-old sister Ka‘imina‘auao, who was the hānai daughter of Kamehameha III and Queen Kalama, also died in the outbreak.

Photo courtesy of the Hawai'i State Archives.

Marriage and Adult Life


Princess Kamaka‘eha was to be married on her 24th birthday, September 2, 1862, but due to the death of the four-year-old Crown Prince of Hawai‘i, Prince Albert Edward Kauikeaouli Kalei‘opapaakamehameha, she was asked by Kamehameha IV to postpone her wedding. Honoring the wish of the King, she was married to John Owen Dominis on the 16th of that month and then resided with her husband and his widowed mother at Washington Place.


Lili‘uokalani’s was a faithful scholar and an extraordinary musician and composer. She was well-versed in hymns and ballads of American and European influence, as well as traditional Hawaiian chant and prose.  In her lifetime, Lili‘uokalani composed more than 150 songs, including her most famous piece, “Aloha ‘Oe.”

Photo courtesy of the Hawai'i State Archives.

Accession to the Throne


Her brother, King Kalākaua, was appointed to the throne in February 1874, at which time he named his brother William Pitt Leleiohoku as heir to the throne. On April 10, 1877, the day after Leleiohoku died, Princess Lydia Kamaka‘eha was named heir apparent and received the title Lili‘uokalani. During Kalākaua’s final years of reign, wealthy plantation owners and businessmen imposed the “Bayonet Constitution” on the Hawaiian monarchy. The new constitution limited the power of the monarchy and effectively disenfranchised the Hawaiian people. Her beloved brother passed away in 1891, and Lili‘uokalani assumed the throne.

Photo courtesy of the Hawai'i State Archives.

Her Reign and Overthrow


One of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s first orders of business was to amend the constitution and restore power to the monarchy and to the Hawaiian people. The local sugar planters and businessmen instigated an overthrow, fearing a loss of revenue and the influence of the Queen. With the help of U.S. Marines, they forced Queen Lili‘uokalani to surrender the Hawaiian Kingdom to the United States in 1893. A provisional government was established and named the Republic of Hawai‘i, proclaiming Sanford B. Dole as president.

Photo courtesy of the Hawai'i State Archives.

Imprisonment


In 1895, Lili‘uokalani was imprisoned for eight months at ‘Iolani Palace for her alleged knowledge of a counterrevolutionary attempt by her supporters, although it was never proven. Fearing she would never leave the palace alive, Lili‘uokalani translated Kalākaua’s text of the cosmogenic Hawaiian creation chant “Kumulipo” into English, with the hope that the rest of the world would know Hawaiian heritage. She was later released on parole and when she received a full pardon, traveled to Washington D.C. to seek help from President Grover Cleveland.


Despite all of Lili‘uokalani’s efforts, in 1898 President William McKinley signed into law a joint resolution of Congress that purported to annex Hawaiʻi to the United States, although the legality of that act is still in dispute today.  A few weeks later on her 60th birthday, many loyal subjects visited their beloved Queen at Washington Place. Many came bearing gifts; some, kneeling in her presence, presented their ho‘okupu and backed out the same way they entered.

Photo courtesy of the Hawai'i State Archives.

...Behold not with malevolence

The sins of man

But forgive

And cleanse

And so, o Lord

Protect us beneath your wings

And let peace be our portion

Now and forever more.


Excerpt from the "Queen's Prayer"

Letter of petition with Lili‘uokalani signature

Advocacy


The Queen continued to petition Congress and advocate for the restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy. Her autobiography, "Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani," was written as a form of protest and to provide a first-person account of the events that culminated in her overthrow.


The people to whom your fathers told of the living God, and taught to call ʻFather,ʻ and whom the sons now seek to despoil and destroy, are crying aloud to Him in their time of trouble; and He will keep His promise, and will listen to the voices of His Hawaiian children lamenting for their homes."


...Above everything else she displayed a disposition of the most Christian forgiveness.

-Julius A. Palmer, Jr., when asked to describe the Queen

Black and white photo of an older Queen Lili‘uokalani sitting on a chair.

Later Years


After 1900, "Liliuokalani of Hawaii," as she called herself, actively managed her affairs. Her diaries during this period record daily events, domestic life, and business matters, including the collection of rents from lessees and the growth of her estate.

In an analysis of her diaries, Biographer and Historian David W. Forbes notes, "Only occasionally does she look back or contemplate past events and what might have been." The forward-looking former monarch received thousands of visitors and continued to reside at her Washington Place home.

Photo courtesy of the Hawai'i State Archives.

Photo of Hawaiian royal funeral.

Passing


Hawai‘i lost its last ruling monarch on November 11, 1917, when Lili‘uokalani died of a stroke at the age of 79 at her Washington Place home. At midnight, the “Royal Rain” fell lightly on the procession as her body was taken from Washington Place to the Throne Room of ‘Iolani Palace where she lay in state. When the procession arrived at ‘Iolani Palace, there was a rumble of intermittent thunder that was looked upon as a good hō‘ailona or omen.

At midnight of the following day, her body, preceded by the flaming torch (the emblem of the Kalākaua Dynasty) and sacred kahili, was taken to Kawaiaha‘o Church where she lay in state for the next seven days. Her remains were then taken in a procession along King Street and up Nu‘uanu Avenue and placed in the Royal Mausoleum at Mauna ‘Ala.

Photo: Casket, visitors, and flowers in throne room, at funeral of Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/92513985/>

"It is for them that I would give the last drop of my blood; it is for them that I would spend, nay, am spending, everything belonging to me."


- Excerpt from the final chapter of Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen

Legacy


Lili‘uokalani never faltered in her commitment to the people of Hawai‘i. In her will, she entrusted her estate to provide for orphan children of Hawaiian blood, amended later to include other destitute children. Her legacy is perpetuated today through the Trust that bears her name and the thousands of kamaliʻi and ʻohana whose lives have been transformed by her generosity. E onipaʻa kākou.

Additional Resources

Lili'uokalani: Reflections of our Queen

Queen Liliʻuokalani's mind and heart was balanced between two worlds: one Hawaiian, the other Western. Her personal diaries and letters, her music compositions with their poetic references, and rare oral histories enliven this film and weave a living tapestry of the complexities and compassion that Hawaiʻi's last reigning monarch embodied.

This film was produced by Edgy Lee and Marc Cohen, and supported by Liliʻuokalani Trust, Hui Hānai, and the Dolores Furtado Martin Foundation.

Lili'uokalani: Reflections of our Queen on Vimeo

Queen Liliʻuokalani Photograph Exhibition

The Hawaiʻi State Archives Queen Liliʻuokalani Photograph Exhibition contains 120 digital images found in the seven "Royalty – Liliʻuokalani" folders from the institution's main Photograph Collection. These high-resolution preservation color scans are made from the original photographic prints.

Queen Liliʻuokalani Photograph Exhibition

Washington Place

Washington Place, the historic residence of Lili'uokalani, is maintained by the State of Hawai'i, Department of Accounting and General Services. More information and a virtual tour are available here.

Virtual Tour