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Mahina Hānau ʻO Kaʻiulani

Mahina Hānau o Ke Aliʻi ʻO Kaʻiulani

The Last Princess of Hawaiʻi

Princess Kaʻiulani

This October, we recall the life of the last heir apparent to the Hawaiian Kingdom, Princess Kaʻiulani. Born on October 16th, 1875, we mark her 147th birthday this year. Join us as we recount the tragically brief yet so inspiring moʻōlelo of her life… Victoria Kawēkiu Kaʻiulani Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa Cleghorn was the only child born to Princess Miriam Likelike. Kaʻiulani was born into a high-ranking aliʻi family, her mother being the younger sister of King David Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani. Kaʻiulani’s father was a Scottish merchant who had established a name for himself in the Kingdom.

Kaʻiulani at 10 years old. Wearing a feather lei band. Circa 1885

Kaʻiulani was named in honor of those who came before her. Her English name honored the British Queen Victoria, the monarch having shared warm relationships with many members of Hawaiian royalty. Her name Kaʻiulani “the lofty, heavenly place” was in remembrance of her aunt who had passed as a young child. Lunalilo “highest point beyond sight” was also the name of Charles Lunalilo, the royal predecessor to King Kalākaua. Kalaninui-ahilapalapa “the great ruler - of the blazing flame” was one of the names of Keōua, the father of Kamehameha Nui. Kawēkiu “the summit” is a name that uniquely belonged to Kaʻiulani, and continues to fondly recall the Princess in mele to this day. The Princess was born on Oʻahu and raised in the heart of Waikīkī, surrounded by the most esteemed members of Hawaiian nobility. On her shoulders, she proudly bore the hopes and dreams of an entire nation. At this time, near the end of the 19th century, the Native Hawaiian population had been decimated by a century of disease. Traditions, knowledge, and even language were losing way to westernization, capitalism, and exploitation. In her, ka lāhui saw not only an heir of the Kalākaua dynasty, but a beacon of promise for the continuation of the Hawaiian people themselves. Her childhood was spent under the shaded boughs of the banyan tree, a historic tree which still stands today, just blocks away from Pualeilani. Where the Moana Surfrider Hotel now stands, was once the magnificent estate of ʻĀinahau “cool land”, or perhaps “land of the hau hibiscus tree”. This expansive nearly 10-acre estate housed the girlhood home of the young Princess, as well as the many wondrous delights that she so dearly cherished. Dozens of peacocks “pīkake” pecked about the well-kept gardens and bathed their rainbow feathers in brackish waters of the ʻĀpuakehau stream. Much beloved by the Princess were the delicately musky blossoms of the Arabian jasmine, which are named pīkake as they resembled the crest of her favorite birds. The grand two story Victorian home on the grounds featured a beautifully carved and columned lanai. Despite her lofty upbringing, the Princess was no delicate flower— she was an accomplished equestrian, excelled at heʻe nalu (surfing), and was known to be kolohe (rascally) with her many doting governesses.


The Princess with her peacocks at her Waikīkī home, ʻĀinahau (1898). The Chinese jasmine flower was given the name pīkake, meaning peacock, to honor Princess Kaʻiulani and her beloved manu pīkake.

At the young age of 11, she lost her mother. By 1889, at 14, she went abroad to England to begin her formal education at the Great Harrowden Hall in Northamptonshire. While abroad, she excelled in painting and languages, and dreamed often of having simple meals of fish and poi. She traveled extensively throughout the British Isles as well as to continental Europe. She made a trek to the Scottish highlands, visiting her ancestral lands along the coast. There, she met by chance a fellow Polynesian royal, the Tahitian Princess Titaua of the island of Haapiti. Princess Titaua gifted her a kumete, the Tahitian word for an ʻumeke, or wooden carved serving bowl.


Princess Kaʻiulani. 1893. Possibly taken in Washington, D.C.

Upon news of the American-backed businessmen's overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the imprisonment of her aunt, Queen Liliʻuokalani, she returned home at 17 in 1893. At the harbors of New York, the young heir roused the minds of the American public to her cause to restore Hawaiian Sovereignty. Many were surprised by her eloquence and conviction. Due to racist and sexist journalism at the time, many could not fathom a woman, no less a teenage girl, being able to stand her ground in a public forum. Not with weapons, but with wit and words. She pleaded to the public to recognize the atrocity of what was happening in front of their very eyes, reminding them that, America had only cast off the yoke of British colonialism less than a century prior. With success, she garnered the attention of newly sworn President Grover Cleveland. A federal investigation was initiated, the Blount Report, which concluded that the military occupation of the Kingdom was illegal. Despite this damning evidence, she was unable to sway the President, as the annexationists had cemented their stance back home, and the soon-to-be President McKinley cared only for American interests. The annexationists incorporated Hawaiʻi as an American territory in 1898. The American government would provide a formal apology on the centennial of the overthrow, delivered by President Bill Clinton in 1993, acknowledging the United States' involvement in the illegal overthrow. Still, no action has been taken to restore Hawaiian Sovereignty today.

1897 Petition Against Annexation of Hawaiʻi by the United States. Over 21,000 signatures representing a majority of the adult Hawaiian population. Total population of all Hawaiians (adults and children) were about 38,000 at the time.

The Princess continued to advocate for the sovereignty of her nation until her passing in 1899. In face of the doubts and injustices, she did not waver in her resolve. To this day, mea aloha ʻāina do not recognize the illegal overthrow and annexation of the Hawaiian Kingdom, nor the continued illegal occupation and abuse of Hawaiian lands by The United States of America. We honor the late Princess for committing herself to her people and to her lāhui, in the face of innumerable obstacles. ʻO ke aloha nō iā…Ka'iulani.


All historical images courtesy of The Hawaiʻi State Archives.

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