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Mahina Hānau ʻO Kalākaua

Mahina Hānau o Ka Mōʻī Kalākaua

The "Merrie" Monarch

King Kalākaua

This month we commemorate the life of Ka Mōʻī Kalākaua. Born on November 16th, 1836, King Kalākaua will be forever remembered for his astonishing feats and enduring accomplishments made during his 17 year reign. The Merrie Monarch, as he is affectionately called, raised the Hawaiian Kingdom to the world stage. He is honored for restoring a sense of pride and instilling a resolve i ka lāhui that continues to bear fruit to this day.

Kalani Kawika David Kalākaua was the second-born child to Analea Keohokālole and Caesar Kapaʻakea. The biological brother of Queen Liliʻuokalani, he, like his many siblings, was given in hānai Hawaiian adoption to other prominent aliʻi families. He was educated at the Chief’s Children School, along with other royals who would become many of Hawaiʻi’s leaders.

Left: King Kamehameha IV, Alexander Liholiho ʻIolani. Right: Queen Emma Naʻea Rooke

After finishing his schooling, Kalākaua joined the military. By 1858 at the age of 22, he had climbed up the ranks to major. He had become the personal attendant to his good friend and now king, Alexander Liholiho, crowned as Kamehameha IV. Kalākaua served under him in various government positions in the Privy Council, the personal cabinet of the King, and as a legislator in the House of Nobles, the upper house of the Hawaiian Legislature, Ka ʻAhaʻōlelo o ke Aupuni.

In 1863, he married Queen Kapiʻolani, binding his moʻokūʻauhau (genealogy) to hers. She descended from powerful aliʻi families of Kauaʻi. The royal couple made their home right here in Waikīkī at Pualeilani, where the Hyatt Regency stands today.

Upon the death of Kamehameha V, Lot Kapuāiwa in December 1872, the King had not declared an heir apparent and a constitutional election was held to decide his successor. Kalākaua was a seasoned legislator and worthy contender, but ultimately it was not his time. He secured only a handful of votes, losing abysmally to the popular Charles Lunalilo. Unfortunately, the ailing King Lunalilo passed away little over a year later, launching the Hawaiian Kingdom into another polarizing election yet again.

King Kalākaua standing on the lanai of the newly renovated ʻIolani Palace.

This time, in February 1874, Kalākaua was pitted against the Queen Dowager Emma, the widow of his close friend King Kamehameha IV, Alexander Liholiho. He triumphed in this election as he was favored by the legislative body and Privy Council, but his victory was bitter. Many Hawaiian people felt Queen Emma had exemplified her ability to care for and love her people during her husbandʻs reign (her public works included assisting in establishment of St. Andrewʻs Cathedral, St. Andrewʻs Priory, ʻIolani School for Boys, and The Queenʻs Hospital). She was also a qualified inheritor of the Kamehameha dynasty by blood. Emmaites, as her supporters called themselves, stormed the courthouse in a divisive riot.

Despite fractured beginnings, the reign of Kalākaua would be lengthy and memorable. His first major diplomatic act as monarch was negotiating the bilateral Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 with the United States. The two nations brokered an exclusive agreement to export Hawaiian sugar and other goods to the sweet- toothed Americans. In exchange, millions of American dollars poured into the Hawaiian economy.

This new source of funding helped promote many of Kalākaua’s state projects. In 1879, ʻIolani Palace was completely renovated. Fallen into disrepair, the new palace became a beacon of progress in Hawaiʻi. ʻIolani Palace was one of the first buildings in the world to introduce a newly-discovered energy and tool— electricity and the incandescent light bulb.

1881. King Kalākaua seated with Emperor Meiji (bottom left) in Japan.

In 1881, Kalākaua, at the age of 45, was the first monarch to travel around the globe accompanied by a few intimate retainers. He met with monarchs and dignitaries from kingdoms across Asia, the Middle East, Egypt, and Europe. He ended his voyage traveling across the United States from coast to coast, east to west. His diplomatic mission brought Ka Momi o ka Pākīpika “the Pearl of the Pacific” prestige and respect from other world powers. Hawaiʻi stood proudly amongst the ranks of nations and empires.

1883 Coronation Ceremony.

During his own 1883 coronation, Kalākaua fused elements of the courtly pomp he witnessed on his global trek, with deeply Hawaiian cultural roots. This celebration is widely recognized as the rebirth of hula. For a century, hula practitioners had been driven underground, practicing in secrecy away from the punishing gaze of Christian missionaries. Now, hula was publicly celebrated again. Today, the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo celebrates his name to this day. As part of the coronation, the statue of King Kamehameha Nui was erected in front of the Aliʻiōlani Hale, the former seat of government of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

However, by 1887, storm clouds were brewing. An increasingly powerful band of foreign landowners had entered the Hawaiian Legislature. In order to seize power, they pushed King Kalākaua to sign the Bayonet Constitution. This severely restricted the powers of the monarchy, paving the way for annexationists to take increasingly bold actions against the monarchy and kingdom. His sister, Queen Liliʻuokalani, would attempt to promulgate a new constitution during her later reign, but in the end, these fissures signaled the impending illegal overthrow of the Kingdom.

In 1891, Kalākaua passed away traveling in San Francisco at the age of 55. A placard can still be seen at the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco marking the sad occasion along with select furniture that the King had given as gifts. He is remembered for elevating and empowering the Hawaiian nation. Despite the uphill battle against foreign annexationists, King Kalākaua recognized the urgency needed to gain Hawaiʻi equal footing with other world powers. He planted the seeds for the growth of the Hawaiian people, and continues to uplift the kingdom and his lāhui.

E hoʻoūlu lāhui...

All historical images courtesy of The Hawaiʻi State Archives.

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