Mahina Hānau o Ka Mōʻī Wahine ʻo Liliʻuokalani
Remembering Our Last Monarch of Hawaiʻi
This September, we honor the Queen Liliʻuokalani whose birthday is on September 2nd, 1838. We mark the 184th birthday of the last Queen Regnant (Sovereign) of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamakaʻeha was born to Analea Keohokālole and Caesar Kapaʻakea in Honolulu. Analea Keohokālole was an aliʻi chiefess from ka moku o Hawaiʻi. She descended from significant Kona aliʻi such as Kameʻeiamoku Keaweaheulu, who supported Kamehameha Nui in his initial conquest and unification of Hawaiʻi island. Caesar Kapaʻakea was her first cousin and thus their marriage was considered sacred, producing children of Wohi rank.
Liliʻu, like her siblings, was given in hānai Hawaiian adoption to other established families of rank. Laura Konia and Abner Pākī embraced her as her hānai parentsfrom birth. Her hānai sister was none other than the beloved aliʻi Bernice Pauahi Bishop.
Her given names commemorate Kīnaʻu, a daughter of Kamehameha Nui and a doting aunty. Kīnaʻu suffered from eye sores around the time of Liliʻu’s birth. “Liliʻu” refers to “scorching… as salt in a raw wound or pain in the eyes”, “loloku” refers to “suffering in pain”, “walania” refers to “anguish, woe”. “Kamakaʻeha” quite plainly means “the sore eye”.
As part of her royal heritage, she was educated at the Chief’s Children’s Schoolalongside other future leaders such as her hānai sister Bernice and her biological brother David Kalākaua. The school was originally established by Kamehameha III in 1840 with the intent to educate and nurture the next generation of royal succession.
She was groomed to be an esteemed lady of the royal Hawaiian court. She was the maid of honor at the marriage of her dear friend and classmate Emma Naʻea Rooke. Upon Kamehameha IV’s ascent to the throne in 1855, she became part of Queen Emma’s royal retinue as a lady-in-waiting. Liliʻu would herself be briefly courted by the future King William Charles Lunalilo. Eventually, she would break off the relationship and instead become engaged and married to her husband, John Owen Dominis in 1862.
Her brother David Kalākaua ascended to the throne in 1874, following a contentious and ultimately riotous election that pitted him against, at that time, the Queen Dowager Emma. During his reign, Liliʻu was formally declared eligible to rule in line of succession. She was appointed to rule during her brother’s absences. Notably in 1881, Liliʻuokalani managed the smallpox quarantine on Oʻahu, successfully limiting the disease’s spread to other islands.
However, events would take a turn for the worse. Following Kalākaua’s death while traveling to San Francisco, she assumed her seat upon the throne on January 29, 1891. Her reign would come abruptly to an end after she was forcibly deposed during the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. Following a rebellion by royalist Hawaiian supporters, she was wrongfully imprisoned in the upstairs room of ʻIolani Palace for nearly a year throughout 1895.
Conspiring legislators, capitalists, and other political agents eventually led to the illegal annexation of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1898.
Despite the heavy burdens she faced, she was devoted to the welfare of all people, and was a symbol of strength and compassion. Despite being held metaphorically and literally at gunpoint by American capitalist colonizers, she held her head high, understanding the dignity and pride she needed to instill i ka lāhui. She is lovingly remembered as an expert musical composer, and a staunch supporter of the health and independence of her people. She continued to uphold the banner of her people until her death on November 11, 1917.
To this day, we still hear the her words:
“e ʻonipaʻa i ka ʻimi i ka naʻauao…”
All historical images courtesy of The Hawaiʻi State Archives.