Preamble: This She’s Royal series has been a learning experience for me; I discovered new people and new things about historical figures I already knew. Last week was Nanny of the Maroons from Jamaica, and now we head to Hawaii for another lesson in imperialism.
She’s Royal #10:
Her story: The last monarch of the Hawaiian islands, Queen Lili’uokalani, ascended to the throne after the sudden death of the reigning monarch, her brother. Apparently before European settlement the islands were ruled by individual leaders. Then as the islands became economically and politically important (as a result of this interaction/colonization) leadership solidified under a single ruler. I’m sure there’s more to this story but let’s come back to Queen Lili’uokalani who was born in 1838 with an acknowledged claim to the throne and as such fostered in to her role – private education, English language tutelage etc. We can assume that music was also on the syllabus as, she is also a composer of a more than 150 Hawaiian songs including Aloha’Oe.
This haunting song, a well known classic, Farewell, Hawaii, was composed, reportedly (there are different stories of its origins), while she was under house arrest at the lolani palace.
Yes, you read that right, house arrest, as Queen Lili’uokalani’s brief (approximately) two year reign ended with a violent overthrow.
Reportedly, the white investors who had settled or invested in Hawaii exerted great pressure on the monarchs and by the time of her brother had pushed him to modify the constitution to a degree that greatly weakened the monarchy (this is known as the Bayonet Constitution which itself suggests that the changes were made under duress). She refused to acknowledge this new constitution and instead drafted a document that restored traditional government. On January 17th 1893, there was a coup led by the European settlers and backed by the US marines, and the Queen surrendered at gunpoint. This stuff isn’t new. Reportedly, two years on, there was an attempt to return her to the throne but in the end might was right (i.e. she was charged with treason and put under house arrest) and the US officially annexed Hawaii in 1898. It became the 50th American state in 1959 – you might know it as the home state of the first African American president, born in Hawaii in 1961, Barack Obama.
As for Queen Lili’uokalani, who continued to advocate in exile for a free Hawaii, she died in 1917. “Her legacy continues to spark discussions about Hawaiian identity and the role history plays in contemporary affairs.” As DeSoto Brown, a historian at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, explained “She remains a symbol of the overthrow, of the loss of sovereignty, of the injustice of what happened.” The descendants of Hawaii’s royal line maintain their claim to the throne and continue to push for the sovereignty of Hawaii. (Source)
Possible casting: Tia Carrere is probably the only Hawaiian actress I know (shame on me) and I haven’t seen her in anything in a while (shame on Hollywood?). But maybe this one needs an open casting call so that we can discover all that untapped talent.
Next up: That’s all she wrote. Thanks for taking this journey with me. The purpose of this journey was to tell stories of royal women often overlooked by Hollywood – They love to tell a royal tale, only it’s the same royals, the same tales, over and over. Hollywood can’t continue to give the British royals all the shine. I mean, they will but they have no excuse; not with all these stories out there and these women featured these 10 weeks being only a small handful of the stories out there for the telling. If you missed any of the entries, no worries; you can revisit all the royals, right here.