King David Kalākaua – on his 176th birthday

In Honolulu stands ʻIolani Palace, built by King David Kalākaua in 1882, and which remains a symbol of the Hawaiian nation for many Hawaiians today. David La’amea Kalākaua was born on November 16, 1836 near Puowaina, which today we call Punchbowl.  The name Kalākaua meant “the day of battle.” He was the son of Chief Caesar Kapa’akea and Chiefess Analeʻa Keohokālole but was the hānai son of High Chiefess Ha’aheo who was the governor of Maui. He was not of the Kamehameha line, but descended from Keaweaheulu, a Kona chief who was an advisor to Kamehameha. Later in life Kalakaua published his genealogy in his election campaigns for monarch.

In his youth David Kalākaua spent the early part of his childhood in Lāhaina, Maui.  Later he traveled to the island of Oahu to attend the chiefs children school, also known as the Royal School, where he attended for nine years. At the age of 14 Kalākaua started military training and by the age of 16 he was commissioned as a captain in the Hawaiian Army.  After this Kalākaua served in many important government positions including Army Major on Kamehameha IV’s staff but his last job before becoming King of the Hawaiian Kingdom was a clerk in the Kingdoms Land Office. (Allen 1994)

Kalakaua’s election was a contentious one. He was running for the second time, this time against the greatly admired Queen Dowager Emma. Her supporters had formed the first political party in Hawai’i, the “Emmaites,” whose motto was “Hawaii for Hawaiians” (Osorio, 2002, p. 162). While Emma was viewed as pro-British due to her English heritage, Kalakaua was seen as more pro-American and pro-business. For this reason he had support in the legislature, and won the election of 1874 by a vote of 39 to 6. There was no popular vote as it was not required by the constitution. Emma’s supporters rioted, storming the courthouse and attacking Hawaiian legislators who had voted for Kalakaua (Osorio, 2002, p. 156). British and American troops from ships in the Honolulu harbor were called on to quell the riot.

As with the previous election, the issue of genealogy was an important one. Emma was descended from Kamehameha’s brother Keliʻimaika’i, and his advisor John Young, which meant she was one-quarter English (Osorio, 2002, p. 152). Kalakaua used the newspapers to show that his genealogy was as exalted as Kamehameha’s – he was not a Kamehameha , but descended from Kekaulike, who was Kamehameha’s ancestor. His great-grandfathers were the “Kona uncles” from Kamehameha’s  wars of unification, Keaweaheulu and Kameʻeiamoku (Osorio, 2002, p. 150). The fact that he was not actually a Kamehameha seemed to work against him, and Kalākaua was an unpopular victor. Thus, his reign began on an auspicious note, and did not cease to be controversial.

King David Kalākaua was married to Kapiolani who was the grand daughter of the high ranking Ali’i nui of Kauai, Kaumuali’i.  Kapi’olani was very concerned with the health and welfare of her Hawaiian people.  She came up with a royal motto during Kalākaua’s reign, she called it “Hoʻoulu Lāhui,” or “Increase the Nation.”  Because of her efforts to rejuvenate the well being of the Hawaiian people Kalākaua decided to dedicate a large parcel of royal land that was found in Waikīkī in her honor, today it is known as Kapi’olani Park.  King Kalākaua and Kapi‘olani’s efforts helped preserve many of the cultural practices Hawaiians have today.  During Kalākauas reign they both dedicated time to practice Hawaiian mele, hula, and many other cultural practices. Which in turn encouraged many other Hawaiian to do the same.  (Allen 1994)

The continued overriding concern during the reign of Kalakaua was the threat of an imperialist takeover. War ships of imperialist countries were nearly always present in Honolulu Harbor. In 1887, Kalākaua wrote of his people:

Within a century they have dwindled from four hundred thousand healthy and happy children of nature, without care and without want, to a little more than a tenth of that number of landless, hopeless victims to the greed and vices of civilization … Year by year their footprints will grow more dim along the sands of their reef-sheltered shores, and fainter and fainter will come their simple songs from the shadows of the palms, until finally their voices will be heard no more for ever (Kalākaua, 1888, 64-65, quoted in Nordyke, 1989, 27).

Kalākaua’s view of Hawaiian population decline is supported by data. The population of full-blooded Hawaiians decreased as a percentage of the total by nearly fifty percent during roughly the period of Kalākaua’s reign, from 86% in 1872 to 38% in 1890 (Schmitt, 1968, 74). In [pure numbers], full-blooded Hawaiians declined from 49,000 to 34,400 over that period (Schmitt, 1968, 74). The population of part-Hawaiians, however, was steadily increasing – from 4.4 to 6.9 percent during the same period. The non-Hawaiian population grew, as a percentage of the total, from 9.4% to 54.9% over the same period of 1872 to 1890 (Schmitt, 1968, 74). The total population grew from nearly 57,000 to 89,000 during this period mainly due to immigration for plantation work (Schmitt, 1968, 70). The first Chinese laborers had arrived in 1852, and the first Japanese laborers in 1868.

By 1880 there were fifty-four sugar plantations covering over 22,000 acres (Maclennan, 1997, 98 – 101). One technology connected to sugar and other agricultural industries was railways. Though the first railroad services were short tracks in 1857 and 1858, the first railroad with passenger service was The Kahului & Wailuku Railroad in 1879. The Oahu Rail and Land Company provided extensive rail service on Oʻahu from 1889 until 1947 (Schmitt, 1995, 64).

These changes were facilitated by the 1876 reciprocity treaty with the US. The reciprocity treaty included a number of stipulations.   mutual free trade, Hawaii not being able to sign similar agreements with others, and Hawaii not being able to sell of lease lands or harbors to others were among the stipulations of the treaty.

According to Kuykendall, the effects of the 1876 reciprocity treaty were as follows:  “In 1875 Hawaii exported twenty-five million pounds of sugar; fifteen years later, the amount was more than two hundred and fifty million pounds…and thereafter [Hawai‘i] doubled its tonnage of sugar shipments every ten years.”

The economic effects of the 1876 reciprocity treaty included increased sugar production, which lead to increased tax revenues and ultimately lead stimulated the overall economy, and increased infrastructure development resulted from the reciprocity treaty.  This treaty also facilitated other government efforts, such as the building of ʻIolani Palace.

The reciprocity treaty affected the environment by diverting water from the windward side to the leeward side.  This, in return, altered windward and leeward environments.  Waiahole ditch, trail, and bridge were built because of the treaty in order to insure steady source of irrigation water at an affordable price allowing for growth of diversified agriculture in Central and Leeward Oahu

Socio-cultural effects were also felt as a result of the reciprocity treaty.  Living subsistence lifestyles became more difficult.  More Hawaiians started working on plantations.  Increased immigration, multi-cultural context, and national pride were also felt.

Political effects were seen after the signing of the reciprocity treaty of 1876.  The treaty restricted sovereign prerogatives.  The signing of this treaty tied Hawai’i to the US.  It increased the power of businessmen and improved Hawai’i’s image abroad.

On his trip to the U.S. he ventured to see President Ulysses S. Grant in order to persuade him and United States Congress to adopt a “Reciprocity Treaty.”  Besides traveling the world he also was a supporter of new technology.  King Kalākaua made plans to build a new palace. In 1881 ‘Iolani Palace opened – it cost nearly three hundred sixty thousand dollars.  The palace eventually was one of the first buildings to have telephones and electric lighting.  (Allen 1994)

The United States was reluctant to renew the reciprocity treaty because US sugar growers were protesting.  The treaty needed a greater incentive: the Pearl Harbor clause.  While sugar growers desperately wanted to renew the reciprocity treaty at any cost  Kalākaua would not include the Pearl Harbor clause.  The sugar grower’s solution was to sign over Pearl Harbor without the king’s approval and make Kalākaua a mere puppet king. While Kalākaua had many strengths, he was also vulnerable. One of Kalākaua’s strengths was that he promoted a vigorous economy. He also promoted the political autonomy and recognition of Hawai‘I and the Hawaiian cultural renaissance. Kalākaua went through a time with a vigorous economy. This included the Reciprocity Treaty of 1876 and the 1881 World trip during which he helped to secure laborers from Portugal and Japan. Kalakaua’s trip around the world took him to San Francisco, Japan, where he met with the emperor and discussed a Pacific confederation, Siam (Thailand), Malaysia, Burma, India, Egypt, where he was inducted into the Egyptian order of freemasons, Naples and Rome in Italy, where he had an audience with the pope, Austria, Portugal, London, New York, Boston, New Bedford, Chicago, Omaha, Ogden, and finally back to San Francisco and Hawai’i. The trip took about nine months. In Portugal and Japan he secured laborers for the sugar plantations.

The position of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s autonomy and reputation benefited from Kalākaua’s efforts. He helped establish diplomatic relations with nations worldwide, including several treaties. He opposed the cession of Pearl Harbor and had built ‘Iolani Palace and Ali‘iolani Hale.  In Hawaiʻi, a Hawaiian cultural renaissance occurred during Kalākaua’s reign. He fostered the preservation of traditions such as hula, mele, hīmeni, mo‘olelo (stories and history), wahi pana (famous places), mo‘okū ‘auhau (genealogies), and lā‘au lapa‘au (medical practices). Kalakaua and Walter Murray Gibson became heavily indebted in Claus Spreckles. Spreckles, who was called “the uncrowned king of Hawai’i,” held more than half the national debt (Zambucka, 1983, 106).

Walter Murray Gibson was accused of being involved in the sale of public offices, exemptions to Hansen’s disease (known then as Leprosy) patients, an opium scandal, and elaborate plans for a Pacific empire. The actions of Kalākaua’s associates sparked questions from his constituents, and led to attacks in the press, but whether these “scandals” ever occurred is debatable. Osorio (2002, p. 184) states that “most of the charges were never proven.”

The Hawaiian League was a secret group of foreigners connected to the sugar industry. Their oath of allegiance included the statement “I do solemnly promise… that I will keep secret the existence and purpose of this League to protect the white community of this Kingdom” (Thurston 1936, 608).

In 1887, numerous “scandals” became public, the Reform Party sent petitions and wrotes letters to the newspaper and the Gibson cabinet resigned. The Hawaiian League said that the resignations were not enough.  Their supporters then wrote, “The King must be prepared to take his own proper place, and to be content to reign without ruling” (Kuykendall 1967, 358). The Hawaiian League called for a “public meeting” where the attendees “unanimously” called for Kalākaua to meet their demands, Kalākaua agreed and on July 1, 1887 he appointed a Reform Party cabinet. With the Honolulu Rifles surrounding the palace area, the Cabinet presented Kalākaua with the Bayonet Constitution.

The Bayonet Constitution stipulated that the Cabinet and Legislature could override the king and Europeans, Americans, and Hawaiians could vote if they met property and income requirements and if they pledged allegiance to the Bayonet Constitution. With the Bayonet Constitution in place, the Reform party cabinet signed the renewed reciprocity treaty with the Pearl Harbor clause. This event came to mar Kalākaua’s reign, which, at seventeen years, was the second-longest of any monarch.

Kalākaua was successful in many of his goals, such as renewing Hawaiian cultural practices and modernizing Hawaiʻi, but whether these goals were compatible remains an open question. The Bayonet constitution appears to have set the stage for the 1893 overthrow. He was visionary, cultivating a new generation of Hawaiian leaders through his study abroad program, but perhaps not as mindful of what was occurring immediately before him. His last words, “Tell my people I tried,” seem to sum up his reign – good intentions and poor results.

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