Kalākaua: The Day of War

#174 in the Moʻolelo series

In Honolulu stands the only Royal Palace in the United States. ʻIolani Palace, which was built by King David Kalākaua in 1882, remains a symbol of the Hawaiian nation today  for many Hawaiians. David  La’amea Kaläkaua was born on November 16, 1836 near Puowaina, which today we call punchbowl.  The name Kaläkaua meant “the day of battle.” He was the son of Chief Caesar Kapa’akea and Chiefess Anale’a Keohokälole but was the hänai son of High Chiefess Ha’aheo who was the governor of Maui. He was not of the Kamehameha line, but decended from Keawaaheulu, 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 Kaläkaua started military training and by the age of 16 he was commissioned as a captain in the Hawaiian Army.  After this Kaläkaua 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 partly due to her English heritage, Kalākaua 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. 

Dowager Queen Emma Kaleleonālani

As with the previous election, the issue of genealogy was an important one. Emma was descended from Kamehameha’s brother Keliʻimaikaʻi, and his advisor John Young, which meant she was one-quarter English (Osorio, 2002, 152). Kalakaua used the newspapers to show that his genealogy was as exalted as Kamehamehaʻs – he was not a Kamehameha , but descended from Kekaulike, who was Kamehamehaʻs ancestor. His great-grandfathers were the “Kona uncles” from Kamehamehaʻs  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 Kaläkaua 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 granddaughter 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 Kaläkaua’s reign, she called it “Ho’ülu Lähui,” or “Increase the Nation.”  Because of her efforts to rejuvenate the well being of the Hawaiian people Kaläkaua decided to dedicate a large parcel of royal land that was found in Waikïkï in her honor, today it is known as Kapi’olani Park.  King Kaläkaua and Kapi‘olaniÿs 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).

Kalākaua hired Henri Berger as Bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band, initiating a classic period in Hawaiian music

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, 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 absolute terms, 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.

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