Tag Archives: Kalakaua

The Queen and They: WikiReVu of Sydney ‘Iaukea’s The Queen and I

In an interview in Honolulu Weekly, Sydney ‘Iaukea noted that there was a double “I” referenced in the title of her dissertation-turned-book on the land deeds of her great-great-grandfather Curtis P. ‘Iaukea and his relationship with Queen Lili’uokalani and other notables of the early twentieth century. And one might say there are two relationships – one between Curtis ʻIaukea and the Queen, and one between herself and her ancestor. Jon Osorio called the book “intensely personal,” and that’s true – I wondered why University of California Press would be interested in the fairly arcane (from a mainstream point of view at least) documents referenced in this text, but I was very glad they were. This book is another goldmine of information from my selfish point of view. [This post will be archived both in Bibliophile and Dizblog] The book is crafted out of thousands of pages of archival documents, including letters and land deeds of ‘Iaukea. In exposing this archive, the younger ‘Iaukea reveals the machinations of land deals in that murky period of the turn of the last century. As I write in my dissertation, most families have stories of the loss of land, but huikau (confusion) exists about exactly how these alienations occured.

It was incredible to read how Sydney [we were next door neighbors in the UH Poli Sci grad-student offices, and thus on a first-name basis] somehow grew up not knowing the real story of her illustrious ancestor’s illustriousness, and I found this unbelievable. That is, until I considered how many students of famous last names have gone through my classes without seeming to know who their ancestors were, or even whether, or how, they were related. Sydney found out – in spades.

Curtis Piehu ‘Iaukea was one of the most respected dignitaries throughout the period of the late Kingdom through the early Territory. He held, according to Sydney, over 40 official posts in these governments, including Colonel in the Hawaiian Kingdom military and Commissioner of Hawaiian Home Lands. Royalists like Niklaus Schweitzer of the UH German Department have lauded and written biographies of the original ‘Iaukea. The name remained famous mid-century, but for quite a different reason: Curtis “the Bull” ‘Iaukea was a noted professional wrestler. In order to make this transition, however, he obviously was a turncoat – but not in the way you’d expect. Sydney shows that his collaboration with the oligarchy post-overthrow was actually sanctioned by then-deposed Queen Lili’uokalani.

Her kupuna spoke to her, but his revelations were scholarly rather than treasure. Sydney openly writes of looking for her inheritance and not finding it. She also, without quite naming names, describes how relatives have financially gained from Curtis ‘Iaukea’s lands to the exclusion of other branches of the family, including hers. In doing so, she documents an “insanity” which she claims “runs through [her] family” – and indeed, is not exclusive to it (ʻIaukea, 2012, 1). Land disputes between and among Hawaiian families are common enough that the findings of this book are generalizable.

Sydney Lehua ʻIaukea

Curtis ‘Iaukea’s records also reveal new methods of hiding and taking lands that add to the slowly growing scholarship on this central question. Although well known to those of us immersed in the field of Hawaiian legal history, ʻIaukea shows, more effectively than any author to date, that the Crown lands – the monarch’s private lands – were just that: private. In doing so, she undermines a century of discourse that elides the distinction between the Hawaiian Kingdom government lands (public) and the Crown lands (private). And she does so using previously unpublished papers relating to the case Liliʻuokalani v. United States, in which the Queen sued for compensation for the seizure of said lands.

Sydney ʻIaukea also documents the debate over the formation of the Hawaiian Home Lands program, a perfect example of strange bedfellows in which both Curtis “iaukea and annexationist Lorrin Thurston opposed the plan, but for completely opposite reasons. She also connects land and identity, rather boldly stating that one should not confuse her blond hair for a lack of Hawaiian ancestry, she is Hawaiian “enough.” ‘Iaukea’s book shows that Jackson Browne was right: the personal is the political – and it thus applies to us all.


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Book Review by Makana Risser Chai of Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure

As the author of a book on the history of Hawaiian traditions published by the Bishop Museum, I appreciate a mainland journalist and publisher taking interest in our history. Perhaps their hearts were in the right place, but this book fails on many levels. It contains numerous errors, both major and “minor.” Human sacrifices were not made to the goddess Pele (p. xix), and ancient Hawaiians did not have a tradition of bodies lying in state for weeks (21). In recounting the riots after Kalakaua got elected, the author says that the people in the streets rioted against the Legislature which had elected him in “effectively a race riot,” implying that the legislators were all haole, but she never talks about the racial makeup of the Legislature. In fact, almost 3/4 of the legislators were Hawaiian. Yes, Kalakaua was preferred by Americans but also by Hawaiians in the Leg. If anything it was more of a class riot than a race one.

More important, this book fails the most critical duty of a history book, which is to place events in context. It fails to do this in two, opposite, ways. First, because the book jumps into the middle of history, it does not explain Hawaiian tradition before white contact. In perhaps an effort to bring that tradition into the narrative, the author makes it sound like the modern Hawaiian kings and queens descended from barbarians and continued to be “uncivilized.” One paragraph (31) begins by describing the wood-framed home of King Kamehameha IV and his wife, Emma, and ends noting that they wore the latest fashions from London. But squeezed between those thoughts the author notes, “In earlier decades, the royal family’s informal manner of dress and deportment–often barefoot, with the king wearing a traditional malo, or loincloth, and the queen wearing only a tapa, a bark cloth skirt–startled some Western visitors.” The way this sentence is placed seems to imply that Kamehameha IV and Emma were wearing malo and tapa. There is no evidence they ever had worn traditional garb, and in fact, it had been over 60 years since any king had worn a malo, at least in front of Western visitors.

There are other examples of referring back to Hawaiian’s distant past that constantly reinforce the fiction that these people were primitive. In commenting on an oft-quoted newspaper report that Lili`u danced the waltz as if she was in love with her every partner, the author speculates, “Perhaps she had simply harnessed the sensuality that hula dancers knew.” Did hula dancers know sensuality? That is not in the book, but seems rather to be a Western fantasy. Even if it is true, had Lili’u ever seen a sensual hula performed? Everything in the book up to this point is about her upright Christian upbringing.

On the opposite end, context is almost completely ignored when talking about the role of the United States in the overthrow. Alexander Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, whose imperial visions drove American interest in Hawai`i, are mentioned on two pages, rather than being made the central figures they were. The Spanish-American War is similarly virtually ignored. Never mentioned is the fact that within a 6 month period, the U.S. had invaded Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, and annexed Hawai`i.

The author gives two sentences to the petitions against annexation sent by tens of thousands of Hawaiians. She makes no mention that as a result of this and other opposition, the treaty of annexation was defeated on February 27, 1898, when only 46 senators voted in favor. She states (284), “a joint resolution on annexation passed Congress with a simple majority,” without noting that annexation, under the U. S. Constitution, cannot take place by resolution. It was a procedural move by Republicans who could not get the two-thirds majority they needed for a treaty.

The worst failing of this book is that it makes the fascinating history of Hawai`i a dry, boring read. If you want to read an accurate, entertaining introduction to this particular part of Hawaiian history, I highly recommend Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes. If you want to go deeper, Tom Coffman’s book Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawaii is excellent, as well as Noenoe Silva’s Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism (a John Hope Franklin Center Book). There is not, to date, a really good book on the overall history of Hawai`i. Another reviewer recommended Michener’s Hawaii as a better history. Newsflash: it’s a novel.

Makana Risser Chai

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Hawaiian History at the Movies

In recent years two major feature films related, at least tangentially, to Hawaiian history have come out: Princess Kaʻiulani and The Descendants. In this article I examine the historical veracity of the two films, and the ways in which they deploy Hawaiian stereotypes to satiate “Western” appetites for guilt-free viewing.  The producers of Princess Kaʻiulani, categorized as a “Historical romance,” originally cast a student of mine (Hawaiian, but with no acting experience) as the Princess, but after at least two changes, landed on Q’orianka Kilcher, a one-time resident of Ewa Beach, and known for her portrayal of Pocahontas in The New World. As most in Hawai’i already know, the film premiered at the Hawai’i International Film Festival with the title Barbarian Princess, a reference to a New York Times description of her before meeting her. The famous local radio (and bizarrely un-local right wing) personality Michael W. Perry got to disabuse the audience of the notion, by proclaiming her “not even a semi- hemi- demi-barbarian!” Hawaiian groups protested vociferously against the title, and rightly so, as the irony would be lost on many audiences, and merely insulting to Hawaiian ones. As Arnie Saiki commented: “Forby’s defense of the [title] Barbarian Princess was … pathetic. His arrogance was incredulous, defending the title, explaining its artistic merits as if the audience somehow just didn’t get the irony.” Finally, before wide release, the title was changed to Princess Kaiulani, alternately with and without the ‘okina (glottal stop) in her name.

The film plays very loose with the history, and at times portrays precisely the opposite of what happened. Much of the history is seen second-hand through letters to Kaʻiulani and through flashbacks. In one scene, sheʻs told by her father Archibald Cleghorn of Robert Wilcoxʻs rebellion (Wilcox is not mentioned) after the overthrow, and of how it was “a massacre.” In truth, one person on each side was killed – hardly a situation that would evoke pity for Kaʻiulaniʻs people, but one that shows the extent of Hawaiian resistance. In the climax, Kaʻiulani hosts a dinner for the American delegation, which is surveying its new acquisition with the intention of crafting laws for its administration. The filmic Kaʻiulani uses the opportunity to press for native voting. The real Kaʻiulani pressed to undo annexation – quite a different matter. The collaborationist bent of the film is seen in its portrayal of Sanford Dole, who plays the ever-present sympathetic white (in the film of Michener’s Hawaii, it was Julie Andrews). In reality he was complex, but not sympathetic. I’ve read his papers in the archives, including one that showed dark, black Xs over the names of men involved in Wilcox’s 1895 rebellion, presumably written as each was captured. This is no guilt-ridden haole.

The Descendants makes no real attempt to be historically accurate, yet contains many historical fragments. George Clooney’s “Matt King” (the pun is, I believe, intended) is a descendant of a princess clearly based on Bernice Pauahi Bishop (who had no children), who married her banker named “King” (Charles Reed Bishop). While attempting to smash stereotypes of paradise (“F*uck paradise!” he proclaims right at the start), Matt is the trustee for thousands of acres of “virgin land” (no stereotype there) inherited from the Princess. The family has seven years to sell the property and break up the trust. This is based on at least two local families, including the Campbell Estate, forced to sell and take the money, which makes them all incredibly rich, as Matt King glibly notes. Abigail Kawananakoa is claimed to have been “forced” to pocket over $200 million in such an arrangement. Hawaiʻi’s private schools are amply represented here. Filming took place, or was meant to represent, Kamehameha, Mid-Pacific, and Hawaiʻi Prep, and of course, the President’s alma mater.

There the similarities with history end. While one review in the Honolulu Weekly raved over the film’s authenticity, this is not my Hawai’i. The audience at Kahala Theatre oohed and aahed because many scenes were literally filmed yards from the theatreʻs walls. I thought most part-Hawaiian families were like mine, with the cousins who look haole, the Chinese-looking cousins and the Hawaiian-looking ones. But the King family apparently hasn’t married any Hawaiians – or locals – since the time of the Princess herself. The film’s shifts between grim brooding and gallows humor were also very un-local (if that’s a word).

What the two films have in common, and which is their weakness, is their perpetual outsider view, which attempts to placate their voyeuristic audiences. They are failed attempts to reckon with the trauma of Hawaiian loss – of land, of sovereignty and dignity. By casting non-Hawaiians in lead roles, the films almost assure this. I and others had guarded, but high hopes for both these films before their release, but with disappointment we still wait for our Whale Rider.


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What is Sovereignty?

Many people read my blog post on the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, so I thought Iʻd follow up with a piece on sovereignty. It is descriptive rather than advocacy. Hawaiians and Indigenous peoples have more than one definition of sovereignty. The concept of inherent sovereignty is not clearly elucidated, but essentially refers to the baseline status of being a defined people – a nation. Some ascribe a spiritual dimension to sovereignty. I donʻt deny any of those claims, but I wrote this short piece for my students, and confine myself to the legalistic definition(s) of sovereignty.

Sovereignty is a status that a state achieves under international law that means “no higher authority except God.” It is a European term that eventually became the central operating principle of the international system of nation-states, or “independent states.” The system began in Europe with the treaty of Westphalia in1648. The small, feudal states of what is now Germany were constantly at war with one another, often using “pre-emptive strikes,” or attacks without provocation, to gain security by making sure that their rival would not strike first. This state of affairs was very brutal and the states agreed to create a system that allowed for the respect of each stateÿs sovereignty. Over the centuries more and more states joined this loose system of co-equal (legally, but not necessarily militarily equal) sovereigns.

Originally the term sovereign referred to the King or monarch of a state, who literally embodied the stateÿs sovereignty, that is, their actual physical body represented the sovereign status of the state that they governed. As changes such as the Magna Carta, and the French and American revolutions brought new forms of government, such as constitutional monarchy and republics, the concept of sovereignty remained.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines sovereignty this way:

The supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which any independent state is govern; supreme political authority; paramount control of the constitution and frame of government and its administration; self sufficient source of political power, from which all specific political powers are derived; the international independence of a state, combined with the right and power of regulating its internal affairs without foreign dictation; also a political society, or state, which is sovereign and independent.

Black’s Law Dictionary 4th Edition (1951) page 1568.

Sovereignty vs. Government

While sovereignty is a status that a nation achieves under international law, government is the “organ” that exercises the stateÿs sovereignty. In other words, while sovereignty is the concept or idea that a nation is independent, its government is the body that can act on this sovereign status. Thus, while governments can be overthrown, sovereignty does not necessarily cease when this happens.

The International system

Because there was no authority higher than a sovereign state, the system was based on recognition by other sovereign, or independent states. This system came to be called the “Family of Nations,” which is the international system still in place today. Organizations such as the United Nations, or the older League of Nations, are international organizations — they are not world governments, but consist of states that are recognized within this system.

International law is the law that applies to sovereign states. More precisely, it is the law that exists between (rather than within) these states. Thus, only states, not individuals or groups of people, are subjects of international law.

International law provides some protection to states within the system. These include the duty of non-intervention, which prohibits states from intervening in each otherÿs internal affairs.

This is the system and the protections that Kauikeaouli understood and sought to gain entry into in 1843, and is the basis of the undisputed claim that Hawaii was a fully sovereign state in the nineteenth century.

While Native American tribal nations are called sovereign, based on their independence from the US federal government in the eighteenth century, these entities are not part of the international system. From an international legal perspective, they are semi-autonomous entities within the sovereign United States of America. These nations do not have representatives in the United Nations because of this.

The “Akaka Bill,” or Native Hawaiian Governmental Reorganization Act of 1999 – 2006, was an attempt to gain a similar semi-autonomous status within the US Federal system, and not an attempt to achieve sovereignty in the international system.

Senator Daniel Akaka, author of the Akaka Bill


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The Overthrow

One hundred and nineteen years ago, the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown. Queen Lili‘uokalani began her reign on Jan 29. 1891. Concerns at the start of her reign included the Bayonet Constitution, internal political struggles and the McKinley Tariff. When Lili‘uokalani ascended the throne, she was forced to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Bayonet Constitution. This meant that the monarch was unable to accomplish any act without the cabinet’s or the legislature’s approval. The monarch’s greatest power was the ability to appoint cabinet members.

Queen Lili’uokalani

But internal political dissention made it difficult for Lili‘uokalani to select and keep an ideal cabinet. As the queen put it in her 1897 book Hawaiiʻs Story, “The legislature, instead of creating legislation to benefit the people, spent its time in the making and unmaking of cabinets.” The parties involved included the Reform Party, the National Reform Party, and the Liberal Party

The Reform party was also known as the downtown party, or the missionary party. It consisted of sugar businessmen. A key figure was Lorrin Thurston, whose agenda was to maintain control of the government and achieve annexation to the US.

The key figure in the National reform party was the new Queen, Lydia Kamaka‘eha Lili‘uokalani. Her agenda was to maintain Hawaiian independence, change the constitution, and to govern via careful and irreproachable means, so as not to provide the foreign presence in Hawai‘i any justification for calling for assistance from their home countries, which could lead to an overthrow.

Finally, the Liberal party’s key figure was Robert Kalanihiapo Wilcox, one of the young Hawaiians educated in Italy under the guardianship of Celso Cesar Moreno. His agenda was to maintain Hawaiian independence by not acknowledging the validity of the Bayonet Constitution. Further, he planned to take back control of government through more “liberal” means. This group, which included anti-annexation activist Joseph Nawahï, eventually advocated a Native Hawaiian-controlled republic.

The queen consulted with the anti-annexation political party Hui Kalaʻāina to ask the members of the group to draft a new constitution.  Lili’uokalani told the group to hold on to the document until further notice.  After Lili’uokalaniʻs alliance between the Reform Party and Wilcox’s Liberal Party, she decided it was time for a new cabinet.  The Queen wanted to restore some measure of native rule that was lost in the Bayonet Constitution.

US Marines in Hawai’i, January 1893

As Queen Lili‘uokalani was about to promulgate a new constitution (to replace the “Bayonet Constitution” forced on her brother King Kalakaua in 1887, which gave foreigners the right to vote), non-Hawaiian business leaders, most connected with the sugar industry, overthrew the Queen with the aid of US Marines. On January 16th, 1893, the day that Queen Lili‘u was to instate a new constitution, John L. Stevens had the sailors and marines of the USS Boston land at Honolulu harbor and take up quarters in the yard of Arion Hall, in direct view of ʻIolani palace. The Marines acted at the request of Stevens, US Minister to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, but without the knowledge or authorization of Congress or the President.

Lorrin Thurston

The next day, January 17th 1893, the conspirators read a proclamation declaring that the “Hawaiian monarchical system of government is hereby abrogated,” at the back door of Aliʻiolani Hale, the government building. Henry Cooper read this proclamation to “no one in particular” according to Tom Coffman– there was no crowd present to hear the proclamation. The oligarchy proclaimed itself a provisional government, elected Sanford B. Dole President, and Stevens immediately recognized this government as the “de facto government of the Hawaiian Islands.” De facto  means “in fact” as opposed to de jure, meaning “in law.”

Lili’uokalani’s statement read:

I, Liliʻuokalani, by the grace of God and under the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional government of the Hawaiian kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional government of and for this kingdom.

That I yield to the superior force of the United States of America, whose Minister Plenipotentiary, his Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu, and declared that he would support the said Provisional Government.

Now to avoid and collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss f life, I do, under this protest and impelled by the said forces yield my authority until such time as the government of the United States shall, upon the facts presented to it, undo the acts of its representative, and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

Liliʻuokalani yielded, as Kamehameha III had fifty years earlier, under protest to “the superior force of the United States of America, until such time as the Government of the United States should undo the action of its representatives.” The provisional government then proceeded to lobby the US Congress to annex Hawaii. Their aim was to become a territory, thereby avoiding foreign tariffs on sugar. In March 1893 Grover Cleveland replaced Harrison as President, and withdrew the treaty of annexation from the Senate.

President Cleveland opposed the annexation of Hawai‘i and the overthrow. Cleveland sent Senator James Blount to investigate the events of 1893. Blount was flooded with testimonies from numerous parties; the largest majority of whom were Hawaiians.

The Provisional Government wined and dined Blount, because he was the one who could justify their actions. Blount did not meet a single annexationist willing to put the question of annexation to a vote of the people. After collecting weeks of testimony from both sides of the issue, Blount produced one of the most scathing critiques of US foreign policy in American history. Blount’s 1400-page document recommended that the Provisional Government step down, and that Lili‘uokalani be restored to her rightful position as the monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

On the basis of this report Cleveland pushed for reinstatement of Queen Lili‘uokalani. In his address to Congress, Cleveland stated: “In an act of war a friendly and confiding people has been overthrown, a substantial wrong has thus been done which we should endeavor to repair.” Congress, however, was mainly pro-annexation, and this led to a standoff for the next five years between Congress and the President over the issue of annexing Hawai’i. The Blount report was excerpted in newspapers across the United States, striking up a national debate over imperialism. Cleveland’s message to Congress strongly advised restoring the throne and government to Lili’uokalani.

Meanwhile passage of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff in 1894 repealed the McKinley Tariff, and replaced Hawai‘i sugar growers in the privileged competitive position with regard to US sugar sales.In Cleveland’s message to Congress he stated: “By an act of war, the government of a friendly and confiding people has thus been overthrown. A substantial wrong has been done that we should endeavor to repair.” President Cleveland was accused by some of restoring monarchy and “stamping out republicanism,” an ironic move for an American President. Others in the US supported Cleveland’s position.

In response to Clevelandʻs recommendation to Congress, however, the Provisional Government, on July 4, 1894, declared itself to be the Republic of Hawaii, claiming that the US had no right to interfere in its domestic affairs. According to Noenoe Silva, the Republic of Hawai’i was created in 1894 by “about 4000 men, most of foreign birth, [who] signed the oath and voted in the election.” Hawaiians protested to the US and other countries over this process, claiming that “confident in the honesty and impartiality of America, [had] patiently and peacefully submitted to the insults and tyranny of the Provisional Government.”

When the Republic of Hawai’i planned to proclaim itself on July 4, 1894 – a date meant to signify a transition from monarchy to republican government – Hawaiians were “outraged” (Silva, 2004, 137). On July 2, between 5000 and 7000 people rallied at Palace square to protest the formation of the Republic. This rally was never reported in any of the standard history books. In January 1895, Robert Wilcox planned a second “counter-revolution,” this time against the Republic of Hawaii. The plan was discovered, and the counter-revolutionaries were chased through the mountains behind Honolulu. A soldier on each side was killed. Two hundred were captured and tried for treason against the Republic.

Capitano Robert Wilcox

Some of the captured counter-revolutionaries were sentenced to death. These death sentences were used as a threat by the Republic to persuade Liliʻuokalani to abdicate, or surrender, her position as queen (as opposed to head of state). US officials sent a message to the Republic that no executions should occur, but the Republic allowed Liliʻuokalani to continue to believe that the executions would still be carried out, and under this impression she abdicated her throne. Lili’uokalani was arrested for “misprision of treason” – an antiquated, or out-of-date charge that meant knowledge of treason. She was imprisoned in ʻIolani palace for eight months. She was pardoned in 1896, and immediately traveled to the US to lobby against the annexation treaty. In Washington, Lili‘uokalani lodged a formal protest with the US State Department.

The Provisional Government declared itself an American protectorate after eight days.  According to a statement of Hawaiian Patriotic League: “But eight days had not elapsed before the loyalty, fidelity and patriotism of the incongruous, discordant crowd, who supported the provisional government manifested itself by dissensions running riot, to such a point that the only manner of saving the new order was to implore Mr. Stevens for a declaration of American protectorate.”

The United States sent out diplomatic statements, which, as historian Ralph Kuykendall notes, notified other countries that the US considered Hawai‘I as in its sphere of influence, and that “it would patrol the orchard.” Five years after the overthrow, with a new president in office, the US again attempted annexation, but in a way that was doubly illegal, and as I will argue in a future column, very unlikely.

President William McKinley


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