|Fig.1: If only Liliuokalani had a hula-dancer|
tattooed on her arm, which she could make
dance by flexing her bulging muscles.
The future queen was born in 1838 and named Lydia Lili'u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka'eha, which makes me feel grateful for the shortened twelve-letter version we use now. She was named by King Kamehameha's sister who was suffering from an eye infection and obviously had nothing else on her mind at the time, since "Lili'u Loloku Walania" means "smarting, tearful, burning pain" (there's one than one way to scar a child, I suppose). Hawaiians liked to practice informal adoption during this time, and Lydia (as she was called before her reign, to the saving grace of my typing fingers) was given to the family of Chieftain Abner Pākī, who had no children of his own. As a result of Pākī's position as King Kamehameha's top adviser, Lydia grew up around the Hawaiian royal family and received the best education (alongside the best views of the ocean, of course). Her prestige only increased when her biological family also became influential among the ruling elite. Must be nice to have not one, but two sets of rich parents.
|Fig.2: Even Maury couldn't figure out which country's|
flag was the father of Hawaii's, which is still
awkwardly in use today.
This all culminated in 1887, when powerful American businessmen forced King Kalākaua to sign the Bayonet Constitution, so called because Kalākaua felt something pointy on his neck until he signed it. The document reduced the monarch to a figurehead and gave the legislature, which was filled with all the whities you can handle, increased governing power. It also increased the property threshold for voting to $3,000 per year ($80,000 today), preventing two-thirds of the Native Hawaiian population from choosing their own representatives in the legislature; this ensured that those Richie Rich Americans, not the Pee-Wees of the islands, continued to dominate the Hawaiian government. Lydia was on vacation in Europe at the time (yes, Hawaiians go elsewhere to get away from it all), but she hurried back to protest the constitution once she learned of its details. By this point, she had been named heir to the throne by her reigning brother and renamed Lili'uokalani, which emphasized the fact she was a member of the royal family more than some old lady's eye problems. Many Hawaiians wanted Lili'uokalani to take over and restore the old constitution, and a rebellion in 1889 nearly allowed for that to happen until a white volunteer military company threw dynamite at them until they surrendered (obviously, the rebellion was led by Wile E. Coyote).
|Fig.3: Sanford Dole's beard was so famous,|
a species of white Spanish Moss used to make
leis is still nicknamed after it today. No joke.
On January 17, 1893, violence broke out in the capital of Honolulu when a Hawaiian policeman was shot after attempting to halt pro-American paramilitaries from amassing weapons. This triggered a coup as 1,500 paramilitaries surrounded Lili'uokalani's palace, ruining her leg day. Hawaii's Royal Guards, as well as other able-bodied Hawaiians, were ready and willing to defend their queen, but they couldn't help but be distracted by something else going on near the shore. It was the USS Boston, an American naval cruiser with two 8-inch caliber Mark 1 guns, six 6-inch 30 caliber Mark 2 guns, two 6-pounder guns, four 3- and 1-pounder Hotchkiss revolving cannon, and two .45 caliber Gatling guns (don't know what any of that means, but it sounds scary to me!). The U.S. Navy also ordered 162 well-armed sailors to come ashore during the coup (fig.4); while they did not directly participate, their mere presence scared off many Hawaiian defenders like a cough at a hypochondriacs' meeting. Queen Lili'uokalani could have ordered her men to defend the kingdom at all costs, but she knew it would only lead to the deaths of hundreds. Instead, she signed a statement temporarily relinquishing her throne until the situation cooled down, but elaborated on how she did not like what was happening, not one bit.
|Fig.4: U.S. sailors standing around during the overthrow of the Hawaiian |
Kingdom, looking all menacingly with upright posture and knee-high boots.
Things only got worse for the deposed queen in January 1895, when a rebellion by Native Hawaiians to restore the monarchy ended quicker than a food fight at an underfunded soup kitchen. It is unknown if Lili'uokalani ordered, or even knew about the rebellion, but the Hawaiian government quickly put the blame on her. She was arrested, tried in her former throne room, and sentenced to five years in a hard-labor prison (where her already toned arms could gain even more bulk). This was nothing compared to her captured supporters, many of whom were scheduled to be hanged once winter ended and the temperature finally went higher than 70°F (I hate Hawaii). Once again, Lili'uokalani made a sacrificial decision: since she did not permanently abdicate after the coup two years previously, she agreed to do so in return for commuted sentences for the men who fought to return her throne. Defending her decision to sign her oath of abdication, she said:
For myself, I would have chosen death rather than to have signed it; but it was represented to me that by my signing this paper all the persons who had been arrested, all my people now in trouble by reason of their love and loyalty towards me, would be immediately released. Think of my position: sick, a lone woman in prison, scarcely knowing who was my friend, or who listened to my words only to betray me, without legal advice or friendly counsel, and the stream of blood ready to flow unless it was stayed by my pen.
|Fig.5: Lili'iokalani refused to attend the official U.S.|
annexation ceremony in front of her former palace,
choosing to Gym Tan Laundry all day instead.
Now Lili'uokalani could have just wasted away her post-royal life by living in exile and making terrible endorsement deals (I'm looking at you, Madagascar's Ranavalona III!). However, the former queen decided she could still be useful to her native land even without wearing a sparkly tiara. Lili'uokalani wanted to protect the Hawaiian culture against the Americanization of the islands, and preserved many poems, songs, and chants so that future generations of Hawaiians could entertain tourists at the resorts. She even composed her own music, including "Aloha 'Oe", which has been played over every establishing shot of Hawaii in every movie or television show ever. Lili'uokalani also fought to preserve the native flora from increased settlement and industry, and gave to the city of Honolulu land for a botanical garden that still bears her name (much to the dismay of the guy who had to spell that on the sign). Her longest lasting legacy is the Lili'uokalani Trust, an organization she established in 1909 to care for poor and orphaned children throughout Hawaii, which remains active today. When she died in 1917 of a stroke (or from missing lifting so much in her advanced years), the majority of her remaining wealth was donated to the trust. Compare that to Sanford Dole's family, who took advantage of the annexation to establish a well-known food conglomerate that exploited Hawaiian workers, has an iffy record of food safety, and encourages people to get lost in a pineapple-shaped maze. Colonialism really is the worst.
|Fig.6: Lili'uokalani's modern admirers|
often dress her statue in Hawaiian
garb and leave Hawaiian fruit at her
feet, which the real Queen would
probably trade in for a work-out
tee and a protein shake.
Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure, by Julia Flynn Siler
Published: 2012; Hardcover: 415 pages
Canned Rating: 4 out of 5 Cans of Dole Pineapple Chunks