Thursday, April 27, 2017

Queen Lili'uokalani

Fig.1: If only Liliuokalani had a hula-dancer
tattooed on her arm, which she could make
dance by flexing her bulging muscles.

Hawaiian names are always fun to pronounce, and extremely useful when naming Dragonball attacks (just ask King Kamehameha). The best name in my opinion is Lili'uokalani. Granted, she's more than just a name: she remains one of the most revered leaders in the islands' history to this day, over a century after her reign. She became Queen of Hawaii in 1891, and though she was its last monarch before its takeover by the United States, her short reign and its aftermath proves that she was a woman with determination, tenacity, and rock-hard biceps (fig.1). Her contributions to the Hawaiian Islands beyond the realm of politics make her a focal point of the people's culture and national identity. Plus, she was as sweet as the sugar that caused the exploitation of her kingdom in the first place. (Is that irony? I don't think anyone knows what irony really is anymore.)

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.
Things might have been looking up once Lydia's brother, Kalākaua, became king in 1874. However, the independent Kingdom of Hawaii was suffering from an infestation of which much of the known world had already succumbed: white people. Emissaries from the United Kingdom, the United States, and France had been so influential in Hawaii throughout the 19th century that its flag was basically a deformed love child of the three (fig.2). The navies of those nations would periodically show up, demand sovereignty over the islands, relax for a while with a fruity drink, and go on their merry way. Many people from the U.S. also decided to settle in Hawaii as early as 1820, including missionaries, businessmen, and people who decided not to leave after winning an all-expenses-paid trip on The Price is Right (hosted by Bob Barker like the good ol' days, of course). Lydia even married a settler named John Dominis from beautiful-but-not-nearly-as-beautiful-as-Hawaii Schenectady, New York! Within a few decades, Americans cornered the market on Hawaii's main exports of sugar, fruit, and apostrophes, and they started to feel like they ran the place, royalties aside.

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.
When Kalākaua died in 1891, Lili'uokalani became the first reigning queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii. She flexed her muscles (figuratively, but literally was not out of the question for her) by immediately calling for a new constitution that restored the rights of the Hawaiian people to govern themselves, a move celebrated by the native inhabitants and condemned by the mustached-megalomaniacs in the legislature. Opposition to Lili'uokalani was led by Sanford B. Dole (fig.3), an American born in Hawaii who wished to see his home country's involvement on the islands grow larger than his beard. With Congress's passage of a new tariff that made foreign products 50% more expensive to sell in the United States, Dole and other American businessmen wanted Hawaii to officially become part of the U.S. to get around this tax and make more money. Lili'uokalani was having none of this, and effectively stymied all attempts by the legislature to increase American involvement in her territory (I'm sure many countries in Latin America and the Middle East would like to ask how she did that). She also toured all the islands of Hawaii in order to rally support for her agenda, successfully pumping up the crowds with speeches, break dancing, and t-shirt cannons. Finally in 1893, Lili'uokalani revealed a draft of a new constitution which restored power to the monarchy, removed property requirements for voting, limited citizenship rights for non-Hawaiians, and established pig-roasts on every other Wednesday. As sweet as that last thing was, Dole and friends strongly opposed the new constitution, and plotted how to roast Lili'uokalani off the throne.

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.

Luckily Lili'uokalani had support from high places. Just months after the coup, Grover Cleveland started his second non-consecutive term as President of the United States. (His return to the White House after four years is the reason his chubby face usually appears twice on lists of Presidents, though some believe his evil twin was the one who actually won the Election of 1892. You'll have to be patient and wait until President's Day 2036 to read my history of that.) Cleveland argued that Lili'uokalani was illegally overthrown, and that the U.S. should not have interfered during the coup by landing their scary sailors from their big scary boat. He ordered Dole to restore the Queen to her throne (which he refused to do), and suggested that Lili'uokalani pardon those responsible for the overthrow (which she refused to do). Reportedly, she said that Dole and company should be beheaded; while this was a bit vengeful and out of character for Lili'uokalani, I'm sure your temper would get the better of you if you were forced to give up your title as queen (I know I was upset when I was replaced with another Paladin in my D&D group). Nevertheless, the U.S. Senate did their own investigation that disagreed with President Cleveland, claiming that the coup and the landing of troops was necessary to protect U.S. citizens and, more importantly, their property of millions of dollars worth of sugar and pineapples. Cleveland backed down, and an independent Republic of Hawaii, with Sanford Dole as its President, was recognized as a protectorate of the U.S. on July 4, 1894. No amount of sparkly fireworks could have cheered Lili'uokalani up that day.

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.
Can't say I would have responded better (or as coherently) in her position. For her abdication, Lili'uokalani's sentence was changed to house imprisonment in her former palace, which doesn't sound as bad until I tell you she was only allowed to stay in her bedroom (no TV or anything). Eventually she would be pardoned and to traveled to the United States to visit exotic cites like San Francisco, Boston, Washington, and Salt Lake City (how Hawaii could ever compare to the beauty of Utah is beyond me). All hope of returning to the throne ended in 1898 when Hawaii was annexed and officially became a U.S. territory, despite nearly 40,000 signatures from Native Hawaiians who preferred the rule of their queen over the string of fat, white Presidents the U.S. kept electing near the turn of the century. The federal government of the U.S. also took over the approximately 2 million acres of "crown lands" owned by the monarchy, using them to build pointless facilities like naval bases, airports, and schools. Lili'uokalani tried suing the U.S. for their return, but by this point she was used to losing battles against the Stars and Stripes (the Germans would know how she felt later on in the 20th century).

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.

Yes, Hawaii would graduate from a U.S. Territory to become the nation's 50th state in 1959, complete with federal funding, Congressional representatives, and all the bacon cheeseburgers their arteries can handle. Nevertheless, Native Hawaiians have not forgotten their past, nor the leaders that stuck up for them amid overwhelming adversity. Lili'uokalani remains a celebrated figure in Hawaii today, and a popular statue of her (fig.6) stands on the grounds of the State Capitol in Honolulu (never mind how she opposed the existence of the government that meets in that building). Her music and poetry are still recited in schools, her Trust is still caring for disadvantaged Hawaiian children, and her palace still stands, with tours on Monday through Saturday from 9am to 4pm (discounts for groups of ten or more!). Despite the annexation of Hawaii taking place over a century ago, there is still a Hawaiian sovereignty movement that demands independence for the islands from the United States, and uses Lili'uokalani's memoirs as their proof and inspiration for their cause. Yes, she may not have been as powerful as Kamehameha, as successful as Dole, or as jacked as Schwarzenegger, but her contributions to Hawaii will ensure her legacy will live on in her former kingdom. At least until the big eruption covers all the islands in lava. Come eat the pupu while you still can!

If you're interested in learning more about Queen Lili'uokalani and the fall of the Hawaiian Kingdom, check out this Canned Historian approved book that was used to conduct more research on this topic:

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

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