Queen Lili‘uokalani resting on her throne.
Queen Lili‘uokalani on her throne.

The Life of Lili‘uokalani, Queen of Hawai‘i


Queen Lili‘uokalani, crowned in 1891, fought for the rights of Hawaiians and the preservation of Hawaiian culture. During her reign, Lili‘uokalani routinely defied the American businessmen who tried to strip the islands of their sovereignty and culture.

Lili‘uokalani, born Lydia Kamakaeha in 1838, took to music from a young age, writing over 150 songs in her lifetime. Her most recognizable work “Aloha Oe (Farewell To Thee)” is a cultural touchstone of Hawaiian music.

Lili‘uokalani’s brother, David Kalākaua, became king in 1874 and named her heir apparent a few years later. Lili‘uokalani grew concerned over the presence of seedy businessmen in her brother’s cabinet.

Kalākaua, under pressure from white American businessmen and their armed militia, signed the bayonet constitution—which stripped all Hawaiians who did not own land of their right to vote and greatly diminished the power of the monarchy.

American interference has brought devastation to Hawai‘i since the arrival of Christian missionaries in 1820 and the subsequent flood of foreign traders—who introduced decimating diseases to the native population. Lili‘uokalani raised funds for the creation of Queen’s Hospital in 1860 to fight the lasting effects of smallpox and flu.

After her brother’s abrupt death in 1891, Lili‘uokalani assumed the throne and became the first and only woman to rule Hawai‘i.

Lili‘uokalani attempted to replace the bayonet constitution but failed. Backed by the United States government, American businessman Sanford Dole staged a coup and Lili‘uokalani, looking to prevent violence, conceded.

Sanford Dole’s family founded the Dole Food Company in Hawai‘i. The Dole’s were a part of a long legacy of American families that controlled the Hawaiian economy through sugar-based businesses, since the arrival of the first missionaries in 1820.

Dole named himself ruler of Hawai‘i. After an unsuccessful insurrection by the Hawaiian people to restore her power, Queen Lili‘uokalani was placed under house arrest for many months. While in forced isolation, she composed music and created a quilt of scenes from her life.

Lili‘uokalani appealed to President Grover Cleveland, and although he agreed her power should be restored, the move was denied by Congress.

From her release in 1895 to her death in 1917, Lili‘uokalani spent her years advocating for the freedom of Hawai‘i, the rights of Hawaiians and the preservation of Hawaiian culture and tradition.

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