The colorful Napali Coast of Kaua'i.
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Book Review: “Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen” by Lili’uokalani

In 2022, I took my first trip to Hawai’i and fell in love with the people, the land, and the culture. We toured the Bishop Museum, Hawai’i’s natural and cultural history museum, as well as saw other prominent historical locations. As a result, I grew fascinated with its diverse history, including Lili’uokalani.

During our visit, I learned more about its monarchy and its overthrow by pro-annexationist and pro-business factions from America. Consequently, I wanted to know more, especially from the perspective of native Hawaiians. This was when I decided to read the 1898 memoir Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen by Queen Lili’uokalani. History remembers her as the last Hawaiian monarch before the monarchy’s overthrow in 1893.

A sepia-tinted photograph of Queen Lili'uokalani. She sits on a throne holding a fan and wearing a dark gown. Her demeanor appears proud and determined. Text on photo reads:
Photograph of Liliuokalani sent to the Hon. Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, taken by James J. Williams, c. 1891 | ©Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, ppmsca-51350


Queen Lili’uokalani wrote Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen in 1898 “to explain to the world the injustice of her situation and to reclaim the sovereignty which she had lost”.1Hawaii’s History by Hawaii’s Queen, Goodreads, (accessed January 30, 2023). Penned five years after her overthrow, Lili’uokalani delivers her narrative in a powerful and evocative way in an effort to persuade the American government to vote against annexation.

Highly educated and musically talented, Lili’uokalani grew up as a member of the Hawaiian royal family. Born in 1838, she attended school alongside other relatives as a possible heir to King Kamehameha III. In 1877, her brother King David Kalākaua designated Lili’uokalani as his heir, vaulting her onto an ultimately tumultuous path.

Upon her ascension to the throne in 1891, Lili’uokalani met with a resistant legislature that did not want to yield the power it had enjoyed. The 1887 Bayonet Constitution stripped Kalākaua of his rights (at gunpoint, I might add), effectively placing Hawai’i under the control of an oligarchy. The queen’s people asked for a new constitution that returned rights to the native people. This event precipitated the coup that ultimately replaced her in 1893 and led to further restrictions under the Republic of Hawai’i.

The flag of the Kingdom of Hawai'i. In the upper-left is the Union Jack, the flag of Great Britain. Eight stripes represent Hawai'i's eight major islands in red, white, and blue.
The flag of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, April 2022 | Image is my own

The memoir’s later sections portray her efforts in petitioning President Grover Cleveland and later William McKinley to reassert her rights and return her to her throne. During this particular part of the book, her (completely justified, in my opinion) scathing and disdainful opinion of those who colluded to deprive her of her throne come through. In her view, no justification existed for the American coup. Lili’uokalani ends her story with the hope that the American government would vote against annexation. This, however, occurred later on July 7, 1898 after this autobiography was published.


“Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen” proved a difficult read at times, but it helps one to come to terms with the darker side of American history. In this case, enterprising individuals effectively colonized a sovereign country, forced the abdication of its ruler, trampled a people’s rights, and changed their future without their input. It’s a startlingly familiar story for any student of American history. Lili’uokalani’s rendition of this tale comes from a remarkably intelligent and tenacious woman who navigated tumultuous waters for her people. We should remember Lili’uokalani as a courageous woman who, despite (and perhaps because of) everything she endured, indelibly left her mark on American history.

I recommend this must-read for anyone interested in Hawaiian history. At its core, it’s a tale of American imperialism and deceit. More importantly, however, readers learn the story of modern Hawai’i, its resilient people, and their history, culture, and beliefs.

Book Summary

Cover of

Title: Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen
Author: Lili’uokalani
Publisher: Oceanic Press
Publication Year: 1898 (original publication); 2016 (this edition)
Page Count: 285pp (eBook count); 278pp (print count)

Featured image: Napali Coast, Kaua’i (Getty Images/Luckohnen)

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