Queen Lili'uokalani on her 70th birthday, seated with Samuel Dole on her left; Lucius Eugene Pinkham, Territorial Governor, on her right; and behind her stands Henri Berger, Prussian composer and royal bandmaster, c. 1914.
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Queen Lili’uokalani: 5 Things You May Not Know

In her memoir Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawai’i’s last monarch, shares anecdotes from her history. Originally written to dissuade the American government from approving Hawai’i’s annexation, this memoir offers rare insight into the Hawaiian monarchy. It also brings Lili’uokalani to life as an artistically talented and powerful woman. Here are five things Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen teaches readers about this remarkable queen.

#1: Lili’uokalani descended from nobility

Founded in 1795 by Kamehameha the Great (Kamehameha I), the kingdom of Hawai’i saw two distinctive dynasties at its helm: the House of Kamehameha and the House of Kalākaua. Lili’uokalani and her brother David, Hawai’i’s last king, formed part of the House of Kalākaua. Both of the ali’i class (traditional Hawaiian nobility), they descended from two of the five royal counselors to Kamehameha I during his conquest of the Hawaiian islands.

Contemporary portrait of King Kamehameha I, Queen Lili'uokalani's monarchical forebear.
Contemporary portrait of Kamehameha I | From Glenn Grant, Hawai`i Looking Back: An illustrated History of the Islands (Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 2004): 454.

Lili’uokalani, though the House of Kalākaua’s last monarch, was distantly related to the House of Kamehameha. Her maternal great-grandfather Keawe-a-Heulu and Kamehameha I’s father Keōua were cousins. The House of Kalākaua’s relation to the Kamehameha line and their high bloodline solidified their suitability for the throne after the last Kamehameha monarch, Lunalilo, died in 1874.

#2: She composed hundreds of songs

Lili’uokalani possessed a gift for music and composition. Her teachers recognized her gifts as a child, and her education and aptitude continued well into her adulthood.1Lili’uokalani, “Chapter V: Hawaiian Music, and a Ducal Guest,” Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen (United States: Oceanic Press, 2016.

To compose was as natural to me as to breathe; and this gift of nature, never having been suffered to fall into disuse, remains a source of the greatest consolation to this day.

Lili’uokalani, “Chapter V: Hawaiian Music, and a Ducal Guest,” Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen (United States: Oceanic Press, 2016).

She’s particularly noted for composing the “Hawaiian National Anthem” and “Aloha ‘Oe” among possibly hundreds of others. When people think of Hawai’i, they often associate it with the tranquil but somber “Aloha ‘Oe”. But my guess is that few people know Lili’uokalani composed it!

#3: The queen’s brother designated her “Lili’uokalani”

Writing in Ke Ola Magazine, Jan Wizinowich reflects that “When a Hawaiian name is bestowed, a connection is made, a story told, history preserved, someone honored, a hope expressed.”2Jan Wizinowich, “Hawaiian Naming Traditions: A Cultural Legacy,” Ke Ola, September-October 2020, https://keolamagazine.com/culture/hawaiian-naming-traditions/ (accessed February 6, 2023).

Dowager Queen Elizabeth Kīnaʻu gave Lili’uokalani her birth name of Lydia Lili’u Loloku Walania Kamaka’eha. The name, comprised of the words for “smarting,” “tearful,” “a burning pain”, and “sore eyes”, reflected the regent’s suffering from an eye infection at the time of Lili’uokalani’s birth.3Julia Flynn Siler, Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012: 32. You can also refer to the Hawaiian-English Dictionary published by the University of Hawaii Press in 1986.

After naming his sister his heir apparent on April 10, 1877, King David Kalākaua proclaimed her official title as Lili’uokalani.4Lili’uokalani, “Chapter IX: Heir Apparent,” Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen. She would keep this name for the rest of her life.

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

#4: Lili’uokalani met and admired Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria celebrated her Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of her reign, in 1887. She invited Queen Kapi’olani, King Kalākaua’s wife; Lili’uokalani; and other Hawaiian royals to England to join in the festivities. In accordance with their royal station, Victoria showed them great favor:

Succeeding [previous royalty] came the Queen of the Hawaiian Islands with myself, and to us was accorded the most unusual honor of an escort drawn from the Life Guards of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. This was scarcely expected…when we spoke of the high appreciation we felt of this and all the attentions we had received, we were assured in response, that, as we had come such a long distance to do honor to the occasion, Her Majesty had thought that the least she could do was to provide us special honors.

Lili’uokalani, “Chapter XXV: The Jubilee – At the Abbey – At the Palace,” Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen.

To that end, Queen Kapi’olani and Lili’uokalani sat amongst other important guests on a raised dais during the Jubilee ceremony at Westminster Abbey. These included Princess Augusta of Cambridge, the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; and Marie Henriette of Austria, Queen of the Belgians.

Lili’uokalani later kindly recalled Victoria as a “well-proportioned, gracious, queenly woman…[with] a kind, winning expression on her face which gave evidence of the gentle spirit within.”5Ibid., “Chapter XXVIII: Ill News from Hawaii – Our Return.” It’s clear that Lili’uokalani saw a kindred spirit in her sister monarch.

A depiction of a thanksgiving service on 21 June 1887 in Westminster Abbey celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria (24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901), that is, the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Crown Princess Lili'uokalani and Queen Kapi'olani were present during this event.
Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Service, Westminster Abbey, 21 June 1887, William Ewart Lockhart, oil on canvas, 1887-1890 | ©Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 404702
Queen Kapiʻolani and Princess Liliʻuokalani at Queen Victoriaʻs Jubilee. Kapi'olani is seated while Lili'uokalani faces her.
Queen Kapiʻolani and Princess Liliʻuokalani at Queen Victoriaʻs Jubilee, 1887 | ©Hawai’i State Archives, PP-98-11-008/

#5: Lili’uokalani experienced an open-sleigh ride

History well recognizes the facts of Lili’uokalani’s life, especially in relation to her reign. They do not, however, always provide insight into some of the more informal aspects of one’s life. Take, for instance, Lili’uokalani’s experience with sleighing. While en route to Washington D.C. to treat with President Grover Cleveland in 1897, the queen and her entourage spent time with friends in Boston. During this time, they experienced a true New England winter activity:

It was a bright and beautiful day when the jingling bells and prancing horses acquainted me with the much-praised experience of sleigh-riding…In truth, I must say I failed to see the delight and exhilaration of the sport, although I enjoyed the afternoon very much indeed; but if I had had the same charming companions on a good road with an easy-riding carriage, it seems to me the pleasure of the ride would have been greater.

Lili’uokalani, “Chapter L: A New England Winter,” Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen.

The Hawaiians may not have liked that particular activity. On the other hand, this passage offers a unique insight into Lili’uokalani’s life. Sometimes those details fascinate me just as much as the well-known facts.

Five women ride in an open sleigh driven by a man. Some are looking behind them, as if they are participating in a race.
“Christmas Belles,” Winslow Homer, wood engraving, from Harper’s Weekly, January 2, 1869, p.8 | ©National Gallery of Art, 1958.3.23/Public Domain

Final Thoughts

Lili’uokalani’s legacy cannot be understated. This impressive woman won the hearts and respect of her people and others, including President Cleveland. In this article, I shared five facts gleaned from her memoir that I hope shed some light on this remarkable queen. To learn more, I highly recommend reading Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen.

Featured image: Queen Lili’uokalani on her 70th birthday, seated with Samuel Dole on her left; Lucius Eugene Pinkham, Territorial Governor, on her right; and behind her stands Henri Berger, Prussian composer and royal bandmaster, c. 1914 (©Hawai’i State Archives, PP-98-13-017/Public Domain)

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