When most people think of strong leaders, they think of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and people of the like. But the people of Hawaiʻi have someone very unique in mind. Someone who is not well known, but is a hero to her land and her people nonetheless. A strong woman in a time when females were not typically seen as successful leaders. This hero was the aliʻi wahine o Ka Naʻi Aupuni (the queen of the Conquering Kingdom). Her name was Liliʻuokalani.
Lydia Liliʻulolokualaniaewehikamakaʻeha, simply called Liliʻu or Liliʻuokalani, was born on September 2nd 1838, and was one of the 15 children of Caesar Kapaʻakea and Analea Keohokālole. Liliʻu was hānai, or adopted, by Abner Pākī and Laura Kōnia when she was a baby. She also had a hānai sister named Pauahi – who would also prove to be strong leader – who was seven years old at the time of Liliʻuokalani’s adoption.
Liliʻu loved music and went on to right over 160 songs and chants, the most famous of which was “Aloha ʻOe”, which became the national anthem of Hawaiʻi. The song was inspired by a horseback ride in which Liliʻu encountered a couple sharing an emotional goodbye. Another song she wrote, entitled “Ku’u Pua i Paoakalani”, would serve an important purpose later on in her life.
Although music was a big part of her life, so was education. Liliʻuokalani was educated by missionaries at the Royal School, which was a school for children of aliʻi or of noble bloodlines. This is also where she met her future husband, John Owen Dominis. Except they met from opposite sides of the school gates. Dominis was the son of a John Dominis, a sea captain from Boston. Though the two children came from different backgrounds, they eventually fell in love and married on September 16, 1862.
For the next 29 years, Liliʻu lived a peaceful life with her husband. Until 1891, when her older brother King Kālakaua died, leaving Liliʻu as the heir to the throne. Even though she was queen, it was the beginning of a troubling time. That year, Liliʻu’s husband died, and even worse, she was stripped of her power by the Committee of Safety, a group of American businessmen staging a coup to overthrow the Hawaiian government. So, in 1895, Liliʻu was tried for treason, and punished with house arrest. She began an eight month long imprisonment in her own home of ʻIolani Palace. Despite the anger of the Hawaiian community, Liliʻu didn’t object. She did not want any blood to be shed for her.
Even though she was locked in the palace, she still found a way to get news. Her maids would bring her flowers from her garden called Paoakalani and wrapped them in newspaper. The previously mentioned song “Ku’u Pua i Paoakalani” was actually telling her people to bring her more flowers, meaning that she wanted them to give her more news.
Despite the Hawaiian people’s best efforts, the businessmen were successful, and the annexation had been carried out. Despite the illegal nature of the coup, Hawaiʻi was considered a territory of the United States of America and Liliʻuokalani had lost her ruling power, but not her inspirational power.
Liliʻuokalani still remains a queen in the eyes of her people. Her selflessness, beauty, kind heart, and love for her people made her one of the most beloved monarchs in Hawaiʻi. She was an exemplar to her people and to the world, possessing the qualities that only a great queen could have. No one loved their queen quite like the Hawaiian people loved Liliʻu. Even though she passed away on November 11th 1917, Liliʻuokalani’s legacy lives on through the her charities and trusts which help those in need, her words which gave hope and joy to so many, and her nobel image that stands as a beacon of hope for the people for whom she cared so much.
To our beloved Aliʻi Wahine Liliʻuokalani, rest in peace.