Queen Lili'uokalani

About Queen Lili'uokalani (1838-1917)

Portrait of Queen Lili'uokalani. Getty Images

Known for: Queen Liliuokalani was the last reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Hawai'i; composer of over 150 songs about the Hawaiian Islands; translator of Kumulipo, the Creation Chant. She was compared to Queen Victoria of Great Britain.

Dates: September 2, 1838 – November 11, 1917
Reigned: January 20, 1891 – January 17, 1893
Married: John Owen Dominis, September 16, 1862

Also Known As: Lydia Kamaka'eha, Lydia Kamaka'eha Paki, Lydia K. Dominis, Liliuokalani

Birth and Heritage

Lydia Kamaka'eha was born September 2, 1838 on the island of Oahu, the third of ten children of high-ranking Hawaiian chiefs, Caesar Kapa'akea and Anale'a Keohokahole. At birth she became the adopted child of chiefs Laura Konia and Abner Paki. Lili'uokalani was the sister of the last king of the Hawaiian Kingdom, David Kamaka'eha, known as King Kalakuaua.


When she was 4, Lili'uokalani was sent to The Royal School on Oahu founded by King Kamehameha III. There Lili'uokalani learned polished English, studied music and the arts and traveled extensively. At the Royal School, Lili'uokalani fell under the influence of Congregational missionaries, who had by then established their strong presence in the Hawaiian Islands since their arrival in 1819. Among the richest landowners among the Ha'oles in Hawai'i, many were the children of the original Congregational missionaries.

Lili'uokalani's talent for music was polished at The Royal School. During her lifetime, she penned more than 150 songs including, "Aloha Oe."

Royal Court

As young woman Lili'uokalani became part of the royal court attending Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma. When Kamehameha V died and his named heir refused the throne, the Hawaiian Kingdom's legislature elected David Kameka'eha, Lili'uokalani's brother, who became known as King Kalakuaua.


At 24 Lili'uokalani was contracted in marriage to a Ha'ole (a Hawaiian citizen born to American parents) named John Owen Dominis in 1862. Dominis took Lili'uokalani to live with his mother at Washington Place, which is now the official residence of the governors of Hawai'i. They had no children, and the marriage was mentioned euphemistically in her private papers and diaries as "unfulfilling." Dominis died shortly after Lili'uokalani became queen, serving briefly as governor of O'ahu and Maui. She never remarried.


When Kamehameha V, died and his named heir declined to accept the throne, the Hawaiian Kingdom's legislature elected David Kamaka'eha, known as King Kalakuaua to the throne of the island kingdom in 1874. During his international travels, Lili'uokalani was his regent.

While Kalakuaua was on a world trip in 1881, an epidemic of smallpox broke out, killing many Hawaiians. It was brought to the islands by Chinese laborers who worked in Hawaii's sugar cane fields brought, Lili'uokalani temporarily closed Hawaii's ports during the epidemic to prevent its spread, which infuriated the Ha'ole sugar and pineapple growers, but won her the love of her people.


On a trip to the U.S., which he took on the advice of his doctor for his "health", King Kalakuaua, died in San Francisco in 1891. The people of Hawaii, including his sister learned of his death when the ship bearing his remains home rounded Diamond Head coming into Honolulu. Lili'uokalani was declared Queen on January 20, 1891.

A History of Foreign Interference

From the time King Kamehameha I founded the Kingdom of Hawai'i by inter-island tribal warfare with the help of a British sailor named John Young and western guns, each successive constitution of the western-styled government of the islands had increasingly restricted enfranchisement of the native people of the islands. The laws of the Kingdom increasingly accommodated importation of labor for sugar plantations built by Ha'oles. The laws of the Kingdom established the concept of land ownership. Originally the concept of land ownership was contrary to the beliefs and customs of native Hawaiians and was literally kapu, a religious taboo.

During his brief reign, in 1887 members of the Ha'ole militia called the Honolulu Rifles forced King Kalakuaua to enact a constitution written by planter Lloyd Thurston. This constitution disenfranchised all Asians as well as most poor, and thus most native Hawaiians. It favored white planters, mill owners, and sugar cane and pineapple producers. The Bayonet Constitution was the derogatory name given it by those it disenfranchised. Kalakuaua had been forced to sign the constitution at gunpoint. Rifles at the time were commonly fixed with bayonets. The Bayonet Constitution was law when Lili'uokalani became Queen in 1891.

Attempt to Regain Autonomy

In 1890 the McKinley Tariff Act had been passed by the U.S., which severely restricted the primary market for Hawaiian-produced sugar, and the Ha'oles began machinations to have Hawaii annexed. Lili'uokalani was aware of this intention. Under all constitutions, including the Bayonet Constitution, the ruler of the Kingdom was empowered to create law by signing a Constitution and by edict. To regain autonomy in her Kingdom, Lili'uokalani herself wrote a new constitution setting aside the provisions of the Bayonet Constitution and restoring authority and power to the reigning Hawaiian aristocracy and restoring the franchise of native Hawaiians in 1892.


A committee of "public safety" composed of newly disenfranchised Hawai'i-born citizens of American parents (Ha'oles), foreign nationals and the naturalized citizens forced Lili'uokalani to step down from the throne on January 17, 1893.

Lili'uokalani signed a document which read in part: "Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.- Queen Lili'uokalani to Sanford B. Dole, Jan 17, 1893."

Lili'uokalani appealed to President Grover Cleveland, who sent James Blount to Hawai'i, to investigate events and send him a detailed report. The Blount report concluded that American minister John Stevens had been instrumental in the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani and recommended the restoration of the monarchy. The next American minister to the islands, Albert Willis, offered Lili'uokalani her crown back, if she would grant clemency to those who overthrew her. Initially, she refused, preferring that they be beheaded. By the time she had changed her mind, it was too late for the restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Annexation of Hawaii

While Lili'uokalani hesitated to agree to clemency in order to restore the monarchy, pro-annexation factors had been lobbying the U.S. Congress heavily. As a result of that lobbying, the Republic of Hawaii was "proclaimed" by Congress on July 4, 1894 and immediately recognized by accompanying resolution in Congress—with none other than Sanford B. Dole as President. This could be considered ironic: Dole had been Queen Lili'uokalani's advisor and personal friend throughout her reign.

Receiving news of recognition of the republic, recently appointed American minister John Stevens called out troops in 1894, stormed Iolani Palace and other government buildings, sweeping aside the provisional government which had existed since the forced abdication of Lili'uokalani in 1893. Lili'uokalani retired to her home in Washington Place.

Arrest and Absolute Abdication

In 1895 a cache of weapons was "discovered" buried in the gardens of Lili'uokalani's Washington Place home. Upon discovery of the cache, Lili'uokalani was arrested. While under arrest she was forced to sign a document of absolute abdication, denying any claim to the throne for herself and any heirs or claimants for all time. In a humiliating military tribunal in her former throne room in Iolani Palace, she was convicted of her alleged knowledge of the attempted revolution, though she denied any knowledge of Hawaiian royalists to restore the monarchy. She was fined $5,000 dollars and sentenced to five years hard labor. The sentence to hard labor was commuted to confinement in one upstairs bedroom in Iolani Palace. Lili'uokalani was allowed one lady-in-waiting during the day, but no visitors.

Lili'uokalani was released from Iolani Palace confinement in September, 1896. The Queen remained under house arrest for five months at her private home, Washington Place. Then she was forbidden to leave Oahu for another 8 months before all restrictions were lifted.

Hawaii was annexed to the United States through a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress, signed into law by President McKinley on July 17, 1898.

Later Life and Legacy

Lili'uokalani remained at Washington Place until she died at age 79 in 1917 from complications of a stroke. In a Deed of Trust in 1909, which was later amended in 1911, Lili'uokalani entrusted her estate to provide for orphans and destitute children in the Hawaiian Islands, with a preference for Hawaiian children. This led to the founding of the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center.

In 1993, 100 years after the overthrow, President Bill Clinton signed a Congressional resolution (Public Law 103-150) in which the United States government formally apologized to the Native Hawaiian people.

During her imprisonment in Iolani Palace, Lili'oukalni translated the Kumulipo, the Creation Chant, which tells the beginning of all life for Hawaiians, during her imprisonment in the Iolani Palace, in 1895. Her motive for publishing the translation may have been a refutation of the argument put forward by the pro-annexation partisans who imprisoned her that Hawaiians were ignorant savages who had no culture prior to the arrival of Captain Cook. The Kumulipo not only tells the story of creation and the genealogy of the royal Hawaiian line but also explains the relationship between Hawaiians and nature around them and why they must remain in harmony with creation in order to survive.

Suggested Reading:

Lili'uokalani, Hawai'i's Story by Hawai'i's Queen, ISBN 0804810664

Helena G. Allen, The Betrayal of Lili'uokalani: Last Queen of Hawai'i 1838-1917, ISBN 0935180893