Kapi‘olani and Lili‘uokalani, Visionary Queens of Hawai'i

By Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Striving to improve the quality of life for everyone in Hawai‘i, particularly the health and education of Hawai‘i’s very diverse citizenry, especially those most vulnerable to disenfranchisement from illness and poverty

Queens Kapiolani and Lilioukalani of Hawaii (2020) by A. A. MontanoSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Hawai‘i’s complex history as an influential country led by visionary Kings and Queens in the Pacific Ocean goes back centuries. Here, we are going to dive into an aspect of the kingdom’s history by spotlighting two royal figures of Hawai‘i...

Queen Kapi‘olani (1834-1899)...

and Queen Lili‘uokalani (1838-1917).

Their legacies live on into the 21st century through wellness, maternity, and life-long learner education and scholarship programs, all of which are designed to support future generations to “E kūlia i ka nu‘u (Strive to reach the summit),” as Queen Kapi‘olani declared.

King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani Cabinet Cards (1881/1887) by London Stereoscopic and Photographic CompanySmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Queen Kapi‘olani was known as an influential philanthropist who cared for the health of women in Hawai‘i.

She was married to King Kalakaua and served as Queen Consort (someone who shares the rank and status of the King but does not possess military or political power) for approximately twenty years.

Kapiolani Maternity Home in the Evening Bulletin (1912-01-13) by Evening BulletinSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Kapi‘olani was invested in medical issues impacting the Hawaiian population and eventually established the Kapi’olani Maternity Home on the island of O‘ahu, where mothers could receive support and care for themselves and their children.

Queen Kapiolani (1883) by J. J. WilliamsSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

She was known to be an empathetic leader, concerned for the welfare of women in the kingdom and generous in educating outsiders of Hawai‘i’s culture and traditions.

Reception of Queen Kapiolani of Hawaii at the White House (1887-05-04) by J. H. MoserSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

In addition to her social work in Hawaii, she was an ambassador of the Kingdom, steaming across the Pacific Ocean, and then across the US via the Transcontinental railroad, in 1887.

- Queen Kapi'olani and Princess Lili'uokalani at the White House

She was the first Queen of any nation to visit the United States. In the Nation's Capitol she was received at President Cleveland's White House and escorted into the Blue Room. It remains a tradition to entertain Heads of State in this room overlooking the South Lawn and the Washington Monument.

Queen Kapiolani and Princess Liliuokalani attend Queen Victorias Golden Jubilee (1887) by UnknownSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

The Queen (seated), Princess (standing), and their retinue traveled on to London for Victoria's Golden Jubilee, celebrating 50 years of the reign of Queen Victoria.

They pose in dresses they selected in New York City for the Jubilee. When azure blue was suggested, the Queen said, "My name in Hawaiian means 'Arches of Heaven.' and as azure blue and Arches of Heaven are synonymous terms, the color would be most appropriate." Peacock feathers trimmed the train.

Historic Hawaiian wa'a (canoe) (1800) by Gift of Queen KapiolaniSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

On their return trip to Hawaii, they stopped once again in Washington, even visiting the Smithsonian. Queen Kapi‘olani gifted her personal recreational wa‘a (vah-ah), or canoe, as a sign of goodwill between the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States. Here a museum staffer poses in the wa'a.

Uncovering the Secrets of Queen Kapi’olani’s Canoe (2019-01-30) by Smithsonian InstitutionSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s Curator of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, Kālewa Correa, shares the history of the wa‘a.

Duration: 3 min 15 sec

Liliuokalani,Signed photograph of Liliuokalani (1916-10) by UnknownSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Queen Liliʻuokalani, who ascended to the throne at the death of King Kalākaua in 1891, is most remembered as being the last Queen regnant of the Hawaiian Kingdom before the overthrow of its government in 1893.

However, her true legacy is not one of defeat, but of strength and tenacity.

USS Boston landing force in Hawaii (1893-01-01) by UnknownSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Her love for her country and citizens led her to fight for their equal rights, land, and restoration of the Kingdom many years after the Hawaiian government was overthrown by the United States.

- Bluejackets of the U.S.S. Boston occupy Arlington Hotel grounds during overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.

Cover of Aloha ʻOe Play (1890-01-01) by Pacific Music CompanySmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

As a gifted writer, composer, and musician, she created over 160 works; many that are still read and sung in Hawaiʻi today...

including the famous song "Aloha ‘Oe" (Farewell to Thee)...

Liliuokalani entering palace for trial (1895-01-16) by James J. WilliamsSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

which she wrote while under house arrest in ‘Iolani Palace for her attempts to reinstate the Hawaiian Kingdom.

- Lili‘uokalani being escorted up the steps of the palace, where she was imprisoned after a cache of arms was found in her garden during the counterrevolution of 1895.

Inside ‘Iolani Palace
Notice the portraits of Queens Kapi‘olani and Lili'uokalani, as well as King Kalākaua and other members of the royal families of Hawai'i and England. You can walk through the 1st floor of the Palace from this room.

A few of Queen Lili'uokalani's many musical compositions are arrayed upon the couch in this 2nd floor parlour.

Liliʻuokalani at Washington Place (1917) by James Watson MoserSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

She was beloved by kānaka maoli (native Hawaiians) and Hawaiian citizens alike.

- Liliʻuokalani seated on the lanai of Washington Place in 1917, the final year of her life.

Young Women at the Funeral Procession of Liliuokalani (1917-11-18) by UnknownSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Tens of thousands of people from many different backgrounds and ethnicities...

Funeral Procession of Liliuokalani (1917-11-18) by UnknownSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

attended her funeral procession.

Aloha 'Oe: Honoring Hawai'i's Last Sovereign Ruler, Queen Lili’uokalani (2016-01-17) by National Museum of the American IndianSmithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

On January 17th, 2016, the National Museum of the American Indian marked the anniversary of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation and the imprisonment of Hawai'i's last sovereign ruler, Queen Lili'uokalani. This thoughtful program celebrated Queen Lili‘uokalani’s legacy though the songs she composed.

Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman and Manu Ikaika talked about this rich history. The local cultural group, Halau Ho`omau I Ka Wai Ola O Hawai`i, performed music and dance.

This performance was presented in conjunction with NMAI's provocative new exhibition, "E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation," that was on view though January, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Duration: 25 min

Credits: Story

Excerpted from
Learning Together: Queen Kapi‘olani (1834-1899) and Queen Lili‘uokalani
by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center


Story Excerpted & Designed by
Marc Bretzfelder
Office of the Chief Information Officer
Smithsonian Institution

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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