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  • The Queen Writes BackLili'uokalani's Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen
  • Lydia Kualapai (bio)

Minamina ka leo o ke ali'i i ka hā'ule i ka pūweuweu.

A pity to allow the words of the chief to fall among the clumps of grass.

Mary Kawena Pukui, 'Ōlelo No'eau

In January 1898, six months prior to the U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian Islands, Queen Lili'uokalani (1838–1917) published Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen and thus emerged from the period's turmoil as a remarkable literary figure and a farsighted political strategist. Through her memoir, the queen writes back to her critics, to her political enemies, and to the scores of U.S. missionaries and missionary descendants who had denigrated Native Hawaiians throughout the nineteenth century. Visually, the book's design challenges the U.S. cultural imagination and its colonial construction of the Hawaiian nation. Rhetorically, the narrative opens a discursive space wherein Hawaiian subject formation reflects an ongoing response to ancestral tradition and contemporary catalysts. Politically, the text preserves the ancestral link fundamental to Hawaiian identity and denounces the colonial attempt to appropriate and reconstitute "Hawaiian" subjectivity. Moreover, the queen's narrative affirms Hawaiian sovereignty, denounces U.S. colonialism, and condemns annexation as a violent assault on the principles of self-government. Examined through its own cultural, material, and political frame of production, Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's [End Page 32] Queen comes forward not only as the historical foundation for the 1993 U.S. congressional apology to the Hawaiian people but as a timely and constructive strategy for a newly restored Hawaiian nation.

As an ali'i nui (high chief), Lili'u Kamaka'eha Pākī's life was shaped by the political influences of the day. Designated heir apparent in 1877 by her brother, King David Kalākaua, and renamed "Princess Liliuokalani," the future queen readily assumed the private and public obligations of office and embraced the daily responsibilities of court life. She officiated as regent in Kalākaua's absence, directed the Hawaiian entourage at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, initiated programs to improve Native Hawaiian healthcare and education, and served as the king's liaison with visiting international dignitaries. When Kalākaua died in January 1891, Lili'uokalani inherited a crown already severely undermined by a select group of U.S. missionary descendants, denizen industrialists, and sugar investors. In 1887 this "missionary party," threatened by Kalākaua's popularity and frustrated by his increasing political influence in the Pacific, staged a violent legislative coup, forcing the king to accept a constitution diverting power from the crown to the party-controlled cabinet.1 Moreover, by attaching property qualifications to voting privileges and reducing the qualifying "resident" definition to three years, the new constitution shifted political dominance from Native Hawaiians to U.S., British, and German colonists, a group that amounted to less than 5 percent of Hawai'i's total population. This "Bayonet Constitution" was still in place when Lili'uokalani took the oath of office on January 29. Two years later, on January 17, 1893, having learned that the queen planned to promulgate a new constitution restoring Native Hawaiian political control, the same anti-royalist colonials who had earlier crippled Kalākaua's court deposed the queen, abrogated the monarchy, and proclaimed themselves the "Provisional Government of the Hawaiian Islands." The singular objective for this interim administration was U.S. annexation. A detailed look at the overthrow and the subsequent events leading to the publication of Hawaii's Story is essential in understanding the queen's political goals in writing and publishing her memoir. [End Page 33]

Fearful Symmetry: Contextualizing the Frame of Production

On January 14, 1893, John L. Stevens, the U.S. foreign minister to Hawai'i—an outspoken expansionist and anti-royalist—conspired with the missionary party to depose the queen and overthrow the monarchy. Two days later, in a breach of his diplomatic authority and in violation of international law, he authorized Capt. Gilbert C. Wiltse, commander of the battleship USS Boston, "to land marines and sailors . . . to secure the safety of American life and property," that is, to secure the safety...


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