This Saturday, November 11 – 100 years after her passing – we reflect on the life and legacy of Lydia Lili‘u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka‘eha, beloved queen and last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Born to high chiefs Anale‘a Keohokālole and Caesar Kapa‘akea, Princess Lili‘u was given immediately after birth to high chiefs Laura Kōnia and Abner Pākī, the parents of Kamehameha Schools founder Princess Bernice Pauahi to be raised in the honored tradition of hānai.
Both girls attended the Chief’s Children’s School in the 1840s and ‘50s alongside several of their young relatives, all descendants of Hawai‘i’s royal bloodlines. On September 16, 1862, Lili‘u married John Owen Dominis and lived for many years with him and his widowed mother at Washington Place.
Lili‘u was announced heir to the throne by her elder brother King Kalākaua in 1877, and it was then that he bestowed upon her the name Lili‘uokalani. She ascended the throne upon his death in January of 1891 for a short, two-year reign, during which she unsuccessfully tried to return power to the Hawaiian monarchy.
After much turmoil, and in order to avoid bloodshed of her people, Lili‘u temporarily relinquished her throne on January 17, 1893, whereby the Provisional Government proclaimed itself the new ruling authority in the islands.
In early 1895, Lili‘u was imprisoned at ‘Iolani Palace for her alleged knowledge of the counterrevolution attempted by Robert Wilcox and other royalist supporters. She was released in September of that year and placed on parole for another six months before her civil rights were fully restored.
Outside of her political role in Hawaiian history, Lili‘u was an extraordinary musician and prolific composer of Hawaiian music. Along with three of her siblings – David Kalākaua, Miriam Likelike, and William Pitt Leleiōhoku – she helped to create and popularize a new musical style which blended Hawaiian poetry with English hymn-singing in perfect balance.
These four royals, known as “Nā Lani ‘Ehā,” were responsible for reshaping contemporary Hawaiian composition and performance in their time, even holding fierce competitions between singing clubs to premiere their latest works.
What set Lili‘u apart from the other three, however, was the sheer number of compositions attributed to her, her ability to notate them, and her attention to preserving and publishing them both in Hawai‘i and in the United States. A representative portion of her mele collection is available in “The Queen’s Songbook,” a 1999 publication by Hui Hānai.
Lili‘u was also a noted scholar, writing her own autobiography entitled “Hawai‘i’s Story by Hawai‘i’s Queen,” and publishing her own translation of the Hawaiian creation chant, “The Kumulipo.”
Lili‘u died on November 11, 1917 at the age of 79, following a stroke. Her remains are interred in the Kalākaua Crypt at the Royal Mausoleum of Mauna ‘Ala. Like a handful of other ali‘i of her time, she made sure to establish a trust in her name as an enduring legacy to the people of Hawai‘i.
The Queen Lili‘uokalani Trust was executed in December of 1909 to benefit orphans and destitute children, with preference given to those of Hawaiian ancestry. Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, formed in 1946 to carry out the mission of that trust, serves as a social service agency and works tirelessly towards developing healthy children, strong families, and caring communities.
To learn more about Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, please visit the center’s website.