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In this Kūkahekahe, we celebrate the birth of King David Laʻamea Kalākaua, a respected aliʻi nui and mōʻī – a ruler of the Hawaiian Kingdom – by sharing a bit about his friendship with our beloved founder, Ke Aliʻi Pauahi.

Kūkahekahe – Celebrating the birth of King Kalākaua

Nov. 16, 2022

David Laʻamea Kalākaua was born on November 16, 1836 to the aliʻi Keohokālole and Caesar Kapaʻakea. Kalākaua was born shortly after Ke Aliʻi Pauahi was born in 1832. His life mirrored Pauahi’s in many ways. Both aliʻi were selected by Kauikeaouli, as royal children who were eligible to attend the Chiefs’ Children’s School (renamed the Royal School in 1846).

Kalākaua and Pauahi were raised and groomed from birth to be future leaders for their lāhui and Hawaiʻi. Pauahi’s lūauʻi mākua (biological parents), Pākī and Konia, adopted Liliʻuokalani at birth; she was Kalākaua’s full-blooded younger sister who would become Queen. Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani, Princess Pauahi’s kaikuaʻana (older cousin), also adopted and raised King Kalākaua’s younger brother, Prince William Pitt Leleiōhoku.

Before he became king, Kalākaua served in various roles in the Kingdom government and was also an editor of the nūpepa “Ka Hoku o ka Pakipika” (for which he became known as the “Editor King”).

Kalākaua’s journey to become King did not result in victory until the contentious election of 1874, when he garnered more votes than Queen Emma. His ascendency to the throne established a new royal line that succeeded the Kamehameha dynasty on February 12, 1874 when Kalākaua began his reign as king.

Fondly known as the “Merrie Monarch,” Kalākaua was a patron of hula and other aspects of Hawaiian culture. In fact, a rare hula kiʻi was performed at his coronation. During Kalākaua’s reign, the government built ʻIolani Palace as a gathering site for world leaders and a focal point of diplomacy. He sponsored a number of youths studying abroad. In 1881, Kalākaua would become the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe, and he also sought to form a Polynesian confederacy with other island nations like Samoa and Tonga.

Kalākaua’s friendship with Pauahi continued throughout his reign. It was during the first year of his rule, however, that their pilina was made plain through a generous gift. Kalākaua wanted to honor Ke Aliʻi Pauahi by bestowing on her the Ribbon of the Order of Kamehameha I, which was established by King Kamehameha V, Lot Kapuāiwa by special decree on April 11, 1865. Kalākaua made special effort to time the announcement of his gift so that it would coincide with the celebration of Pauahi’s silver wedding anniversary to Charles Reed Bishop. Located at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Archives is a beautiful letter that King Kalākaua wrote to Pauahi on May 28, 1875:

Iolani Palace
Honolulu May 28th 1875

“My dear Mrs. Bishop,
I have been long intending to give to you, the Ribbon of the Order of Kamehameha I, but have thought that I would defer it until the twenty-fifth Anniversary of your marriage, which I bear in mind will occur on the 4th of June.

“I do not doubt that this will be the most acceptable present which I could make to you upon this occasion, for it will not only be a memorial of the many kindnesses received by me from you in my youth, but likewise of His Majesty Kamehameha V who established the Order in memory of the founder of the Monarchy, the knowledge of whose life–friendship for yourself must be a precious memory to you. You have lived with your husband a quarter of a century, which is a very long time, however short it may now appear to you. I take this occasion to congratulate you on the happiness and prosperity which has attended your wedded life and the reasonable certainty that it will be continued until dissolved in due course of nature. That this dissolution may be deferred for many years is my earnest hope.

“In conclusion I trust that the voyage which you now contemplate will afford you all the joy which you so naturally anticipate – and likewise that your honored husband will not only derive from it satisfaction but will return from it with his health re-established.

“I remain
My dear Madam
Your Sincere friend

The voyage the king writes of is the grand tour of Europe that Mr. Bishop arranged for Pauahi to celebrate their silver anniversary. Pauahi wrote extensively about their travels, and the seed of an idea for the founding of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum was planted and sowed during their anniversary tour. Kalākaua’s nearly seventeen-year rule was filled with trials as well as successes. He was a beloved ruler of the Hawaiian Kingdom whose reign left an indelible mark on the history of Hawai‘i and Pauahi’s legacy, Kamehameha Schools.

King David Kalākaua. Hawaiʻi State Archives.

Mr. and Mrs. Bishop in San Francisco in 1876 during their Silver Anniversary tour though Europe. The posed image was taken by Bradley and Rulofson. Photo courtesy of Kamehameha Schools.

Kalākaua’s letter to Pauahi informing her of the bestowal of the Ribbon of the Order of Kamehameha I, established by King Kamehameha V, Lot Kapuāiwa, in honor of her silver wedding anniversary. MS MC Pauahi 2.1, Bishop Museum Archives.

The Royal Order of Kamehameha ribbon believed to belong to Pauahi. Photo courtesy of the Bishop Museum.

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