|The Kingdom of Hawaii, 1837|
Most people don't know a lot about the history of Hawai'i and there is a good reason for that: it's not very long or complex. Even the United States seems complicated compared to the history of Hawai'i since its European discovery by Captain Cook in 1778. But the history of the Kingdom of Hawai'i didn't begin for 17 more years. During the time that Captain Cook was roaming the seas, the eight inhabitable islands of the Hawaiian Island chain were being systematically centralized. The Big Island (Hawai'i) was being slowly united under one dynasty. Maui had conquered Moloka'i and Lãna'i under one chief but was in fight for O'ahu. Kaua'i and Ni'ihau had long been under the same chief. Enter Kamehameha, the son of a Hawaiian chief with sights on the Hawai'i throne and the goal of unifying all of the islands under one king. Captain Cook met the future king and inspired the man.
Kauikeaouli, known officially as Kamehameha III, was the longest-reigning king in Hawaiian history, but that is partially because he ascended the throne at the age of 11. His step-mother, Queen Ka'ahumanu, former wife of Kamehameha I, acted as regent during his minority. When she died, the king's half-sister took over and took the title Ka'ahuman II. The regency finally ended in 1833 though the regent became a sort of prime minister to the king in the following years. Much happened during the years of Kauikeaouli's reign. First of all, the Catholic mission began in Hawai'i, was ousted, and restored under threat by the French. Secondly, Hawai'i briefly was offered to Britain in 1843 under pressure from a British captain, though London later declined the offer. Most importantly, the Council of Chiefs, which had acted as a legislature until this time, was replaced with an official democratic legislative body, and a cabinet was created. This is important because it allowed Europeans who had become Hawaiian citizens to get directly involved in the government without royal consent. Prior to this time, the king approved all additions to the council of chiefs and native blood was implied as a requirement. The make-up of the new government quickly began shifting away from natives, who were declining as the majority population, and toward those of European or half-European blood.
|Kamehameha III, Queen Kalama, and their nieces and nephews|
During Kauikeaouli's reign, the United States also became active in Hawaiian politics over whaling and trading rights, since Hawai'i acted as a perfect base station for both endeavors. Multiple treaties would be made between the two countries, beginning with one created in 1849 establishing favorable trade relations. The king was very pro-United States and had been long considering resigning his post in favor of a U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. While many people favored such a move, others, especially Europeans, were against it. Thus, when the king finally died in 1854, many saw it as a sign that Hawai'i was not yet ready to join the United States.
Kalakaua's trip led to imperial aspirations, and he sought to create a trans-Pacific Polynesian Confederations. Samoa was the first (and only) nation to join. Unfortunately for him, unrest at home caused him to lose much of his political power. The Bayonet Constitution, created by the Reform Party, halted his progress and brought the globetrotting king home. It also was the first constitution that specifically favored European and American interests over native Hawaiian in the kingdom. The remainder of Kalakaua's life was filled with attempts to reclaim his royal prerogative. He never achieved that goal and eventually died in 1891, while trying to find a cure to his illness in San Francisco. Few other monarchs left as large a mark on modern Hawai'i than him.
|Prince Quentin and his wife|
In either case, the story of the Kingdom of Hawai'i is an interesting one, with American and European businessmen taking advantage of a native and, at times, naive people for their own advantage. Indeed, the overthrow was so malicious that President Bill Clinton felt it necessary to issue a formal apology to the current heirs for the revolution inspired by Americans 100 years prior. And while today Hawai'i is another state of the United States, for one brief century, it was a kingdom of its own, a legacy that Hawaiians today look at with fond memories and vacationers observe with wonder.