Princess Ka’iulani (1875-1899)

Princess Ka’iulani in 1897, Unknown Author. Image Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Hawaii State Archives PP-96-8-022.


Happy 146th birthday to Princess Ka‘iulani of Hawaii! Born Victoria Kawēkiu Ka‘iulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Cleghorn on this day in 1875, Ka‘iulani was the daughter of Princess Miriam Likelike and Archibald Scott Cleghorn (a Scottish businessman who became a Hawaiian citizen).

Ka‘iulani’s birthday was a joyous occasion, as it was to ensure the future of the Hawaiian royal dynasty – her name meant Royal Sacred One. She was the niece of the reigning King of Hawaii Kalākaua, who had no children. And, as we shall see, Ka‘iulani played an integral role in the campaign to restore the Hawaiian monarchy, becoming known as a dignified and great public speaker who loved her people.

Ka‘iulani lived at ‘Āinahau, the family estate in Waikiki, a lively place with plenty of visitors. Her early life, however, was marked by tragedy: aged 6 she lost her godmother and governess, and aged 11 she lost her mother. Supposedly, on her deathbed, her mother predicted Ka‘iulani would live a life of loneliness and would never become Hawaii’s queen, a prediction that sadly did come true.

Young Ka’iulani at window, Unknown Author. Image public domain, Wikimedia Commons. Hawaii State Archives PP-96-9-005.

Aged 13, Ka‘iulani went to England for boarding school. She didn’t see Hawaii for 9 years, by which time her aunt, Queen Lili‘uokalani, had been forced out by a group that called themselves the ‘Committee of Safety’: basically businessmen of US and British descent and US marines.

Queen Lili‘uokalani appealed to the American people to restore the constitutional monarchy of Hawaii as the legitimate government. Ka‘iulani, now 17 years old, sailed to New York to make her direct appeal for Hawaii.

Along the way, she met the President and First Lady in Washington D.C., and her continuous work of advocacy for the Hawaiian people was widely reported, and meant that people began to understand what was happening in Hawaii.

President Cleveland ordered the Senate to remove the annexation treaty from consideration and ordered an investigation. This resulted in a report which criticised how the takeover of Hawaii had happened and recommended Queen Lili‘uokalani be restored.

Yet, the provisional government in Hawaii refused, and President Cleveland didn’t want to use force. The next President, McKinley, was in favour of annexation and in 1898 took Hawaii, alongside Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines.

Queen Lili‘uokalani and Princess Ka‘iulani didn’t stop there. They turned their attention to campaigning for voting rights for Hawaiians. As part of this, they even invited the President’s delegation of commissioners to Ainahau to demonstrate the education of the Hawaiian people.

Yet, sadly, the predictions of Ka‘iulani’s mother came true. She never married, despite there being plenty of rumours about engagements (and, if you’ve seen the movie about her, Princess Kaiulani, there’s a big focus on the romantic side of her life as well as her love for her people).

On March 6th, 1899, she died, at only 23 years old, having become ill after riding a horse in a storm. She was symbol of hope to many in her nation, and remained dedicated to the Hawaiian people until the end.

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