Aloha Lā Hānau Kalākaua

November 16 2022 – Haylin Chock

Aloha Lā Hānau Kalākaua
Aloha Lā Hānau Kalākaua

"Hula is the Language of the heart, therefore, the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people." - King David Kalākaua.

Mōʻī David Laʻamea Kamananakapu Mahinulani Naloiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua was born on this day, November 16, 1836, in Honolulu and reigned from 1874 until he died in 1891. On this day, we celebrate his life and legacy that has shaped the Hawaiʻi we know today. 

Born of Caesar Kapaʻakea and Analea Keohokālole, King Kalākaua did not inherit the throne like most monarchs of that time. In 1873, the legislature held an election to appoint a new monarch following the death of King Kamehameha V, who died on December 12, 1872, without naming a successor. Under the 1864 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, if the King did not appoint a successor, the legislature would establish a new sovereign to begin a new royal line of succession. The election took place, and King Lunalilo won over Kalākaua. Kalākaua remained politically active following the ascension of Lunalilo. However, shortly after his ascension to the throne, Lunalilo passed from illness in 1874 with no successor named. At this time, Kalākaua had raised support for his bid for the throne, and another election was held. This time he ran against Queen Emma, Widow of Kamehameha IV. Although there were many supporters of Queen Emma and the Kamehameha line, Kalākaua managed to secure the popular vote and ascended the throne in 1874. Upon ascending to the throne, Kalākaua named his brother, William Pitt Leleiohoku, as his heir-apparent. When Leleiohoku II died in 1877, Kalākaua called his sister Lydia Dominis to Liliuokalani as his heir apparent. 

King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani had been denied a coronation ceremony in 1874 because of the civil unrest following the election. On October 10, 1882, Kālakaua held an official coronation ceremony at ʻIolana Palace that was full of festivities, including hula performances which were previously outlawed by Christian missionaries in the early 1800ʻs during the reign of Kaʻahumanu. The reign of Kalākaua is seen as the first Hawaiian Renaissance for his contributions to reinvigorating Hawaiian culture. His actions inspired the reawakening of Hawaiian pride and nationalism for the kingdom. Kālakaua is credited with bringing back cultural practices such as hula, oli, and mele, saving this knowledge from disappearing. Kalākaua's cultural legacy lives on in the annual Merrie Monarch Festival and hula competition in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, which began in 1964 and is named in his honor. Kālakaua was a lover of the arts. He invited all Hawaiians with knowledge of the old mele and chants to participate in the coronation festivities. He recorded and published Moʻolelo from around Hawaii and published them to record and share the mythology of Hawaiʻi. He also held a birthday jubilee in 1886. This birthday celebration was a week-long and consisted of Hula performances, the Royal Hawaiian band played music throughout the day, and ʻIolani palace was said to glow with lanterns, candles, and electric lighting. The evening ended with a Fireman's Parade and fireworks. Throughout the next two weeks, there was a regatta, a Jubilee ball, a luau, athletic competitions, and a state dinner. 

Although Kalākaua was known to love a good celebration, He also accomplished a lot of work for his people during his reign. Within a year of Kalākaua's election, he helped negotiate the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. This free trade agreement between the United States and Hawaiʻi allowed sugar and other products to be exported to the US duty-free. At the time, there were heavy taxes imposed on sugar being sold to the United States. The Treaty of Reciprocity was a negotiation with the United States that gave the United States military permission to have a base at Puʻu Loa, also known as Pearl Harbor today. In exchange for the lands at Puʻu Loa, the United States allowed sugar barons in Hawaiʻi free trade to the United States sugar markets. 

Kalākaua faced numerous challenges during his reign. He was working on preserving the ways of old while trying to navigate his people into the future. During his time in office, Hawaiʻi was rapidly changing. Foreign powers were closing in and laying claim to many parts of the Pacific, and even challenges to undermine his authority were well at work in his kingdom. In 1887, The Bayonet constitution was signed. This constitution was introduced by an anti-monarch group of wealthy sugar barons who sought to undermine the power of the monarchy. This constitution took away the power of the King to act without the consent of his cabinet and gave the legislature, controlled mainly by white Americans by this time, the ability to dismiss the cabinet instead of the King. It also removed Kalākauaʻs power to appoint members of the House of Nobles (the upper house of the legislature), instead making it a body elected by the wealthy landowners to six-year terms and enlarging it to 40 members. Qualifications to serve as a noble or representative now came to include high property and income requirements as well, which stripped almost all of the native population of the ability to serve in the legislature. The 1887 constitution made notable changes to voting requirements. It allowed foreign resident aliens to vote and not just naturalized citizens such as plantation immigrants from foreign countries. Asian citizens, including subjects who previously enjoyed the right to vote, were explicitly denied suffrage. Hawaiian, American, and European males were granted full voting rights only if they met the economic and literacy thresholds. During the short reign of Lunalilo, wealth requirements were removed for voters. Before the bayonet constitution was introduced, voter eligibility was extended to many more Hawaiians. The 1887 constitution required an income of $600 (equivalent to US$18096 in 2022) or taxable property of US$3000 (equal to $90478 in 2022) to vote for the upper house (or serve in it). That excluded an estimated two-thirds of the Hawaiian population. Disproportionately it was white males, wealthy from the sugar industry, who retained suffrage with the Bayonet Constitution. The Bayonet constitution was a massive shift in Hawaiian history and the foundation that led to the 1893 annexation. 

Kalākaua dealt with trying to restore pride in his people, preserve the nation's culture, and also fight against foreign powers that sought to claim Hawaiʻi for their own interests. Many of the relationships he built, stories, and cultural practices we know today were preserved because of his efforts. Today we acknowledge the challenges he faced and the missions he accomplished to revitalize the Hawaiian people and culture. Mahalo Nui Merrie Monarch, and we hope there are double rainbows shining over Mānoa Valley for you today. 

Picture sources
King David Kalakaua (Image: Wikimedia Commons) via Hawaii News Now
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
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