Queen Liliʻuokalani was the Kingdom of Hawai'i's last monarch.

442: The Lasting Legacy of Hawai’i’s Queen Liliʻuokalani

On Aug. 21, the anniversary of Hawai’i’s statehood, we take a look at the former kingdom’s last reigning monarch and her commitment to her people

Queen Liliʻuokalani was the Kingdom of Hawai'i's last monarch.

Hawaii State Archives, Queen Lili'uokalani Collection

Words by Samantha Pak

The 442: A JoySauce column named after the military unit, designed to school you (in all the best ways) on accomplished Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of the past. Asians have been shaping American history, culture, food, politics, identity, and more for centuries—it’s time we acknowledge what’s been left out of most textbooks.

Have a historical tidbit you’d like to share? Let us know!

Although her reign lasted just shy of two years, the legacy of Queen Liliʻuokalani (1838-1917), as the Hawaiian Kingdom’s only queen regent and last sovereign monarch—always fighting for the Hawaiian people—lives on more than a century later.

Born Lydia Lili‘u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka‘eha in Honolulu, Liliʻuokalani’s rule began Jan. 29, 1891, following the death of her brother, King Kalākaua. During Kalākaua's final years of reign, wealthy plantation owners, businessmen, and politicians imposed a “Bayonet Constitution,” limiting the monarchy’s power and disenfranchising the Hawaiian people. But once she ascended the throne, according to the Liliʻuokalani Trust, one of the first things the new queen did was work to amend the constitution and restore power to the monarchy and the Hawaiian people.

This didn’t sit well with the aforementioned plantation owners, businessmen, and politicians, who worried about losing money as well as Liliʻuokalani’s influence. So, with the help of the U.S. Marines, they successfully overthrew the monarchy on Jan. 17, 1893 and forced Liliʻuokalani to surrender the Hawaiian Kingdom to the United States. A provisional government, the Republic of Hawai’i, was established, and Sanford B. Dole (yes, of pineapple fame) was proclaimed president.

Two years later, there was a plot to overthrow the republic and restore Liliʻuokalani to the throne. But the war, known as the 1895 Wilcox Rebellion, lasted only four days and was unsuccessful. So on Jan. 24, 1895, Liliʻuokalani was forced to abdicate the Hawaiian throne, which officially ended the monarchy.

Liliʻuokalani was also arrested under the suspicion of treason—for allegedly knowing of the royalists’ plans to reinstate her. She was put on trial, convicted and imprisoned at Iolani Palace in Honolulu for eight months, although it was never proven whether she had any knowledge of these counterrevolutionary attempts. During her imprisonment, Liliʻuokalani translated the Hawaiian creation chant, “Kumulipo” into English so the rest of the world would know about her heritage. Following her release, Liliʻuokalani received a full pardon.

She never stopped advocating for her people. Liliʻuokalani continued to petition Congress to restore the Hawaiian monarchy. Her efforts included a lawsuit against the United States in 1909, seeking the return of the Hawaiian Crown Lands, which was sadly unsuccessful.

Queen Liliʻuokalani in her later years.

Hawaii State Archives, Queen Lili'uokalani Collection

Liliʻuokalani lived her final years at Washington Place in Honolulu. She died of a stroke on Nov. 11, 1917 at the age of 79. But even after her death, the former monarch’s commitment to the Hawaiian people continued as according to her trust, she entrusted her estate in her will to provide for “orphan children of Hawaiian blood,” which was later amended to include other children in need.

And while she has long passed, her legacy continues as Native Hawaiians—of royal blood and not—continue to fight for the sovereignty of their people.

Published on August 21, 2023

Words by Samantha Pak

Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.