The Barracks Revolt

The Barracks Revolt:
How History is Three Dimensional 

On September 6, 1873, a group of 40 Hawaiian soldiers revolted against their Hungarian Captain, Joseph Jajczay, for six days bringing the kingdom to a halt. At the end of the revolt, the entire Hawaiian military was disbanded. In most history books, you’ll find this as a minor incident in Hawaiian history. But as the introduction for the HBO series, “The Tudors” says “You think you know a story, but you know only how it ends.”

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Hawaiian Troops in front of ‘Iolani Barracks c 1880s

The Hawaiian Royal Armed Forces in its European form had existed since the time of Kamehameha III who had created a Calvary corps, a rifle corps, an artillery brigade, and a regular army. The irony is that while Hawai’i was an archipelago nation, it was not until 1886–or some 30 years after the army–that a navy was created. The entire Hawaiian Armed Forces was supervised in theory by the King who then appointed generals, colonels, majors, captains, etc. The same also was true for the Hawaiian Royal Constabulary (Police) except that the police in practice reported directly to the Minister of the Interior who reported either to the Kuhina Nui or the King (depending on the time period). However, while the military and police force was composed Native Hawaiians, no Native Hawaiian had been appointed beyond the rank of captain unless he was related in some way to one of the Governors or to the King.

The promotion system within the military force was nepotism at its finest. In the day to day operations, the military force was supervised by ex- missionaries and European expatriates who tended to view Hawaiians in general as lazy, child-like drunks.  The Native Hawaiians who held a military rank collected honoriums (either in the form of cash or in the form of expensive military uniforms and equipment) from the Ministry of the Interior but never bothered to show up except for parades.  However, the salaries of the men in the military force was nothing compared to what their Caucasian captains were getting. In 1873, the time of the revolt, the average soldier was getting 1 to 3 dollars per month depending the rank. The Hungarian Captain–whom the Hawaiian soldiers called Kāpena Ho’opuka ‘ole (Captain Unpronounceable One)–received a salary of 15 dollars per month in addition to other perks.  A cabinet minister in the Hawaiian government earned 5,000 dollars per year. The total military allocations were about 30 to 35,000 dollars per year. During the reign of Kamehameha V, there was transparency in the salaries and military allocations. But during the reigns of Kamehameha III and Lunalilo, most of the money did not go to the soldiers except in salaries. Soldiers were buying their own uniforms through salary deductions—a situation that occurs even till today in developing nations.

While history texts tend to mention only the Hungarian Captain as the root cause, he was not. He would later be used as a scapegoat by revisionist historians. In the letters of Theodor C. Heuck, the German architect of ‘Iolani Barracks, which were already published by the Hawaiian Historical Society, one finds that in fact there were several key reasons for the rebellion and the Captain merely exemplified the overall grievances of the Hawaiians who were not related to the king nor had connections to the Palace or the Church.  According to Heuck, the major issues that the Hawaiian soldiers had were with Adjunctant General Charles Hastings Judd (the son of Gerrit P Judd and whom soldiers accused of pocketing military money); Captain Jajczay’s use of discipline; the overall political set up in the Hawaiian kingdom; and the King’s constant kowtowing to American interests including his offer to cede Pearl Harbor permanently to the United States in exchange for a reciprocity or bi-lateral free trade treaty.

One of the reasons why the above mentioned items are normally not covered is because it contrasts with the popular image of Hawaiian ali’i as being patriotic and the whole incident embarrasses members of the Judd family. But the truth of the matter is that King Lunalilo was trying to establish a permanent American base in Hawai’i while members of his cabinet and staff, including many prominent ali’i of that time, were openly talking about annexation to the United States in exchange for keeping their salaries. Other prominent ali’i, including then Prince David Kalākaua (himself a holder of an honorary military position though he never underwent military training) and fellow Royal School classmate, Queen Dowager Emma, actually tried to manipulate the soldiers to overthrow King Lunalilo–just as King Lunalilo had plotted against Kamehameha V years earlier. 

The Hawaiian soldiers had basically been ticked off with how the entire government system worked. Their previous Adjunctant General John Owen Dominis was hospitable to the Hawaiian soldiers but despite doing an adequate job (some say he was even popular because he showed up to duty everyday unlike the others), he was dismissed by King Lunalilo and replaced with Charles Hastings Judd because Dominis was married to Lydia Kamaka’eha Paki who was the sister of King Lunalilo’s rival, David Kalākaua. The Judds were also one of the main financiers of Lunalilo during his campaign in 1872 and were basically being put back in power by Lunalilo after being booted out by Kamehameha V who ran a very tight clean government.  To really understand how the missionary families had ran the government during the reign of Kamehameha III and during the short reign of Lunalilo, one has to watch episodes of “The Borgias”.     Gerrit P Judd, known to Hawaiians as Kauka Kope Kala (an epitome that found its way in Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen). For those who do not speak Hawaiian, it translates as “Dr. Money Shovel” because of the way that the G.P. Judd miraculously ended up quite wealthy in land and in cash while the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs (portfolios he once held) were constantly missing funds and slow in issuing royal patents. Now, his son, C H Judd began to try to take his father’s place within the Hawaiian government through Lunalilo. The Hawaiians in the barracks resented that. They resented that they were paying taxes to the children of the servants of Christ while seeing a government that was perpetually weak by  ali’i who plotted against each other, by foreign business interests, and by the foreign gunboats in the harbor.

The Hawaiian soldiers began to ask a very critical question: Who were the owners of the Hawaiian nation? Was it the people? Or was it for the privileged few? There were discussions inside the barracks that if Hawaiians could elect a king–as they did for Lunalilo–why could they not elect a president instead? Questions that Hawaiians of today should be asking themselves.

According to Heuck, several of the ali’i had come to the barracks on the first day of the revolt to try to persuade the mutineers to surrender peacefully. These ali’i including David Kalakaua and Queen-Dowager Emma. While Kalākaua and Emma were received warmly as they both were staunch critics of Lunalilo, all of them were kicked out of the barracks.  According to Queen Emma in her letters “Coz”, David Kalakaua was urging them to overthrow the government and establish a new government. Within the barracks, some of the soldiers favored establishing a new government under Kalākaua and Emma as Kuhina nui–an arrangement that probably would have ended up like the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana. Others couldn’t tolerate anymore of the ali’i because they believed that the talk of annexation and the ceding or Pearl Harbor by the ali’i themselves showed that as a class, the ali’i could not be trusted.

On the following day, September 7, King Lunalilo called for three of the leaders to go to the Palace so he could understand their concerns. The leaders had a laundry list of demands which included getting rid of the Judd family from government; the resignation of the Hungarian captain, reforms in the military; and, to cease discussions on ceded any part of the Hawaiian nation to the United States. The king dismissed the leaders but issued a proclamation of amnesty. 16 soldiers took up the amnesty offer. The rest remained in the barracks. To quote from Heuck’s letter dated September 10, 1873:

“…During the night, they [the soldiers] got hold of four canons from the Palace yard. They were provided with enough provisions and ammunition right within the barracks to hold out for some time. The seriousness of the situation is the fact the sympathy of the people is with the revolters; they were massed around the barracks; they incited each other by exchanging words with those inside…whole wagon load of provisions were given to them….”   

The ones that were granted an amnesty meanwhile were passing out propaganda questioning the government system and going as far as to question whether or not the ali’i had the mana (authority) to rule. Again the discussions were brought up that if Hawaiians could elect a king, why couldn’t that be a permanent feature? Meanwhile Queen-Dowager and David Kalākaua were lurking with the masses outside the barracks. 

By the fourth day, King Lunalilo decided that to ask for the resignation of C H Judd and Jajczay. In an astute move, King Lunalilo appointed William Luther Moehonua to replace Jajczay and to try to deal with the rebellion. Moehonua was the uncle of David Kalākaua and his wife was Kaunuohua, a former lady in waiting and close friend of Queen-Dowager Emma. This effectively undercut Kalākaua and Queen Emma from exercising too much influence with the soldiers.  In addition, Moehonua was known to be a strong anti-corruption advocate as well as a nationalist. With the appointment of Moehonua, a few more soldiers surrender leaving the barracks with 24 soldiers.

As day five emerged, the 24 soldiers began to become more militant in lambasting the government system. The crowd around the barracks grow as Hawaiians began to publically express their discontentment with the way the government system operated.  Hawaiians began to recount how they were taught one thing by the Christian missionaries but the missionaries did the direct opposite. Some bring up the current conditions of the Hawaiians versus the kolea (newcomers) who easily find jobs within a day while Hawaiians were being discriminated against in their own country unless they were knew someone at the Palace. The question again was brought up, “Who is Hawai’i for?” Around in the afternoon, the Hawaiian soldiers marched to the Palace, seized more weapons and canons in front of King Lunalilo and marched back to the barracks while crowds began to cheer. Within the barracks compound, Heuck wrote that:

…A scoundrel, a solider with a ridiculously old three cornered hat posed on the wall and sang an improvised song in the style of  an old mele, using vulgar gestures. Nowehere order, wild and hateful speeches against the haole and many a poorly suppressed glance of hatred in the eyes. I know these people so well because I understand their language well and thus I notice things which escape others…. 

The tricorne or three cornered hat is normally associated with old European armies but also with the American revolution as it was a hat favored by George Washington and the Minutemen. Its also interesting that they were singing a Hawaiian chant, perhaps a hula ma’i, which was technically banned.

On September 12, the King agreed with all of the terms and again sent a proclamation of amnesty according to the Nuhou, the newspaper of Walter Murray Gibson.  The soldiers retorted that they can not trust the king and the ali’i who had become pets of the haole and requested that the king sign an amnesty for each of the 24 remaining soldiers—which the king did. The mutineers then pledged to step down–on their own time. The king, feeling pressured by the American, Russian, and French consuls, then called upon volunteer militias and the gunboats of those nations to suppress the mutineers. According to Queen-Dowager Emma, in a shrewd move, Moehonua had David Kalākaua talk to the soldiers yet again to explain to them that if the Americans and British land their marines to crush them, not only would they be shot on sight, but it would be the end of Hawaiian independence as Moehonua questioned if the Marines would want to leave after coming ashore. The soldiers then agreed to leave the barracks with their promises from the king and their letters of amnesty. In another shrewd move, King Lunalilo as part of his agreement to reform the military, simply abolished the entire the institution as soon as the soldiers left the barracks. The following week, the police moved in.  
What the entire incident had illustrated was that there was wide discontent with the way the Hawaiian Kingdom had operated and it shatters several myths that had been perpetuated by certain vested interests and prominent family names. Native Hawaiians were not blindly loyal to the ali’i. They could think outside of the box. Nor were ali’i guided by great emotions of patriotism. Some were indeed nationalists. But others were simply opportunistic Some even were kumakaia (traitors). The Hawaiian Kingdom was not a fairy tale  enchanted kingdom where Hawaiians were happily dancing around eating taro. There were deep seated social inequalities that showed itself in ways like family connections, nepotism, and the acquisition of ill begotten wealth.

As Hawaiians, we should be reminded that history is not one dimensional. 

One thought on “The Barracks Revolt”

  1. Do you know, btw, who the Hui Kalaaina were? The Queen refers to them and I'm assuming they were an advisory committee but I'm not sure. I've been trying to find some reference of them as well.


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