Kingmakers: The Coronation of King Kalakaua

In many textbooks and books it is often said that King Kalakaua crowned himself in the style of Napoleon. That is to say that he placed the Crown on his own head. The following illustration from the Illustrated London Daily News from Kristen Zambucka’s book, Kalakaua: Hawai’i’s Last King, elegantly depicts that occasion.
File:Kalakaua's Coronation from Illustrated London Daily News, 1883.jpg
Ralph Kuykendall’s work, The Hawaiian Kingdom Volume III, says the following:

The ceremony began about eleven o’clock in the morning. The official procession moved from the palace into the pavilion as the choir sang the hymn, “Almighty Father, Hear! The Isles do Wait on Thee.” The marshal of the kingdom declared Kalakaua’s accession to the throne, his style and titles, after which the Puloulou, Palaoa, and Kahili were presented to the king by the Princess Poomaikelani, sister of Queen Kapiolani. The chancellor, Chief Justice A. F. Judd, then administered the oath to the king, and placed in his hands the Sword of State, “Ensign of Justice and Mercy.” The chancellor received from Princess Kekaulike the Royal Mantle and placed it on the king’s shoulders “as the Ensign of Knowledge and Wisdom”; he placed the Ring, “Ensign of Kingly Dignity,” on the fourth finger of Kalakaua’s right hand, and delivered to him the Sceptre, “Ensign of Kingly Power and Justice.” The supreme moment had now come. Prince Kawananakoa advanced with the Crowns while the choir sang, “Almighty Father! We Do Bring Gold and Gems for the King.” President Godfrey Rhodes of the Legislative Assembly took the king’s crown, raised it up before the people, and handed it to the chancellor who in turn handed it to the king, saying, “Receive this Crown of pure gold to adorn the high station wherein thou hast been placed.” The king lifted the Crown and placed it on his head. The second Crown was handed to the king and he placed it on the queen’s head, saying, “I place this Crown upon your head, to share the honors of my throne.” As the royal couple knelt, the household chaplain, the Reverend Alexander Mackintosh, offered a prayer. The royal couple resumed their seats; a salvo of guns was fired from the battery on shore and from the warships in the harbor; the choir sang the anthem, “Cry Out O Isles with Joy!” The ceremony was over; the royal party returned to the palace as the Royal Hawaiian Band played Meyerbeer’s ‘Coronation March.’ (263)

A cursory look at various websites repeats the following:

Kalakaua’s coronation

Impressed with court ritual he witnessed on his 1881 world tour, King Kalakaua wished to imbue his own reign with a similar ceremonial presence. On the ninth anniversary of his election to the throne, he staged a coronation in front of the recently-completed ‘Iolani Palace. With no one of higher rank present in the Islands, Kalakaua placed a jeweled crown on his own head, then crowned his queen, Kapi’olani. In addition to assuming other Western-style insignia of the monarchy – a sword, ring and scepter – Kalakaua was presented with traditional items belonging to ruling Hawaiian chiefs: the feather cloak of Kamehameha I, the kahili (standard) of Pili, and the pulo’ulo’u (kapu stick) and lei palaoa (whale tooth pendant) of his ali’i ancestors.

But is this accurate? According to the coronation planners, it may not have been. The person who was put in charge of the overall coronation ceremony was the then Crown Princess Lili’uokalani who then created a committee which included Curtis ‘Iaukea, Princess Po’omaikelani, Princess Kekaulike, and Minister John Kapena. During the coronation itself, Minister John Kapena escorted several members of the Japanese Imperial Household Department who were sent as personal envoys of the Emperor to attend the coronation of his “dear friend”. As an interesting side note, the Japanese Emperor also asked if the Hawaiian ambassador in Tokyo who was actually an American, be replaced with a Native Hawaiian, as the Emperor desired to know more about Hawaiian culture.

According to Queen Lili’uokalani in Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen, the coronation program actually went more like this:

Promptly at the appointed time His Majesty Kalakaua, King of the Hawaiian Islands, accompanied by Her Majesty, Kapiolani, his queen, made their appearance. I give the order of the procession to the royal pavilion. Princess Kekaulike, bearing the royal feather cloak, and with her the Princess Poomaikalani; then the Princess Likelike, with the child-princess Kaiulani, and her father, Hon. A. S. Cleghorn; Governor Dominis, and myself; we were all attended by our kahili bearers, and those ancient staffs of royalty were held aloft at our sides. Then followed Prince Kaiwananakoa, bearing one of the crowns, and Prince Kalaniaanole bearing the other crown, succeeded by two others of noble birth and lineage bearing insignia of royalty of either native or traditional usage, the tabu sticks, the sceptre, and ring. Then came Their Majesties the King and Queen, attended by their kahili bearers, who stationed themselves just inside the pavilion. As the royal party entered, the queen was immediately attended by her ladies in waiting, eight in number, all attired in black velvet trimmed with white satin. The long and handsome train of Her Majesty’s robe was carried by two ladies high rank and of noble lineage, Keano and Kekaulike. 

The Ceremonies were opened with prayer by Rev. Mr. Mackintosh; and then followed one of those coincidences which are so striking on any such occasion, and was certainly noticed as one of the most beautiful incidents of the day. In the very act of prayer, just as he put forth his hand to lift the crown, before placing it on the brow of the king; a mist, or cloud, such as may gather very quickly in our tropical climate, was seen to pass over the sun, obscuring its light for a few minutes; then at the moment when the king was crowned there appeared, shining so brilliantly as to attract general attention, a single star. It was noticed by the entire multitude assembled to witness the pageant, and a murmur of wonder and admiration passed over the throng. The ceremonies proceeded with due solemnity, and the whole scene was very impressive and not to be forgotten. At its close the company retired to the palace in the same order as that in which it had come forth; and the day ceremonies being over the crowd dispersed, retiring to rest from the fatigues and excitements of the day, so as to be able to enter with zest into the festivities of the evening, as a grand ball was to be given at the palace. Indeed, the entire grounds were given up to pleasure such as can only be fully imagined by those who have actually mingled with a happy people in the festivities of a tropical night.
Throughout the week one diversion followed another; until, with citizens and visitors almost surfeited with merrymaking, it came to an end, and Honolulu once more settled down to its every-day quiet and routine. Certainly the coronation celebration had been a great success. (102-103)

You will notice something in the two accounts. In the Kuykendall account (which is taken from solely from one newspaper account, the Lorrin Thurston owned Honolulu Advertiser), it is Caucasians who are playing king-maker and King Kalakaua is crowned  a la Napoleon. In the Queen’s account, it is a ceremony where Native Hawaiian members of the nobility (ali’i) are re-affirming the kingship of Kalakaua with the Reverend of the Hawaiian Anglican Church placing the crown on the king’s head who is kneeling in prayer. In the account of Special Imperial Envoy of the Emperor of Japan to the coronation and Vice-Minister of the Japanese Imperial Household, Mr. Sugi Magoshichiro, confirms the Queen’s account that the Crown was placed on the king’s head by who then stood up, turned around to the audience, and then crowned his consort, Queen Kapi’olani. Two accounts, same event.

Such differences in the retelling of Hawaiian history may seem trivial for some, but they clue us on the perspective of the writer which in turn directly impacts how Hawaiian history is taught. 

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