Princess Ka’iulani’s Engagement

Out of all the Hawaiian royals, she is probably the one most people understand the least because of people have a tendency to project what they want on her.  For Americans and Europeans, Princess Ka’iulani represented an exotic Barbie-doll like princess in a doomed Polynesian kingom. For Hawaiians, she had come to represent a beautiful victim of haole greed who did everything she could to save the Hawaiian people from annexation by the United States.  Lost between these two views is Victoria Ka’iulani, the young hapa woman barely out of her teens struggling with issues and problems that for the most part she could do very little about. Yes, she was beautiful. But there is more to her than her beauty.

One of the most persistent myths has been Princess Ka’iulani’s love life. Her love life was the subject of a horrible fictional novel called April of her Age and a poorly written movie Princess Kaiulani (formerly offensively titled “The Barbarian Princess”). In both works, she is made to fall in love with a Westerner. The subtle racism involved with that framing is of course that since Princess Ka’iulani was educated and beautiful, it would be natural for her to fall in love with a Westerner.  She could not possibly be involved with another Hawaiian as Hawaiian men were just simpletons. So Princess Ka’iulani was made in most of these works as having a series of relationships or flirtations with Western men despite several of her letters openly stating how she felt about love. Princess Ka’iulani loved Europe. She loved France and the isle of Jersey. But she loved Hawai’i more. So much so she that during her first year of studying, she would have dreams of being back at ‘Ainahau and would wake up crying. When she recieved news about her aunt being deposed, she began to get migraines and became increasingly thin. Like many Native Hawaiians in our diasporo, she craved the fish and poi of her homeland and like many Native Hawaiians abroad, her nationalism became increasingly deep seated. She shared many of these feelings and intimate thoughts with only three people–her “Mama Mo’i” (Queen Kapi’olani), “Koa” (Prince David Kawananakoa), and Baron Toby de Courcy.

Princess Ka’iulani first became interested in Koa when she first arrived in England. Koa was completing his studies as Princess Ka’iulani was beginning hers. He toured her around London and they began to exchange letters. In time, feelings grew. However, they had kept things underwraps because of Princess Ka’iulani’s age but also because Prince David Kawananakoa was expected to marry someone else. Then with the political problems in 1892 and 1893, the situation took a turn for the worst. However, it was public knowledge that Prince Kawananakoa and Princess Ka’iulani were going to be married at some point but the Queen needed to consent or else both of them would be removed from the line of succession. However, another problem arose. The relationship between the Queen and Princess Ka’iulani was shaky because of the relationship between Archibald Cleghorn and the Queen. Archibald Cleghorn turned on the Queen the very next day after the Provisional Government assumed power. He persistenly said in newspapers and to Lorrin Thurston that his daughter should be queen. That’s why in letters from the Queen to Princess Ka’iulani, she constantly told her niece that she was not to accept any offers for the Hawaiian throne. When Princess Ka’iulani arrived in Washington DC before the Commission of the Hawaiian Government in Exile did, it made matters even worst. The other issue the Queen probably had in mind at the time was the fact that Archibal Cleghorn owed his wealth to his late wife and his daughter and should Princess Ka’iulani marry Prince Kawananakoa and produce another heir, he would be the grandfather of the future royal family. Something that probably scared her.  

When Princess Ka’iulani achieved some popularity in the American press, the enemies of the monarchy then began to spring into action by trying to cast Princess Ka’iulani as essentially “easy” by printing engagement notices it seems every month and nearly all of them it was alleged she was engaged with a Caucasian man. This type of press no doubt hurt Princess Ka’iulani and Prince Kawananakoa. You will note however that nearly no Hawai’i paper did the same because it was a well known secret. In 1895, Princess Ka’iulani proached the subject of marriage to her aunt and her aunt responded by listing three candidates–a Japanese prince, Prince David Kawananakoa, and Prince Jonah Kalaniana’ole. The Queen knew about the relationship between the prince and the princess but being that she was caught up in the political problems of her homeland, she hoped that the Princess might put aside her feelings and marry for political expediency. This is why the Princess’ reply stated that she could have been married to a wealthy German baron but would prefer to marry for love (again hinting). On the part of Princess Ka’iulani, she probably was also trying to hint to the Queen to announce the engagement herself because her father did not have a favorable opinion of Hawaiians and Prince David Kawananakoa, despite his English accent, was still a Hawaiian. If the Queen could announce the engagement, then her father would have no choice to accept it. But alas, it seems that the subtle hints were lost on each other.       

Sometime in January of 1898, the plans became final. Informally, it was said that Prince Kawananakoa formally asked for Princess Ka’iulani’s hand in marriage on January 21 of that year–the anniversary of Queen Lili’uokalani’s ascension–on the Big Island of Hawai’i. It was announced in public in February as both parties began the task of gaining the consent of both families. Archibald Cleghorn may or may not have agreed to give his consent and the relationship between him and his daughter became quite frosty as letters have shown. Prince David Kawananakoa recieved the consent of the Queen and proceeded to gain the consent of his adopted mother, Queen Kapi’olani.

The Ka’iulani Engagement Necklace 

We know that this engagement was the real deal because of the exchange of gifts that began to arrive.  One of the engagement presents that arrived for Princess Ka’iulani was a diamond necklace from “Mama Mo’i”.  The diamond necklace was originally a gift from King Kalakaua to Queen Kapi’olani for their wedding anniversary. Princess Ka’iulani did not like heavy jewelry so she replaced the silver chain with a triple strain of pearls. After the death of Princess Ka’iulani, the necklace was returned to Prince David Kawananakoa and then inherited by his wife, Abigail Campbel Kawananakoa and then later placed under the care of the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Other known engagement gifts included silverware, clothing, feathers, food, and land. One of the reasons why Princess Ka’iulani kept going to the Parker Ranch on the Big Island was to spend time with “Koa” who always accompanied her.  There is also a number of photographs of Princess Ka’iulani where “Koa” is always next to her.

The 1898 “Annexation” Protest
‘Ainahau 1898

In fact, it is claimed that her last words might have been “Koa” not “Papa” as noted in a few books. When Princess Ka’iulani passed away, it was Prince David Kawananakoa who paid for her funeral expenses. This is also one of the reasons why the Cleghorn family for the most part was not particularly welcomed at Washington Place after 1898.

Throughout their engagement, the American press continued to mount engagement notices every month. It had gotten so bad that even former pro-Republic of Hawai’i newspapers began to protest. One of the most frequent rumors was started by an American newspaper reporter named Andrew Adams who worked briefly in Hawai’i and claimed he was engaged to Princess Ka’iulani. The Hawaiian Star, an anti-monarchy newspaper that had originally employed Andrew Adams printed several apologies to Princess Ka’iulani and denounced Andrew Adams for trying to use Princess Ka’iulani to make a name for himself.

Another constantly rumored suitor was Clive Davies who is featured in the movie, Princess Ka’iulani, and whose father, Theo Davies, was pushing his business partner Archibald Cleghorn to force Princess Ka’iulani to marry Clive so that he could make claims for the Crown Lands. How Princess Ka’iulani felt for Clive is also well known. When the Princess met with Prince Kawananakoa in New York in 1893 and was reproached, she slowly began to disassociate herself from the Davies family including moving in with her former teacher in Brighton, England. When the Princess arrived back in Honolulu and found out that the Davies family were involved with the Annexation Club, she had no further contact with them and she in public scolded her father during a lu’au for betraying his adopted country. 

One thought on “Princess Ka’iulani’s Engagement”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: