In honor of Queen Lili’uokalani’s birthday this year, I decided to write some thoughts about what Queen Lili’uokalani means to most Hawaiians, including myself.
As a boy, I can remember a portrait of the Queen hanging in the living room of my grandmother’s living room. Her portrait always hung above the pictures and photographs of family members because she was the Queen. Such was the power of Queen Lili’uokalani that even though she had passed away seventy years previously, she was still referred to as “the Queen” by my grandmother as though she were still very much alive. I believe that my household was not unique in that sense. I know many Hawaiians who have at least one picture or portrait of the Queen somewhere in the house and who still speaks of the Queen in the present tense (“the Queen”) rather than the more technically correct past tense form (e.g. “the late Queen”). But then in a sense she never really did pass away in the hearts of most Hawaiians because the tragedy and the struggle of not just her reign but her entire lifetime remains very much in the present tense for us as a people, as her people. She has come to represent for us as a people the contradictions of our political situation and within our very own souls.
She was a devout Christian yet knew the ancient Hawaiian traditions backwards and forwards in fact she translated the Kumulipo into English while she was imprisoned.
She was a member of an aristocratic family that helped to rule the island of Hawai’i hundreds of years before Captain Cook stumbled upon that island yet the Queen deeply believed in democracy, social justice and popular government.
The Queen was deposed by an American-back coup and fought hard against annexation yet when five Hawaiian sailors lost their lives abroad the USS Aztec (which it was hit by German u-boats during World War I), she raised the American flag over her own private home Washington Place as a gesture to honor their sacrifice.