Some thoughts about Queen Kapiʻolani

n the dining room of my grandmother’s house before in Papakōlea, there used to be two photographs. One was of Queen Lili’uokalani and the other was Queen Kapi’olani (the one depicted here with the dark velvet dress serving as a backdrop for her lei hulu manu). I talked a little bit about my family’s connection with Queen Kapi’olani in the post about “God is in the Flowers”.  I wanted to share something more personal about Queen Kapi’olani that always resonated with me. Queen Kapi’olani knew Hawaiian culture. She knew the language. But she spent most of her life feeling like an outsider. Although by lineage, she outranked the Kamehameha I, she was the niece of Prince Keoki (George) Humehume, the son of King Kaumuali’i that broke his oath to Kamehameha II and tried to regain Kaua’i’s independence. Due to Humehume, the line of Kaumuali’i was excluded from the Chiefs Children School by Kamehameha III and therefore the succession to the Hawaiian throne.  However, excluded from the succession, Kamehameha III awarded their family the lands once promised to them by Ka’ahumanu I and to which they had ancestral claims to. Kamehameha III felt that excluding them from the land of their own ancestors was too much of a punishment and un-Christian. Queen Kapi’olani eventually married The Honorable Noble Benjamin Nāmākēhāokalani, one of the uncles of Queen Emma and a man 35 years her senior with a teenage daughter. Benjamin Nāmākēhāokalani served as a personal envoy of Kamehameha IV to the Micronesian and Polynesian Christian missions. Kamehameha IV envisioned that Hawai’i would one day annex parts of Kiribati and the Marquesas to prepare them for independence in the manner of the Hawaiian Kingdom, but that was not to happen. Queen Kapi’olani suffered two know miscarriages and went through a period where she devoted herself only to church. Eventually, Queen Emma had Prince Albert Leiopapa-a-Kamehameha, the Prince of Hawai’i (Island).  Queen Kapi’olani became the head kahu of the new Crown Prince and devoted herself to the child, as any mother would especially someone who had lost their own children due to miscarriages.  When the young Crown Prince had his temper tantrum, Kamehameha IV ordered her to bath him in cold water to calm him down. Kapi’olani disagreed politely and the king dismissed her and tossed the Crown Prince into  cold water. Some days later, the Crown Prince died. Queen Emma, who had once been close to Queen Kapi’olani, blamed her and refused to allow Queen Kapi’olani to attend the funeral of the Crown Prince because she blamed the Kapi’olani for not being more assertive with King Kamehameha IV and for not being able to control the Crown Prince’s temper.
For the next twenty years, Queen Emma did everything she could to undermine Queen Kapi’olani due to this misunderstanding. When King Kalākaua was campaigning for the throne against Queen Emma, Queen Kapi’olani refused to campaign with her husband out of respect to Queen Emma. When King Kalākaua won the election, she refused to recognize Queen Kapi’olani as Queen-consort and on several times in public, said some very undiplomatic things about Queen Kapi’olani including that Queen Kapi’olani had an affair with the younger David Kalākaua while she was still married to Nāmākēhāokalani. But Queen Kapi’olani never gossiped against Queen Emma even though there were rumors that Queen Emma wanted to organize a coup against her husbands regime. Before Queen Emma died, she reportedly told her Rooke cousin that Queen Kapi’olani was not allowed to attend her funeral. Queen Kapi’olani on a trip to Moloka’i to visit the leper colony once remarked that she could understand some of the pain of the lepers because could understand how it felt to be excluded.  Her marriage with David Kalākaua was overall a happy one because they shared many of the same ideas. As Queen, she preferred to spoil her niece, Princess Ka’iulani, with jewelry. But she used fashion to showcase her ideas. During the daytime, she preferred Hawaiian holokū and Ni’ihau shell leis. In the evenings, she mixed Japanese silks, Chinese silks, English velvet, and Italian satin with something Hawaiian–normally fine feather work, beautiful pearls from Maui, or translucent Ni’ihau shells. This was the new era, the Hawai’i that her husband was trying to achieve–a nation that was seamlessly multicultural and cosmopolitan yet distinctively and proudly Hawaiian. This was the Hawai’i that had no laws for mixed race couples, unlike in the US at the time and no Crow laws. This was the Hawai’i that a Hawaiian Queen could give out sake prizes to Sumo wrestlers and then attend an Italian opera. But Queen Kapi’olani was also a person who quietly tried to make those who felt excluded, included in her quiet way.  I could not imagine the strength it most have taken to be constantly humiliated by someone whom you considered to be your niece for something that really was not your fault and to never once say a bad comment in reply especially when her husband went at length to extend every dignity and courtesy to Queen Emma including allowing her draw a salary yet Queen Emma seemed unmoved.  Instead of feeling bitter or upset, Queen Kapi’olani focused on devoting her time, her energy, and her tears to serving the country that she so dearly loved. She also always kept a portrait of Queen Emma in ‘Iolani Palace because though they did not get along, for the sake of the nation and for history, Queen Kapi’olani recognized the contributions that Queen Emma made to the Hawaiian people. She separated her personal feelings for someone because history demanded it and the Hawaiian people, who were being decimated by the thousands by introduced diseases and vices, needed heros and role models to rebuild the nation and themselves. They needed people to love and to feel loved. Queen Emma was still someone, despite her personal flaws, that loved her people and loved her nation–as Queen Kapi’olani also did. Queen Kapi’olani was one of those who also loved Queen Emma and had hoped until the passing of Queen Emma, they could find peace with each other. But that sadly did not happen. After Queen Emma’s passing, Queen Kapi’olani ordered pink roses to be sent to Queen Emma’s tomb on the death anniversary of Queen Emma–a very Hawaiian custom–as a sign of her respect and forgiveness. Forgiveness and respect that unfortunately these two very strong Hawaiians did not find in their lifetimes. It must have been heartbreaking, especially for Queen Kapi’olani. 
When the US had their annexation ceremony, members of the Royal Court held a gathering at Washington Place. Missing from that famous photograph is Queen Kapi’olani. Officially she was ill. But unofficially, though frail, she went to Kaua’i to quietly mourn in her ancestral kingdom and then she made a one last trip to Maui to visit the tomb of her grandfather, King Kaumuali’i.  Seven months later, Queen Kapi’olani passed away and in  accordance to her wishes, no state services were to be held and donations to one of the Queen’s charities in lieu of flowers was to be made. Though Hawaiians loved her, many did not realize until much later how much Queen Kapi’olani had done and secretly donated to various causes and individuals. That was the way of the older generation of chiefs–to never boast your own genealogy, to give liberally without fanfare, and to love especially those who need to be loved. Whenever I think of Queen Kapi’olani, the Bible verse 1 Corintians 13:4-8 always springs to my mind:

4. O ke aloha, ua hoomanawanui, a ua lokomaikai; aole paonioni aku ke aloha, aole haanui, aole haakei; 5. Aole hoi e hoohiehie, aole imi i kona mea iho, aole hiki wawe ka huhu, aole haohao hewa; 6. Aole i lealea i ka hewa, ua lealea i ka pono. 7. Ua ahonui i na mea a pau, ua manao oiaio i na mea a pau, ua manao makemake i na mea a pau, ua hoomanawanui i na eha a pau. 8. He mea pau ole ke aloha….
 (4. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8. Love never fails…)

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