King Kamehameha II in Brazil

King Kamehameha II in Brazil

King Kamehameha II
Queen Kamāmalu
Emperor Pedro I of Brazil
King Kamehameha II became king upon the death of his father, King Kamehameha I or “the Great” in 1819. He was not a person who wanted to become king. Had he be given a choice, he probably would have preferred being a British naval officer. But history and his mother, Keōpūolani, had other plans for him.  After fighting a civil war over the kapu system and an insurrection on Kaua’i, King Kamehameha II focused his attention on foreign affairs.  On March 25, 1820 he wrote a letter addressed to Tsar Alexander I complaining about Russian claims over Kaua’i and the role of Russian subjects in supporting a Kaua’i insurrection. He also sent a beautifully carved koa wood double haul canoe to the tsar as a token of his respect.  The tsar never replied and King Kamehameha II sensed danger in that silence. King Kamehameha II was concerned that specifically the Russian-American was still supporting the family of King Kaumuali’i and wanted to secure an alliance with the British and French to counterbalance the Russians.  (Little did he know that his letter never arrived in Russia but instead ended up in the US.)
In November of 1823, King Kamehameha, Queen Kamāmalu and members of his court decided to visit London to discuss the “Russian problem” with King George IV.  There was also plans for Kamehameha II to visit Paris to secure a French alliance to compliment the British one. As the voyage from Hawai’i to England needed to go around the Cape Horn, the whaling ship that carried the king, L’Aigle, made unexpected detour in Brazil.   The official reasons for this detour was due to the Royal party’s desire to see the lands of South America.  The British consul in Rio de Janeiro suggested to the King that he should meet with Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. This would become the first foreign state visit a Hawaiian king ever undertook and the first state visit by a non-European monarch to a Latin American country.

Emperor Pedro of Brazil was from the Portuguese ruling House of Braganza. Portugal was a historical ally of Britain and Emperor Pedro, considering himself a liberal, distrusted autocratic Russia and the autocratic Bourbons. The Bourbons were restored to the French throne after the defeat of Napoleon and their cousins, the Borbones, were restored to the Spanish throne.  Kamehameha II saw that Braganzas could open help facilitate an alliance with the British and had similar concerns.  So with the help of the British consul in Rio de Janeiro, the three day detour became an 18 day state visit.  King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamāmalu were formally presented to Emperor Pedro of Brazil and his wife, Empress Maria Leopoldina, in a dazzling ceremony at the Paço Imperial.  

During the ceremony, the Emperor of Brazil presented to King Kamehameha II a diamond encrusted ceremonial sword. He then presented to Queen Kamamalu a set of diamond earrings. However, Queen Kamamalu seemed more impressed when told of the genealogy of Emperor Pedro and his wife. Empress Maria Leopoldina was an Austrian archduchess in her own right and a Hapsburg. She was also grand-niece to the ill-fated Queen Marie Antoinette. King Kamehameha then presented a feather cape belonging to Queen Kamāmalu and a hand kahili.  Thinking that these were insufficient gifts to his host, he offered Kalanimoku and Poki (Boki) to become the Emperor’s hanai (adopted) brothers. Kalanimoku and Poki by this time were both Roman Catholics and King Kamehameha II thought that Emperor Pedro I, also being a Roman Catholic, might be offended if offered himself to be the Emperor’s hanai brother as he was not at the time a Christian.  The Hawaiian Royals then invited the Emperor to establish diplomatic relations by sending a consul to Honolulu and he would appoint one in Brazil. 
Poki (Boki)
During the 18 day state visit, the Hawaiian Royal party attended audiences and balls were held in their honor. King Kamehameha was tutored in Portuguese and helped with his English court etiquette. The Royal [arty visited plantations and factories.  Some controversy was made when Poki and Kalanimoku skinny dipped in a beach, as was the Hawaiian custom.  A group of women gathered and watched. Poki then went up to the women to greet them and was told that he was indecent. Poki shrugged and told them in Hawaiian to let them see him because he knows that they like what they see.   Conservative Portuguese high society women found episode both shocking and yet erotic. Emperor Pedro quelled the controversy by saying that there was no shame in what the Hawaiians had done, only in people having shameful thoughts about the Hawaiians.   Emperor Pedro took efforts to ensure that the Hawaiian Royals were treated with attention and dignity and berated anyone who even spoke of their race.  Emperor Pedro envisioned a Brazil that was multiracial and “enlightened”. He therefore used the visit of the Hawaiian Royal party to set a tone for the rest of the Imperial Court and to show his support for abolishing slavery and ending racial discrimination.  King Kamehameha II for his part saw the friendship between himself and the Emperor of Brazil as the beginning of a new era for Hawai’i, one where Hawai’I could be survive as an independent power and be treated like an equal.   Kamehameha II left Brazil and arrived in England in May of 1824.  Unfortunately, King Kamehameha and Queen Kamamalu would pass away in London before meeting with King George IV.

One of the lasting bonds of effects of this state visit was the introduction of coffee beans. The Hawaiian Royal party had visited plantations and had tasted coffee. Poki continued to inquire about coffee and sugarcane plants while in London.  Poki clearly saw the commercial value of coffee and sugarcane and predicted that those crops could change Hawai’i. While a variety of coffee plants that were sent to Francisco Paulo de Marin failed, an Ethiopian variety introduced by Poki thrived becoming Kona coffee.


Joesting, Edward. Kaua’i: the Separate Kingdom. UH Press, 1988.
Kamakau, Samuel. Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Bishop Museum Press, 1961.
Kinro, Gerald. A Cup of Aloha: The Kona Coffee Epic. UH Press, 2003.

Kuykendall, Ralph. The Hawaiian Kingdom: Volume 1. UH Press, 1938.

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