The Old Archives Building

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By the Diamond Head side of ʻIolani Palace, thereʻs a small little Neo-classical building known either as the “Old Archives Building” or as the “Kanaʻina Building”. The building sits on land that used to belong to Prince Charles Kanaʻina, father of King Lunalilo. Charles Kanaʻina is named after his uncle of the same name. Kanaʻina and another Hawaiian chief, Nuaʻa, are the two chiefs that killed Captain Cook.

Getting back to the building, itʻs really a symbol of the resolve of the Hawaiian people to maintain their historical records and their identity. After “annexation”, a “Hawaiian Commission” was formed by the US Congress (and which had no Hawaiians despite the name) to make recommendations on how to align Hawaiʻiʻs legal and political structure with the United States. The Library of Congress made a request to have the historical documents pertaining to the Hawaiian Kingdom and the Republic of Hawaiʻi sent to Washington DC. The Hawaiian Commission approved the request but needed time to inventory and copy the historical documents. By 1901, the first Territorial Legislature was elected and the Home Rule Party won the majority of seats. One of the first discussion points of the Home Rule legislators was the sending of the “historical memory of the Hawaiian Nation to the belly of the beast” as one representative stated (in Hawaiian). The Home Rule Party fought tooth and nail against Governor Dole, against the Library of Congress, and the US National Archives. Finally, the legislator forced the hand of Governor Dole into creating a special archives building to house these important documents. In exchange for Dole not vetoing the appropriation, Dole was allowed to appoint the first chief archivist–Kuykendall. But the building, the contents, and all government papers would never be allowed to be transferred outside of Hawaiʻi and funds were also made available to buy the letters, diaries and other papers in the possession of private individuals and collections should they become available. So in 1906, the first non-library building built outside of Europe specifically for archival materials was completed. It was extremely modern for its day including air conditioners and re-enforced to withstand a shelling. Although the building was named after Prince Charles Kanaʻina (officially because of the land), but Kanaʻinaʻs uncle of the same name was seen by nationalists at the time as two of the first Hawaiians (the other being Nuaʻa) to repel a foreign invader, Captain Cook. So there was a kaona (double meaning).

The Home Rule Party envisioned a complex of buildings that would eventually store the Hawaiiana collection from the Bishop Museum to a new publically owned museum in the center of Honolulu as a reminder of a Hawaiian sense of place. Even back then. the Home Rule Party was complaining that the cost of Honolulu was driving Hawaiians away from their capital and that the only Hawaiian left in Honolulu was the Queen–which is also one of the reasons why the Queen stayed in Washington Place despite having other more comfortable homes. So the members of the Home rule Party wanted the archives and a new Hawaiian museum. Though they accomplished only the archives, it was a major step. Hawaiians today, including myself, would have no access to these treasures of our past if it were in Washington DC.

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