Thought on Queen Liliʻuokalaniʻs Imprisonment

January 24 marks the anniversary of Queen Lili’uokalani’s abdication. The Queen was dethroned 2 years prior and was already imprisoned in a corner room of ‘Iolani Palace after a nationalist uprising was crushed by the Republic of Hawai’i. The windows of her cell–I think we should be calling it what it was–was frosted so that the public could not see her nor could she see the public. For years after her imprisonment, the Queen talked about the goose stepping of the guards around her cell day and night. The original plans of the State Council of the Republic was to have the Queen executed along with members of her family and her key supporters. But the US and Japanese ministers (ambassadors) informed President Dole that to execute the Queen would cause both of their countries to intervene militarily. The Queen was unaware of that until years after “annexation”, So the Republic decided to imprisoned her and force her to abdicate. The Queen was perplexed because the propaganda of the Republic of Hawai’i was that a revolution had dethroned her and dethroned monarchs usually are not requested to abdicated after they’ve been dethroned.

The real reason of course was that the Republic wanted to demoralize the Hawaiian people and they lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the population. So she said no. They warned her that she would be put on trial and executed and the Queen still said essentially go ahead and make me a martyr. But presented with a list of people that would be executed, including her two nephews, the Queen reluctantly signed the papers as Lili’uokalani Dominis–a name she never used in her life. The Queen was not simply to abdicate for herself, but for the entire ali’i system that governed Hawai’i for a 1,000 years. “Ua pau ke ali’i….” read the first line in the official Hawaiian translation. the Hawaiian version kept repeating phrases that translated as: the time of the ali’i has passed; the ali’i are no more; and the era of the ali’i is gone. The Queen was brought up instilled with the virtues of the ali’i and of it’s obligations. To have had to sign away not only your rights to the Crown but made to also sign away the destruction of something so integrated into your own identity and to your own culture must have been excruciating. But in the queen’s head, she thought about the lives of those imprisoned and those that might be executed then rationalized that anything she could do to save the lives of her people would be worth it. So she signed. .

The Queen was eventually put on trial, found guilty of misprision of treason–a crime was not in the legal codes of Hawai’i nor even in the US but from an obscure 17th century English law meant to deter Stuart supporters– and spend more months in that cell. When the Queen was released from prison she stopped at the doorway, turned around, took a look at her cell and said “Although I will not miss this room. I will never forget it”. The Queen said that she considered that her greatest achievement in her life was that not a single stain of blood from friend or foe was on her soul.

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