Some Notes on King Kamehameha V

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Kamehameha V was probably one of Hawai’i’s greatest monarchs though heʻs often relegated to a paragraph in Hawaiian history textbooks. He was older than his brother, Kamehameha IV, but his younger brother was legally adopted by King Kamehameha III and was groomed for power. Kamehameha V on the other hand, served under his younger brother without complaint and protected the Royal Family from scandal–and there were several that happened. After the sudden death of Crown Prince Albert Edward Lei-o-papa-a-Kamehameha, King Kamehameha IV did not name an heir. So when the king passed, the Kuhina Nui and the Legislature raised Prince Lot Kamehameha to King Kamehameha V. So technically, he was elected though everyone knew he was next in line. King Kamehameha slowly brought out hula in public–not to the grand scale of his protege King Kalākaua–but he tried. When natural disasters struck the island province of Hawaiʻi, Kamehameha V personally directed relief efforts. He also began the steps to legalize laʻau lapaʻau. When his sister, Kuhina Nui Princess Victoria Kamāmalu requested that upon her death she be given a Hawaiian funeral in the manner of the old religion, he gave it to her and in doing so allowed the long banned old Hawaiian priests to come out of hiding. The King laid the foundation for St. Andrewʻs Cathedral. The Honolulu Post Office, Aliʻiōlani Hale, the Immigration Center and other numerous public works began under his reign. The first Hawaiian national museum and King Kamehameha Day were started by him. Mark Twainʻs King Arthur was inspired by the King. Hawaiʻiʻs first constitutional convention was held under King Kamehameha V, though he grew frustrated with the verbiage of Hawaiian politicians and ended up giving Hawaiʻi a new constitution. Some of the reasons for his impatience was due to the US Civil War and his belief that a re-unified United States would be able to focus on annexing Cuba, Hawaiʻi and other island groups. Having experienced racism first hand while on a visit in the United States, he distrusted the United States. At the same time, while it is often claimed he was “pro-British”–he wasnʻt. He lived through the British occupation and distrusted the British as well. He had closer personal ties with leaders in China, Malaya, Germany and France. He felt a kindred spirit to other Pacific peoples and tried to have Hawaiian royals married to Tahitian, Malaysian, and Thai royals. He criticized many times by the American businessmen and the missionaries for his High Church Anglicanism and his support of Hawaiian “pagan customs”, he simply brushed it aside saying that they had the right to their opinions but he had a right to do as his conscience dictated.

King Kamehameha Vʻs two greatest disappointments, however, were the leper colony of Kalaupapa and the aliʻi as a whole. He did not anticipate that Hansenʻs disease would spread as quickly as it did and that the government would be completely unable to handle the financial costs of the colony. The aliʻi as a whole constantly disappointed him as he felt that they had become “fools concerned with self-interest” and that they should have been doing even more and should think for themselves rather than follow the Calvinist missionaries. His personal choice as successor was Queen Emma. However, his cousin, Prince William Charles Lunalilo was more popular and had a higher genealogical claim to the Throne therefore his supporters would render Queen Emma unable to pass any significant legislation or reform. Queen Emma, in his mind, had suffered enough and did not need that type of constant struggle. He worried about Prince William Charles Lunalioʻs pro-American tendencies and alcoholism. On his death bed, he tried to name Princess Bernice Pauahi as his heir, though he thought her frivolous, because her claim was higher than Prince William Charles Lunaliloʻs and she had the backing of Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani, who was the wealthiest and most powerful Hawaiian woman of her time. Princess Bernice Pauahi declined and the king shook his head at her in disappointment and turned his back on her. He then muttered about how sad it was to die on oneʻs birthday and he closed his eyes and with that, the Kamehameha Dynasty that lead Hawaiʻi from a tetrarchy of Polynesian chiefdoms to a unified democracy under a constitutional monarch came to a close.

Within a couple of years of his death, the Kingʻs protege and secretary would be elected king and start a new dynasty–that man would be King Kalākaua.

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