Iā ʻOe e ka Lā: Around the World with King Kalākaua
[This is Part One of an essay I wrote and which was originally published in the O’iwi Native Hawaiian Literary Journal V. 2. I’m posting this part since this deals with a forgotten part of the history of the Pan-Malayan Movement and therefore is a precursor to this Austronesianist blog. “Iā ʻOe e ka Lā” means “To You the Sun”]
Honolulu 1881. The smoky salons of the city are filled with rumors about King Kalākaua’s next course of action. Over the past couple of months, the King had fought several political battles with the white business community, in particular over his right to appoint a cabinet of his choice. But now that he had survived these attacks, many were wondering what he would do next. It was always rather hard to tell what the King might do. Like his canoe-voyaging Polynesian ancestors before him, he had an adventurous spirit coupled with an idealistic, romantic, inquisitive, nationalistic, and flamboyant mind and soul. Kalākaua never ceased to surprise his political rivals. After months of suspense, the King announced to the legislature: “Now that my troubles are over, I mean to take a trip AROUND THE WORLD (Dougherty 1992:147)”.
Indeed the King had had much to worry about. Since the day of his election in 1874, Honolulu had become a divided community. Divided among race. Divided among class. Divided among religion. But the one unifying symbol was the monarchy, though each section of Honolulu had a different idea of how much of a symbol the monarchy should be. King Kalākaua had gained a throne shaken by the passing of the Kamehameha dynasty, which the native Hawaiian people looked upon with nostalgia and adoration. Kalākaua also became the head of a monarchy that the small but wealthy American community in the islands viewed as headed by someone between the oppressive English King George III of the American Revolution and the savages who had killed Captain James Cook. Furthermore, King Kalākaua’s prestige had been damaged by the outrage many native Hawaiians felt when the National Legislature elected him as sovereign over the popular Queen Emma.
To add to this tapa cloth of troubles, his people, the native Hawaiian people, already decimated by foreign diseases, were continuing to die out as foreigners increased in population and political force throughout the island kingdom. Having lived through the British takeover of the islands in 1843, the King did not want to see a foreign flag fly above his own Hawaiian flag ever again. Kalākaua needed to rehabilitate his people and ensure the independence of his country.
He decided that he would visit the exotic countries of the East, handpick people he felt were culturally compatible with his native Hawaiian people, and bring them to his realm. In this manner, the King felt that introducing more tolerant peoples to his kingdom would counterbalance the American Calvinist missionaries and their descendants, make Hawaiʻi a multi-ethnic nation, and thereby create a larger population loyal to Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiian people. In a speech to the legislature before departing the King said:
Around this table are gathered people
of many nations. In common with my
predecessors, I desire the best welfare of
all who gather under our flag in my
dominions, and I believe that you who
come from other lands, bringing with
you the wealth, enterprise and intelli-
gence of those lands, sympathize with
me in my desire to protect my native
Hawaiian people, and strengthen my
To do this we must work in harmony
under the Constitution and Laws, and
recognize cheerfully the fact that
Hawaii as one of the family of nations
must be governed in accordance with
the ideas which control Constitutional
We have many difficult questions to
settle out of our peculiar situation, they
demand the best statesmanship and
patient investigation. I am in hopes,
while absent, to gather some ideas
which shall aid in their solution.
If there have been mistakes in the past,
let us profit by the lessons of experience,
and with honesty of purpose let us press
on to a future which I trust may be
bright with prosperity and hopefulness.
“Home” for many of the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region had become colonies of some faraway Western nation or, as in Japan and China, were facing tremendous cultural revolutions. Even European countries were facing internal problems, where commoners had few civil rights. What if the King could make these peoples see Hawaiʻi as a refuge and, furthermore, the Hawaiian monarch as more benevolent and democratic than their own rulers? That could give the Crown more political leverage and popularity. Still one further advantage: If native Hawaiians married these Asiatic peoples, might not their offspring inherit an immunity to the diseases that were killing off their full-blood Hawaiian relatives? The intermixing could create a new Hawaiian race that would be strong enough to maintain Hawaiʻi’s nationhood in the face of foreign invasion. The
King bluntly remarked to Colonel ʻIaukea, then acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs, that one ofthe goals of his trip was, in ʻIaukea’s words, “…to introduce British subjects and other nationalities to balance the predominant influence of the Americans, who by reason of the preponderance of United States interests in business were secretly working for the overthrow of the Monarchy (Iaukea 1988:43)”, though this was not known beyond court circles.
The largely European and American plantation owners, on the other hand, saw an advantage to themselves: since native Hawaiians were dying off, more workers were needed to tend the canefields. More labor meant more capital, more capital meant more production, which in turn meant that they could afford their homes in Mānoa and Nuʻuanu Valleys and their children’s tuition to Punahou School and Oʻahu College, and to universities in the United States. After all, the King was already noted for his regal ease with dignitaries. Why not send him to dazzle them, thereby hopefully securing a favorable treaty that would bring in more laborers? This would also give the plantation owners a chance to get rid of the King for a couple of months and to try to favorably influence the next in line for the throne, Kalākaua’s sister Princess Liliʻuokalani. It was a win-win situation for everyone.
Some of the more stingy Calvinist government officials (descendants of the first American missionaries to Hawaiʻi) saw the trip as expensive and extravagant, two words that would be used critically against Kalākaua throughout his reign. To appease these factions, the King selected two men closely tied to the missionary community to accompany him on his trip, Attorney General William Nevins Armstrong (who would proclaim himself “Minister of State” for this occasion) and Chamberlain Charles H. Judd.
The famed prophet and high chiefess Nāhinu of Kauaʻ,iwho was the cousin of Kalākaua’s Queen, Kapiʻolani, wrote a new chant to wish Kalākaua success and happiness in his journey and performed it for him. It was called Iā ʻOe E Ka Lā E ʻAlohi Nei:
Iā ʻoe e ka lā e ʻalohi nei
Ma nā welelau o ka honua.
Hōʻike aʻe ʻoe i kou nani,
I ka mālamalama ʻoi kelakela.
Nāu i noiʻi nowelo aku
Pau nā pali paʻa i ka ʻike ʻia.
ʻIke ʻoe i ka nani o Himela
Ka hene waiʻolu lawe mālie
Mauna i lohia me ke onaona,
Kaulana ē ka nani me ke kiʻekiʻe.
Kiʻekiʻe ʻo Kalani noho mai i luna.
Nāu i ʻaʻe nā kapu o Kahiki.
Hehihehi kū ana i ka huku ʻale
I ke kai hālaʻi lana mālie.
Kiʻina ʻia aku nā pae moku,
I hoa kuilima nou e Kalani.
Ma ia mau alanui malihini
Āu i ʻōlali hoʻokahi ai.
ʻO ka lama o ke ao kou kōkua,
Hōkūloa nō kou alakaʻi.
Lilo i mea ʻole nā ʻenemi,
Lehelehe ʻeuʻeu hana loko ʻino.
He ola ʻo Kalani a mau aku,
A kau i ke ao mālamalama.
Haʻina ʻia mai ana ka puana
No Kalākaua nō he inoa.
To you, O sun shining down
Throughout the ends of the world.
Show forth your beauty,
The greatest of all lights.
It is you who delve and seek
Till the solid cliffs yield their secrets.
You’ll see the beauty of the Himalayas,
The gentle slopes as you pass by,
A mountain rich with fragrance,
Famed for its beauty and height.
High above sits my royal chief,
You who tread the sacred places of
Treading on the rising billows
And over the calm, tranquil sea.
Reach out to the other lands,
For companions to go hand in hand
Over those unfamiliar trails
That you undertake to walk alone.
The light of the day shall be your help,
The morning star your guide,
That your enemies be turned to naught,
The heartless ones with jabbering
Long may you live, O heavenly one,
Till you reach the world of light.
This is the end of my chant
In honor of Kalākaua.
On the 20th of January 1881, Kalākaua embarked on his journey, beginning with a ten-day state visit to the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco in California. In Sacramento, he met most of the country’s prominent political leaders. General Upton, a Civil War soldier, remarked that the King’s knowledge of military matters no doubt exceeded that of most American militia officers (Armstrong 1977:15). Not to be outdone, several senators in the California State Assembly predicted a Pacific united under the rule of King Kalākaua, the Colossus of the Pacific (15). In San Francisco, a banquet was given at the Hang Fen Lou restaurant by the Consul-General of the Empire of China. The event was the costliest dinner ever given in the 19th century by Chinese in the United States (16). The Consul-General praised Kalākaua for the fair treatment of Chinese subjects in Hawaiʻi, compared to the attitude in California, where the State Legislature had just passed the first Chinese Exclusion Act. Minister Armstrong then turned to Kalākaua and whispered, “You may be a pagan king, and I the Minister of a pagan king; but our first important experience in a foreign land is the gratitude, expressed in this grand banquet, to your government for its justice; and it is done on the soil of a nation that deliberately does injustice to the Chinese (17)”. After many honors and dinners, the King and his suite embarked for Japan.
It was at first decided that he would travel incognito, simply as Aliʻi [Chief] Kalākaua, but the Japanese were informed by diplomatic agents in California of the King’s intended visit (Kuykendall 1967:228). Much to the King’s surprise, as his steamer, the Oceanic, entered Yedo (Tokyo) harbor, it received a 21-gun salute from all vessels at dock, the Hawaiian flag was hoisted next to the red-and-white Japanese standard, and “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī ” [the Hawaiian National Anthem] was enthusiastically played onshore. This was a king and he would be received as such. Kalākaua was the first foreign sovereign of any country to visit Japanese soil.
While in Yedo, the King met with Emperor Meiji and suggested several matters: marriage between the King’s niece (Princess Kaʻiulani) and Prince Higashifushimi no Miya Yorihito (Komatsu); an Asian Federation of States which the Emperor would head; elimination of the unequal treaty provision granting extraterritoriality to foreigners in Japan; and emigration of Japanese to Hawaiʻi.
To the marriage proposal, the King would later receive a letter written by the Prince himself stating:
Through the Reception Committee, I
was informed of your generous kind-
ness, in asking me, if it would be my
happiness to be united to your Royal
niece in marriage, I am at a loss to
express fully my appreciation of this
honour as I am still under age [Princess
Kaʻiulani was five-and-a-half and the
Prince 15], I have consulted my father,
and I am very reluctantly compelled to
decline your distinguished proposal for
the reason that I am already betrothed
to my future companion in life; so I
sincerely trust that your Majesty will not
be disappointed at what duty compels
me to do. (230)
A follow-up letter was then given by the Japanese Foreign Minister to King Kalākaua on behalf of Emperor Meiji that the emperor “has been led to say that your sincere desire to bring the relations of the Imperial and Royal Courts to one of a close friendship has deeply moved his heart. In thus being compelled to decline your proposition my Sovereign has experienced a very great pain (230)”.
To the second matter of an Asian Federation, the Emperor personally wrote:
I highly agree with Your Majesty’s
profound and far-seeing views. Your
Majesty was also good enough to state
that I might be the promoter and chief
of this Federation. I cannot but be
grateful for such expression of your love
and confidence in me.
The Oriental nations including my
country have long been in a state of
decline and decay; and we cannot hope
to be strong and powerful unless by
gathering inches and treasuring foots
gradually restore to us all attributes of a
nation. To do this our Eastern Nations
ought to fortify themselves within the
walls of such Union and Federation, and
by uniting their power to endeavor to
maintain their footing against those
powerful nations of Europe and
America, and to establish their indepen-
dence and integrity in future. To do this
is a pressing necessity for the Eastern
Nations, and in so doing depend their
But this is a mighty work and not easily
to be accomplished, and I am unable to
foretell the date when we shall have
seen it realized.
In the face of the internal administra-
tion of my government being of such a
pressing nature I have not a heart to
turn my face from it, and leaving my
country, to devote myself mainly to the
work which more directly concerns
other nations. In this is found the
difficulty of my initiating at present
the work of the Federation of Asian
In each laying out the course of the
future policy to the other by interchang-
ing our views, if it happily at a future
time happen to help us, it cannot only
be the fortune of Japan and Hawaii but
also of whole Asia. (Kuykendall 229 to 230)
While Emperor Meiji wholeheartedly agreed with the idea of an Asian Federation, he realized the realities of the world around him. There was much work that needed to be done within the empire. He himself was Japan’s first constitutional monarch, and his constitution was barely 14 years old. At the same time, his country was busy Westernizing and militarizing in the hopes of avoiding colonization like her Asian neighbors, who were slowly being plucked by European hands. Japan needed foreign investment and materials. Japan was not prepared for an embargo or war with the U.S. if they allied with Hawaiʻi, who was under the U.S. sphere of influence.
Although the majority of Kalākaua’s proposals were declined, one important proposal was ratified–immigration. The Emperor had been wary that his subjects not toil in the same kind of conditions that the Chinese coolies in the United States were enduring. The King convinced the Emperor that should he ratify a treaty of emigration, Japanese subjects would be treated as if they were Hawaiian subjects, and they would be allowed to naturalize if they so desired. The Emperor consented and the treaty was ratified.
After meeting the Emperor and other important dignitaries, the King also toured Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagasaki. Throughout his visit to Japan, he was fêted as if he were the ruler of the greatest kingdom on earth (Kuykendall 228). Standing alongside the Emperor, he witnessed a 10,000-troop military review.
The Emperor conferred upon Kalākaua the Imperial Order of the Chrysanthemum along with several hundreds of dollars’ worth of gifts such as vases, kimonos, and other Japanese items much coveted in the West.
The front pages of the Japanese newspapers were covered with articles about Hawaiʻi and its monarchy throughout the duration of Kalākaua’s visit. Nightly fireworks displays were given in his honor. A steamer provided by the well-known Mishi-Bishi Company (Mitsubishi in modern spelling) took him from Tokyo to Nagasaki and Kobe (Armstrong 1977:79).
Kalākaua met most of the prominent political and religious leaders of the empire. He visited the Shinto temples of Shiba and learned how the Emperor was a descendent of the Gods (the Sun Goddess to be specific), much like Hawaiian rulers (Armstrong 85). He visited Buddhist temples and inquired about bringing priests to introduce Buddhism to Hawaiʻi (Armstrong 84). Didn’t the Japanese themselves merge their old religion with Buddhism without conflict? In fact, it helped preserve their culture and provided a balance of ideas. The King also visited the Protestant Church of Yokohama, one of the first legalized Christian churches in Japan, received a copy of the New Testament in Japanese, and was reminded that the church was partially built by Hawaiian Christians (Armstrong 63).
After a month in Japan, Kalākaua was ready to depart. As he stepped onto his ship, a huge decoration with the word ALOHA spelled out in flowers was unveiled onshore and Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī was played.
From Japan the King went to China (where he met with Viceroy Li Hung Chang and learned about Confucianism), British Hong Kong, then Siam (arriving in late March 1881). As the King’s ship approached Bangkok, his retinue shouted, “This is Hawaii! (Armstrong 119)”. Of all of the places the King was to see, Siam would be the most familiar to him, with its expansive coconut tree groves, lush green mountains, and sandy beaches.
King Chulalongkorn Rama V of Siam (Thailand)
Kalākaua’s remarked to the Siamese King that “Polynesians had Malay blood”, King Chulalongkorn replied, “The Siamese are partly Malay; we are related (Armstrong 126)”. While there a young Thai foreign affairs officer asked Armstrong, “Is it true that the civilisation of Europe is due to Christianity?” To the reply that such was the belief of church leaders, the Siamese officer said, “Then if Christianity is the cause of European progress, is it also the cause of the fleets and armies with which they are ready to destroy one another? (134-135)”. Another embarrassing question which had been posed while the royal suite was in Japan resurfaced when a Siamese Prince asked Minister Armstrong, “Is your King in the hands of foreigners? Why does he not bring his own people with him instead of white men [referring to Armstrong and Judd]? Does he do what you tell him to do? (132)”. As in Japan, the King and his suite avoided the question.
From Siam, the King continued to Singapore, Johore, Malaya, and the British Indian Empire (including Pakistan and Burma). The Maharajah of Johore [Sultan Abu Bakar] and the King compared common legends and common words (such as api in Malaysian and ahi in Hawaiian for fire; alima in Malaysian and lima in Hawaiian for five), concluding that Malays and Polynesians were long-lost Malay brothers (Armstrong 144). This expression would later be part of the Pan-Malaysian movement led by such imminent scholars as Dr. José Rizal, Philippine Representative Wenceslao Vinzons, and President Diosdado Macapagal (father of the current president of the Philippines). The idea of “long lost brothers” of a great Pan-Pacific Malay maritime civilization stretching from Malaysia to Hawaiʻi would become a major theme in the national liberation struggles of Southeast Asia until today.
The King was also introduced to Islam from the Maharajah of Johor who also gave him a green and gold copy of the Qu’ran (Armstrong 145). In letters from Malaysia, the King remarked to his sister how Malays looked very similar to native Hawaiians and that the Maharaja looked exactly like Prince Leiohoku, the late husband of Princess Ruth Ke`elikolani. The King described the Maharajah as:
…The Maharaja is a splendid man. He is liked and beloved by all nationalities here in Singapore espeically the ladies. He is a fine looking man and resembnles the first Leleiokhoku very much. If he could have spoken our language I would take him to be one of our people the resemblance being so strong…. (letter of King Kalakaua to Princess Lili’uokalani, May 12th, 1881)
The Maharaja/Sultan of Johor, Abu Bakar
Prince William Pitt Kina`u, son of Prince Leleiohoku I
Prince David La`amea Kawananakoa (nephew of the King) and Sultan Ibrahim (son of Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor)
In British India and Burma, Kalākaua met many members of the British administration of those two colonies. In Calcutta, Minister Armstrong asked a colonial secretary of Bengal Province how 50,000 British soldiers kept 250 million Indians under British rule. The secretary replied, “They cannot agree among themselves; if they did, our rule would end instantly (Armstrong 159)”. Kalākaua was also given the rare honor of being brought into the caste system and made a Brahmin [through a temporary adoption supposedly through the help of a lawyer who may have been Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal Nehru] so that he might view more thoroughly the sacred Hindu shrines. Before leaving, the King, expressing a desire to secure a souvenir of India, selected a picture of Buddha and told his suite that this would remind him and his people that other great civilizations also worshipped “idols” like Hawaiians once did (Armstrong 169).
As the King made his way to Egypt, he passed though the Holy Land of Palestine and viewed Mt. Sinai. Kalākaua asked, if the mountain was sacred to Christianity, why was it in the hands of the Muslim Ottoman Turks (who controlled much of the Middle East)? A British officer replied that Ottoman rule was not challenged because trade with Turkey was more important than religious sentiment. The King then remarked that it seemed Christians did not show respect for sacred places as he had been told (Armstrong 175). As a guest of the Ottoman Empire, Kalākaua was entertained by the Khedive (Viceroy), who showed the King the Pyramids, along with other ancient sites, including places that Egyptian Pharaohs, as well as Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, and Julius Caesar, had once lived in or visited. At several lodges in Cairo, Kalākaua gave impressive speeches reciting the history of Masonic fraternities. In a discussion with the King, the Khedive remarked:
Europe will make drunkards of the Mussulmans [Muslims] within a century. There is much good in Christianity, but if it prevailed in Asia, it would free the people from direct responsibility to God. Do the Christians of Europe obey the teachings of Christ? I have lived in England and I have not seen obedience. There is more wickedness in London than in all of Asia Minor or Arabia and Egypt. Christianity suits them, but Islamism is best for our people. If Christianity is better for us, God will send it here; he knows best what we need, and he gives us what is best for us. (179-80)
While on the Khedive’s steamer riding up the Suez, a funny incident occurred. As they approached the Canal station, the Khedive ordered a telegraph to be sent stating, Prepare lunch for the King of the Sandwich Islands [the European name for the islands of Hawaiʻi]. The station’s kitchen received the telegraph as Prepare Lunch for the King. Sandwiches (177). Needless to say, when they arrived the Khedive was very upset. Nonetheless, he continued to show Kalākaua the wonders of Egypt, including a tranquil ride up the Nile on a barge perhaps very similar to one used by Cleopatra herself.
From Egypt the King went to Rome, another city of antiquity. He was entertained in Italy and the Vatican, and was toasted by King Humberto, who pledged Italy’s friendship and assistance to Hawaiʻi should it ever be required (Iaukea 1988:100). Queen Margherita of Italy had then turned to the King and asked how Italians and Catholics were treated in Hawaiʻi. The King responded that Italians were treated fairly and that a good many Hawaiians were devout Catholics, which pleased the Queen (Armstrong 1977:202).
Throughout his Italian tour, Kalākaua witnessed military reviews and was courted by many Italians wanting a souvenir from the King. He also called upon the Vatican for an interview with Pope Leo XIII in the richly painted chambers of the Holy See. The Pope asked the King about the presence of Judd and Armstrong, to which the King replied that they were white Protestant Hawaiian subjects. One of the Cardinals in the room chuckled and replied, “Then they are in the opposition”. Leaning towards the King, the Pope then asked, “Do my [Catholic] people in your kingdom behave well?” Kalākaua replied, “Yes, they are good subjects.” The Pope then inquired, “If they do not behave, I must look after them. Why do you have a white Minister in your government?” The King, surprised at the question from the Pope, deferred it to Minister Armstrong, who replied that Hawaiian kings appointed men based on merit rather than race. The Cardinal then asked, “Are there any Catholics in your government?” Armstrong simply answered, “No, the American Protestants entered the country before the Catholics did, and have kept control of public affairs; but no efficient Catholic is excluded from high office by reason of his faith (208-209)”. After 20 minutes, the King kissed the Pope’s ring [of St. Peter] and the audience was over. The King continued making diplomatic calls.
Armstrong, William N. 1977 . Around the World with a King. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle.
Dougherty, Michael. 1992. To Steal a Kingdom. Waimanalo, HI: Island Style Press.
Iaukea, Curtis Piʻehu and Lorna Kahilipuaokalani Iaukea Watson. 1988. By Royal Command. Ed. Niklaus R. Schweizer. Honolulu: Hui Hanai.
Kalakaua [King]. 1881. Letter to his sister Liliuokalani. 12 May. Hawaiʻi State Archives. honolulu
Kalakaua [King]. 1881. Letter to his sister Liliuokalani. 10 Aug. Hawaiʻi State Archives. Honolulu.
Kuykendall, Ralph S. 1967. The Hawaiian Kingdom, Volume III, 1874ā“1893: The Kalakaua Dynasty. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Pukui, Mary Kawena, trans. 1995. Nā Mele Welo: Songs of Our Heritage. Ed. Pat Namaka Bacon and Nathan Napoka. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.
Pukui, Mary K. and Alfons L. Korn, trans. and eds. 1973. The Echo of Our Song: Chants & Poems of the Hawaiians. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Seiden, Allan. 1992. Hawaiʻi: The Royal Legacy. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing.