King Kalākaua, Pacific Self-Determination and Walter Gibson

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This is one of several protests sent by King Kalākauaʻs Foreign Minister, W. M. Gibson, to Great Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States throughout the 1880s. This specific protest was against the “Declaration between the Governments of Great Britain and the German Empire relating to the Demarcation of the British and German Spheres of Influence in the Western Pacific” of April 6, 1886. This declaration divided the Pacific between the Germans and the British paving the way for the political divide of Samoa, Micronesia, and Papua-New Guinea while recognizing the existing Dutch colonies of the East Indies (Indonesia) and West Papua, the French occupied Polynesia, and the Spanish colonies of the Philippines and the Marianas.

What is important about this protest is that it articulates for the first time that all peoples of the Pacific have the right to self determination. Itʻs the first time that the words “self-determination” was used in the context of the Pacific and it justified that Hawaiian independence had already showed that Pacific peoples, whether they were Javanese or Gilbertese or Samoans, were capable of establishing for themselves a “civilized government without foreign interference”. This type of protest began in 1883 and was repeatedly sent out to various European and American governments for several years. One may not today think much of this, but at the time, for a Pacific Island country to be protesting on behalf of other Pacific peoples, it was seen by particularly the US, the UK and Germany as almost revolutionary. The protests also made it clear that the annexations of nations in the Pacific was being made without the consent of the governed and that the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom considered itself the chief advocate of Polynesian self-determination. It also believed that Polynesia was from Easter Island to Malaya. This helps to explain one of the motivation for the 1887 constitution and the 1893 coup–Hawaiian independence and the Monarchyʻs stance against colonialism highlighted the struggle of other Pacific Island nations.