Queen Lili`uokalani Inspires Native Writers, But She Can Help Americans Too
Probably the most moving thing a person new to Hawai’i can do is fly to Oahu, head to Iolani Palace, put on those special slippers that docents give people to keep their shoes off the floor, then go to the Duvet Room. This, which for obvious reasons is also known as the Prison Room, is where the white men who ruled Hawai’i in 1895 chose to detain Queen Lili’uokalani, following an unsuccessful uprising of the loyalists to restore the Hawaiian kingdom.
For eight months, Lili’uokalani was forced to live entirely in this room. Allowed to one mate, the fallen queen could only sew, crochet, pray, and write music. As Kānaka Maoli, used to being outside and feeling the earth under his feet, his confinement must have been particularly awful. There is no way that a sensitive American capable of showing at least some empathy could stand in this room today and not feel a wave of emotions: sadness, anger, and, for those who do. find the courage to imagine life in Hawaii before the coup of 1893, regret.
If possible, I would show this room to all visitors to Hawaii before they start their vacation. Of course, this isn’t possible for a whole host of reasons, but that doesn’t let anyone get away with it. Understanding the truth of how Hawai’i came to be a part of the United States is always vital for anyone visiting or moving here, and it is much easier with reading.
A good place to start is Lili’uokalani’s own autobiography –History of Hawaii from the Queen of Hawaii-but those who don’t have the patience to read an entire book might absorb much of the knowledge and beauty of Daniel Heath Justice’s new essay in the Canadian newspaper Morse. Titled “The Hawaiian Queen Who Taught Native Writers To Resist” the essay sums up both the importance of Lili’uokalani’s story and the power of her writing to inspire other Indigenous writers, especially her songs, such as “Aloha ‘Oe,” which, although written years before the overthrow, came to symbolize Kanaka Maoli’s resistance to the white supremacist “republic” that the United States eventually annexed.
“Most strikingly, and with more than a little neatness, his book continually reminds American citizens of his much lauded tenets and how far they fall short when it comes to Hawai’i,” writes Justice. in the test. “Towards the end of History of Hawaii from the Queen of Hawaii, she makes a fierce statement about Hawaiian autonomy and the deeper threat to American democracy represented by the coup, including a weirdly premonitory prediction.
Justice then quotes Lili’uokalani directly:
It has been shown that there is a foreign element in Hawaii made up of energetic and determined men, well capable of doing what they set out to do, but not scrupulous in respecting their methods. They undoubtedly control all the resources and influence of the present power in Honolulu, and will employ them tirelessly in the future, as they have done in the past, to secure their ends. This annexationist party could prove to be a dangerous adherence to even American politics, both because of its natural abilities and because of learning an autocratic life from an early age.
These are essential words. Because as Indigenous writers like Justice understand all too well, the same societal forces and structures that wiped out the Hawaiian Kingdom and many of its people are still in power in Washington today.
Click on here read the essay by Daniel Heath Justice.
Photo of Queen Lili’uokalani: Hawaii State Archives / Wikimedia Commons