In the Footsteps of Ke Aliʻi Makaʻāinana


The legacies of our aliʻi are an important part of the health and wellbeing of our lāhui today. All of our aliʻi trusts continue to serve Hawaiians and our community in their capacities today as private organizations. However, the legacy of one particular aliʻi continues in the public sector – that of Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act was an incredible feat by an incredible aliʻi. His advocacy amid a predominantly white-male U.S. Congress in the early 1900s resulted in the establishment of a long-standing program to provide kānaka land and livelihood.

In his advocacy to Congress prior to the passage of the Act, Kalanianaʻole asserted that the way to assure the recovery of the Hawaiian race was to “place them back upon the soil.” Kalanianaʻole knew that the key was – and is – ʻāina. A hundred years later, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands continues to serve kānaka by reconnecting them to the land.

As a delegate to Congress, Kalanianaʻole did this without the ability to cast a vote. The pure skill of his influence and advocacy insured generations of kānaka are connected back to ʻāina.

In addition, Kalanianaʻole founded the Hawaiian Civic Club movement, was involved in the reorganization of the Royal Order of Kamehameha, was instrumental in the creation of our first National Park in Hawaiʻi, created our county system of government, was an advocate for women’s suffrage, and was instrumental in advocating for kānaka to be appointed to civil service positions, thereby growing Hawaiians in leadership.

Today, our elected officials are charged with a similar role – influence and advocacy for the wellbeing of Hawaiʻi’s people, especially kānaka. Kalanianaʻole’s legacy has endured in all areas of civic duty. What can we reflect on from his example as we examine the candidates in this upcoming election? As we turn to the ballot boxes in the coming weeks, let’s consider Kalanianaʻole and his advocacy efforts as a metric for kānaka wellbeing. Here are three leadership characteristics that Kalanianaʻole exemplified:

  1. An intimacy with experience. While his political career was of substantial length, Kalanianaʻole was first and foremost an aliʻi. He had been jailed for his involvement in the counterrevolution following the overthrow. Kalanianaʻole understood the costs of such advocacy and what was at stake. These experiences undoubtedly influenced his qualities as a leader.
  2. Daring endurance. Racism was prevalent in the 1900s, and yet, he took multiple trips between Hawaiʻi and Washington, D.C., and built connections with his Congressional colleagues, sometimes even inviting them back to his home at Pualeilani. We cannot assume to know Kalanianaʻole’s strategy in navigating a different world than the one we live in today, but his actions certainly required daring endurance.
  3. An understanding of ʻāina. Bringing Hawaiians “back upon the soil” is not simply a turn of phrase and one that should not be taken lightly. Perhaps Kalanianaʻole knew innately that kānaka are composed of ʻāina and that this relationship brings life to both.