“The importance of these documents to our current conversation around sovereignty is really amazing.”
—Darnell Depaoli , Waimānalo resident
Under the reign of Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III, the Hawaiian Kingdom became an influential player on world stage alongside major European powers of the same era. This much was colorfully apparent at an exhibit of 19th century documents rolled out by the Hawai‘i State Archives during a recent open house inside its quarters, across from ‘Iolani Palace.
At the center of the exhibit were original copies of the Anglo-French Declaration, wherein France’s King Louis Phillipe and Great Britain’s Queen Victoria recognized the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom, a status accorded to no other nation in Oceania at the time. The declaration was signed in London on November 28, 1843, a date subsequently observed in the Hawaiian Kingdom as Independence Day. The exhibit opened on the 175th anniversary of the signing of that declaration, with a focus on acts of diplomacy by Hawai‘i’s royal rulers and what they can teach us today.
“The declaration came at a time that other islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific were being carved up by expansionist European powers. Hawai‘i could have been next, because of its strategic position between San Francisco and Asia. But the formal declaration kept the Kingdom protected and unified for the next fifty years,” said State Archivist Ron Williams, formerly with the Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at UH Mānoa.
The Hawaiian Kingdom used the Anglo-French Declaration to establish its authority in negotiating peace treaties and trade relations with England, Italy and Japan and in setting up at least 110 consulates across the globe. Selected records of these diplomatic milestones were on display at the November open house, and are drawn from the State Archives permanent collection.
Anyone can access the records, though it takes time and patience to delve into massive documents and emerge with a coherent story. Luckily, archive staff and volunteers were on hand to help at the one-day open house, and spoke about specific themes that turned esoteric records into a lively crowd pleaser.
“As someone who is part-Hawaiian, I want to learn as much as I can about this history, so I can pass it on to my children,” said Corey Asano of Kāne‘ohe.
For Waimānalo resident Darnell Depaoli the history in the exhibit also spoke to the present. “The importance of these documents to our current conversation around sovereignty is really amazing,” she said.
Nānākuli native La Noa Keahinu‘uanu said the actual documents reinforced his feelings of “how forward thinking our ali‘i must have been in figuring out what would be best for the people.”
For the organizers of the open house, such comments must have sounded as sweet as the nahenahe-style live singing that filled the normally subdued halls of the State Archives. They hope to continue with similar events that raise awareness of the indisputable authenticity of primary source materials that captured in real time the mana‘o of Hawaiian historical figures. The archives hold endless stories – not just about Hawaiians but by Hawaiians, much of it written in the elegant penmanship of long ago and said to have mana i ka pala pala, the unique power of thoughts enshrined on paper. “We want it to be known that there are real treasures here and these treasures belong to the people,” said State Archives Director Adam Jansen.