By Ronald Williams, Jr.
The letter came from a small church in Koaʻe, in the district of Puna, near Kīlauea volcano, the majestic home of Pele.
It arrived – in late April 1894 – as Her Majesty Queen Liliʻuokalani was organizing a response to the announcement by the ruling provisional government that they would declare a more permanent régime, a Republic of Hawaiʻi, on 4 July of that year.
An agreement between President Cleveland and Queen Liliʻuokalani to restore her to power had fallen apart when the United States failed to follow through. The situation was dire, and the queen agonized over the fate of her people and their beloved nation.
At her writing desk within Washington Place, Queen Liliʻuokalani removed the correspondence from its envelope and began to read. The letter’s salutation filled her heart: “I ka Makua o Ka Lahui Hawaii” (To the Mother of the Hawaiian Nation/People).
On 26 April 1894, Reverend Job Nalauahi Kamoku of Ka ʻEkalesia o Koaʻe, wrote his Queen with assurances of the people’s unflagging support for her as the leader of their nation. The reverend reported “huina he 15 wale no” (a total of only 15) people in all the moku (district) of Puna who had taken the required oath of allegiance to the new government. He closed with the reassurance, “E hoomanao oe aia makou a pau ma ka aoao Aloha Aina, Aloha ia oe, ko makou Moiwahine i Aloha nuiia a me ka hilinai no ke Kuokoa mauloa o Kou Aupuni.” (Remember, we are all on the side of Aloha ʻĀina, we love you, our beloved Queen, and we trust in the continued independence of your government).
Hawaiʻi’s eighth ruling monarch shared an exceptional bond with her people that went beyond the traditionally reciprocal connection between kānaka and aliʻi that required loyalty from both sides.
Queen Liliʻuokalani took on her nation’s worries, fears, expectations, and hopes while offering comfort and grace, no matter the outcome. In 1897, while thousands of miles from home, amidst Her ongoing struggle to prevent the theft of the Hawaiian nation, Queen Liliʻuokalani wrote, “I would undertake anything for the benefit of my people. It is for them that I would give my last drop of blood.” Still, she questioned whether it was enough: “But for the Hawaiian people, for the forty thousand of my own race…for them has this mission of mine accomplished anything?”
When a photographic print of the Queen taken in a New England studio arrived at the newspaper offices of Ke Aloha ʻĀina on King Street in downtown Honolulu, the staff shared the experience with its readers: “Aohe mea oi ae o ko makou ohaoha, a mahamaha hoi a ka naau, elike la me ke kii piha o ka Moiwahine Liliuokalani a Alii Aimoku hoi o Hawaii.” (There is nothing more delightful or pleasing to the heart than the full image of Queen Liliʻuokalani the Royal Sovereign of Hawaiʻi).
They continued, “I ko makou kilohi ana mailuna a lalo, aohe mea a ka manao e kaohi iho ai i na omaka waipuilani o na kulu waimaka mai ko makou lihilihi iho.” (As we gazed from top to bottom, there was no thought of restraining the waterspout of tears that flowed down from our lashes). These poʻe aloha ʻāina (patriots), from publishers to paperboys, spoke with one voice, explaining, “aohe hoi he mea a ka maka e hoopaweo ai, i kona wa e ike aku ai i ka Makuahine o kona lahui.” (There was nothing that would cause the face to turn away as one beheld the Mother of her nation).
In ʻŌlelo Noeʻau, the treasured collection of Hawaiian proverbs and poetical sayings, Mary Kawena Pukui annotates her translation of “Hānau ka ʻāina, hānau ke aliʻi, hānau ke kanaka” with the explanation, “The land, the chiefs, and the commoners belong together.”
At few points in Hawaiian history has this ancient saying meant more than during the reign and later life of Her Majesty Queen Liliʻuokalani.
On the 2 September anniversary of her birth, we celebrate not just the character and actions of this eternal Queen of Hawaiʻi, but also that unceasing love that she gave and received from her people.
We acknowledge the purposeful actions of the aged and the young, the farmers and the fishermen, the teachers and the students, the pastors and the police, indeed, the nation, that wrapped its makuahine in broad arms of aloha maeʻole (never-fading love), and we embrace that legacy that calls on all of us to continue to do the same.