Ka Wai Ola

Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

With the month of Malaki upon us we celebrate the birth of Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole, born on March 26, 1871, in Kukui‘ula, Kōloa, on the island of Kaua‘i. After the passing of both his parents, the Prince was hānai to Queen Kapi‘olani.

At the 2019 Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs’ annual convention, whose theme was Kū Hio, Kū Kānaka, Kū i ke Aka o Nā Kūpuna (stand with foresight, stand as a kānaka, stand in the reflection of our ancestors), Pelekikena Hailama Farden told the story of the significance of Kūhiō’s name. He asked the ‘ohana Kawānanakoa why someone of chiefly birth would be given a name of “to lean.” They explained to him it is not just “to lean” but rather to lean forward, to lean into the future, a name that the people’s prince would live up to his entire life.

Shortly after the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Kūhiō joined the rebellion against the Republic of Hawai‘i. When the rebellion was put down, the prince was sentenced to one year in prison for which he served his entire sentence. Upon his release in 1896, Kūhiō married his faithful Elizabeth Kahanu who visited him every day of his sentence.

After the United States of America annexed the Territory of Hawai‘i in 1898 the prince and his bride left Hawai‘i shores on a self-imposed exile and traveled extensively throughout Europe and even enlisting in the British Army in Africa to fight in the second Boer War.

Upon his return to Hawai‘i in 1902, Kūhiō began the work that would become his legacy. Through his travels abroad Kūhiō became quite a statesman and used those skills to get elected as the Republic of Hawai‘i’s delegate to the United States Congress 10 times, serving in that compacity until his passing in 1922. The prince founded the Hawaiian Civic Club of Honolulu on December 7, 1918 to encourage his people to be civically engaged, a cue he took from his beloved Queen Lili‘uokalani who encouraged her people to fight from within the system of the newly formed Territory.

In 1921 Kūhiō successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act even though he did not have a vote, a true testament to his statesmanship. Although his more ambitious bill (no blood quantum and fee simple land ownership) was not realized, he established a process to help get his people back on the lands seized by the provisional government. Kūhiō also understood firsthand the uphill battles in the halls of Congress with no vote, and in 1919 introduced the first-ever Hawai‘i Statehood Act to give his people full and equal say in Washington D.C. While looking to the past and the way that the ali‘i used trusted konohiki, Kūhiō established the county governments that are still used in Hawai‘i today.

Kūhiō not only shaped the Hawai‘i that we know today, but he shaped my life. From my paternal great-grandparents, John Kauwilahonomakawehi‘ikalani Sylva and Mary Mele Kapo Kekahuna who were among the chosen few that were asked to relocate from Waikapū, Maui to Ho‘olehua, Moloka‘i to help establish the first homesteads; to my parents, Benson and Toni Lee, who are founding members of the Pearl Harbor Hawaiian Civic Club. It was the summers spent on the homestead on Moloka‘i that taught me about my past, and it was my upbringing in the Civic Club movement that taught me what my future would become.

Hau‘oli Lā Hānau e Kūhiō. May your influence on your people never be forgotten.