Tag Archives: History

Fact Check on the Journal

The Wall Street Journal has a nice little feature piece about the effort to restore the furnishings in Iolani Palace.  As is so often the case with features, it’s heavy on the neat-o factor, and maybe not-so-rigorous on the historical fact checking.  As a general rule, I like the Journal.  And I like the whole historical restoration thing.  I once spent an entire Saturday glued to an Antiques Roadshow marathon.  So I get the whole Hawaiian-heirlooms-might-be-in-your-attic approach of the piece.  But I also can’t let them slide on historical revisionism, and unfortunately, there’s a bit of inaccuracy to the piece, primarily this paragraph:

But much of the 19th-century palace’s custom-made furniture, oil paintings and other treasures disappeared after January 1893, when a small band of businessmen overthrew the monarchy.

The people of Hawaii need to take a little more pride in and responsibility for the democratic revolt that led to the end of the monarchy.  Monarchies are lovely romantic things when you get the leisure of looking back on them, but most of us prefer the liberty and rights that flow from our representative democracy.  Anyway, thanks to Ken Conklin, whose addition to the comments section clears up this slight inaccuracy:

Contrary to the article’s description, the Hawaiian revolution of 1893 was not done merely by a group of American businessmen.  About 1500 men had met in the Armory a couple days earlier to rally for the revolution, and the largest contingent among them were Portuguese.  Half of the members of the Committee of Safety, who led the revolution, were native-born subjects of the Kingdom.

It is certainly true that there was vandalism at the Palace, which is typical of every revolution worldwide.  And later the revolutionary Provisional Government held an auction and sold off many of the treasures from the Palace — but the Palace and its contents were the property of the government both before and after the revolution, so the government had every right to sell them.  The ex-queen’s private home a couple blocks away was never vandalized, and none of her private property was stolen.

What Kamehameha hath joined together, let not Akaka rip asunder

June 11 was Kamehameha Day.

Kamehameha’s greatest accomplishment 200 years ago was to unify all the Hawaiian islands under a single government.  But now once again the Akaka bill in Congress threatens to rip us apart along racial lines.

The Kingdom founded by Kamehameha was multiracial in all aspects.  John Young (Englishman) was so important to the founding of the Kingdom that his tomb is in Mauna Ala (the Royal Mausoleum).  It is the only tomb built to resemble a heiau, and is guarded by a pair of pulo’ulo’u (sacred taboo sticks).  His are the oldest bones in Mauna Ala.  Yet the Akaka bill would deny John Young membership in the Akaka tribe.

The first sentence of Hawaii’s first Constitution (1840) — the kokokahi sentence — was written on advice of American missionary William Richards.  In modern English it says: “God has made of one blood all races of people to dwell upon this Earth in unity and blessedness.”

The Akaka bill would do exactly the opposite of the one-blood concept.  It rips us apart for no reason other than race, establishes a binary opposition of “us vs. them,” divides Hawaiian children from non-Hawaiian parents, spawns jealousies between members of the Akaka tribe and their cousins who are excluded.  This is not aloha.

The Kingdom of Hawaii was founded by people of different races working together on the battlefield and in the government.  That cooperation continued throughout the Kingdom’s history.  Every person born in the Kingdom, regardless of race, was thereby a subject of the Kingdom with all the same rights as ethnic Hawaiians.  Many Asian and Caucasian immigrants became naturalized with full rights.  From 1850 to 1893, sometimes 1/4 to 1/3 of the Legislature were Caucasians appointed by the King to the House of Nobles or elected to the House of Representatives (and later elected to the Nobles after a Constitutional change).

Supporters of the Akaka bill say we opponents are holding it against them that Hawaiians were so welcoming and inclusive.  But no.  The point is that non-natives were full partners in the Kingdom and cannot now be discarded.  There never would have been a unified Hawaii without British weapons and expertise.  No written language or Christianity without the missionaries.  No prosperity without massive investment of capital and managerial skill by American businessmen, plus sweat equity from Asian laborers.  In 1893 only 40% of Hawaii’s people had even one drop of native blood.

There has never been a unified government for all the Hawaiian islands that included only ethnic Hawaiians, either among the leaders or among the people.  The Akaka bill purports to “reorganize” what never existed.

Ministers presiding over weddings say: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” This year let’s say: What Kamehameha hath joined together, let not Akaka rip asunder.  ‘A’ohe hope e ho’i mai ai.  Imua.