The Last Queen of Hawaii — “The Betrayal of Liliuokalani” by Helena G. Allen
In between all the sunshine and Mai Tais, it became apparent that these islands are loaded with history. In particular, a political history that is much darker and deeper than the postcards of palm trees can ever suggest.
So, during a stop at a Barnes & Noble in Waikiki, I picked up a copy of Helena G. Allen’s “The Betrayal of Liliuokalani,” to learn more about one of the figures that was most interesting to me; Liliokalani, Hawaii’s last (and perhaps most beloved) queen.
Ms. Allen had a royal seal of approval to write this exquisitely researched novel. Simply, Lydia K. Aholo (daughter of Liliuokalani) asked her to. With a request like that, who could resist? Ms. Aholo clearly asked the right person, for Allen’s biography – spanning from the birth of the queen until after her death – is thorough, sympathetic, and marvelously detailed.
Liliuokalani was a woman born and raised in old-school ways to be royalty, in a world where new theories and politics were coming into play. During her life, Hawaii was struggling to retain being a kingdom while being pulled by businessmen and the “haole” (white men) to become something else – which eventually became a U.S. state.
A musician and scholar, Liliuokalani loved her people first and foremost. Though the book discusses her dysfunctional marriage (to a Mama’s boy) it is apparent that most of her decisions were made in efforts to do best by the people of Hawaii and their customs. As it was a time of great governmental hardship, there’s quite a load of political talk, which Allen wisely keeps brief and fairly basic.
After all, it’s the woman herself who is most interesting.
From the questions surrounding her potential lack of royal blood, to her girlish crushes, to her desire to learn, Liliokalani is a fascinating figure. She traveled the world, attended parties with the Queen of England, was a friend of presidents, and even met Robert Louis Stevenson.
While in Hawaii, I was fortunate enough to take a tour of ‘Iolani Palace. This beautiful building, located in downtown Honolulu, brings back memories of days of glamour and dancing princesses. However, it also holds a room that is a key to the darkest days in Hawaii’s history.
On January 16, 1895, Queen Liluokalani was arrested. For the next 21 months, she was under arrest. The first eight months were spent in a room at the ‘Iolani Palace, no bigger than my apartment. (These months were to be followed by five months of house arrest at her actual home, and then six months where she was restricted only to the island of Oahu.)
Any other person would have lost their mind or retreated into themselves. Not this queen. During this period, she never lost her spirit, and wound up composing a song that would become recognized as a symbol of Hawaii – “Aloha Oe.”
(The song is so associated with Hawaii that it was even used in the Disney film “Lillo & Stitch,” which you can see in the video below.)
The Hawaiian people had a belief that, when an alli (person of royal blood) was about to die, red fish would appear in the waters around the island. A few weeks before Liliuokalani died, in 1917, these legendary fish did indeed appear. Hawaii did become a state, but there’s still something old-world magical about it.
History-Nerds, you’ll love this book.
Book-Nerds, if you’re at all interested in well-written biographies, this is definitely one to check out.
(Also, if you’re interested in Hawaii, I recommend reading two other books. The first is “Mark Twain in Hawaii,” which is a collection of Twain’s writings about his time in the Sandwich islands. It’s not always politically correct, but it’s written with the humor that has made Twain so legendary. The second book is James Michener’s “Hawaii,” in which he uses historical fiction to tell the story of the entire history of Hawaii – from the first Bora Bora tribes arriving, all the way up to World War Two. It’s a massive, sweeping novel, but I loved it.)