Princess Ka'iulani of Hawaii

Princess Ka'iulani of Hawaii

Hawaii - Child of Otaheite
Whatever happened to you
Monuments of glass, steel and chrome    
Where our people did roam    
Our thoughts are always with you       
Hawaii, born of goddess Pele
Whatever happened to you
While the volcanoes still rumble 
And send ashes to the sky
May the spirit of Pele never die        
Princess Ka'iulani, Child of Hawaii
Whatever happened to you
A delicate flower in bloom
Taken from us far too soon 
May your sweet memory always remain 

Poem by Jane Resture 


"I must have been born under an unlucky star,
as I seem to have my life planned for me in such
a way that I cannot alter it."
Princess Victoria Ka'iulani

Victoria Ka’iulani was born on October 16, 1875 during the reign of King Kalakaua, and was named after England’s Queen Victoria, a long-time friend of the Hawaiian royal family. Her mother was King Kalakaua's sister Princess Miriam Likelike, while her father was Scottish-born Archibald Cleghorn, a prosperous businessman, horticulturist, and eventual Governor of O’ahu during Queen Lili’uokalani’s reign. 

When she was born, Ka’iulani was given an estate in Waikiki by Princess Ruth Keelikolani, the last surviving member of the Kamehamehas. Called Ainahau, the estate was near the ocean and surrounded by trees and flowers. Peacocks strutted amongst the ponds and footpaths. As a child, Ka'iulani spent many hours riding her white pony around the estate. In 1881, King David Kalakaua tried to arrange a marriage between Kaʻiulani and Japan's prince Komatsu Akihito in the hope of creating an alliance between Japan and the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. However, the prince declined, as he was already pre-arranged to marry a Japanese noble lady

 When Robert Louis Stevenson arrived in Honolulu with his family in January of 1889, he quickly paid his respects to King Kalakaua, with whom he became fast friends; the King in turn introduced Stevenson to Archibald Cleghorn, knowing their shared Edinburgh origins would prove a bond. (Stevenson’s stepdaughter, Isobel Strong, was wife to the court painter, and had been a friend of Ka’iulani’s mother, Likelike.)  Indeed, Stevenson was very taken with the Cleghorn household, feeling a particular interest in the intelligent 13-year-old Princess who thought his hair far too long!  Indeed Stevenson and Ka'iulani became fast friends, with the famed writer mesmerizing Ka'iulani with intriguing tales as they sat in the garden. Stevenson also loaned books to her, and she remained an avid reader throughout her life

Robert Louis Stevenson was a kindly man with great respect and love for the Polynesian peoples and Ka’iulani indeed aroused his paternal concern. The King and Ka’iulani's father both felt it proper that Ka’iulani, as a possible future monarch should receive her schooling abroad although Stevenson felt that such a dramatic a climate change might affect the child’s health.   Indeed Stevenson himself had left the colder climate of Scotland for the warmer climate of the Pacific in order to improve his own health. In the long run, he was correct, but it was not the great author’s place to influence Ka’iulani’s destiny.

Princess Ka'iulani of Hawaii

Knowing Ka’iulani’s trip to Britain was inevitable - Robert Louis Stevenson did his part to buoy her spirits regarding the arduous journey to the land of her father’s birth…and shared exciting legends and folk-tales of Scotland with her. After all, she was "…the wrong half Edinburgh Scots, like myself’!" Ka’iulani left Hawai'i on the 10th May 1889, and never saw her literary friend again, learning of his death while at her schooling

Shortly thereafter, Ka'iulani was sent away to England to further her education. During her absence, the Hawaii’s monarchy fell on troubled times, including the unexpected death of King Kalakaua in 1891. His sister, Liliuokalani, ascended the throne as Hawaii’s queen. Among her first acts was naming Ka'iulani as her heir apparent.

Ka’iulani  was devastated to learn from British guardian - and "second father" - Theophilus Davies the terrible cables breaking the news of the fall of the Hawaiian Monarchy.  A handful of white renegade businessmen unwilling to see their interests curtailed by the laws of the Kingdom, conspired and succeeded in forcing Ka’iulani’s beloved Aunt from her throne, with assistance from representatives of the American military (a gunboat with weaponry trained on the Royal Palace, and U.S. Marines landed to supposedly "protect the property" of Americans). A campaign of racist propaganda, and toadying to the disciples of "Manifest Destiny" in Washington, D.C., kept matters in foment until "lame duck" President Cleveland was safely out of office, and the pro-annexation McKinley in his place.

A statue, by Jan Fisher, of Princess Ka'iulani,
erected in 1999 in Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Photo by Mindi Reid


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Although her health suffered a blow she was never to recover from (her chronic migraines and constant susceptibility to ailments began soon after receiving the shocking news from home), the Princess was devoted to her people’s interests, a woman "leel and true" in every respect of her noble character…one who could not sit idly by while her country was wrested away from its people. She made her way to America’s shores, and - although shy by nature - addressed the press in public with these resounding words:

"Seventy years ago Christian America sent over Christian men and women to give religion and civilization to Hawai'i.  Today, three of the sons of those missionaries are at your capitol asking you to undo their father’s work.  Who sent them? Who gave them the authority to break the Constitution which they swore they would uphold? Today, I, a poor weak girl with not one of my people with me and all these ‘Hawaiian’ statesmen against me, have strength to stand up for the rights of my people.  Even now I can hear their wail in my heart and it gives me strength and courage and I am strong - strong in the faith of God, strong in the knowledge that I am right, strong in the strength of seventy million people who in this free land will hear my cry and will refuse to let their flag cover dishonor to mine!"

Alas, by the time the princess returned to the Islands in 1897, her homeland was already a much different place. Liliuokalani had been forced to abdicate her throne four years earlier, and the monarchy was no more. Instead, Hawaii was about to be named a republic by U.S. President William McKinley. Months later, while horseback riding, she was caught in a rainstorm and fell ill. The cold lingered for months. At two a.m. on the morning of 6th March, 1899, the peacocks dwelling in the 10-acre grounds of her magnificent home estate ‘Ainahau ("land of hau trees" or "cool place") abruptly began to scream…a terrible din which alerted all of Honolulu to the fact that the brave half-Scottish Princess who had travelled so far, seen so much, and made such gallant efforts to save her Hawaiian nation had only returned home to defeat, ill health, and death.  To this day, legend has it that the cherished pets of "The Princess of the Peacocks" knew the spirit of their gentle mistress had fled…some of them becoming so inconsolably raucous as a result that the Princess’ stricken father had to have them shot. Princess Ka'iulani was only 23 when she died. Many of our Hawaiian people believe that Kaʻiulani died of a broken heart, having suffered many losses in her life. Her father also said that he thought that since Hawaiʻi was gone, it was fitting for Kaʻiulani to go as well.

It is certainly pleasing to see that the influence of the short life of this most special young woman continues to this very day…inspiring people of many walks of life and differing backgrounds to various achievements in her honour. Princess Ka'iulani continues to exercise a unique influence upon people of diverse culture and perspective - in her Hawaiian homeland, and elsewhere around the world. Her own words in defence of her country have been rediscovered and now serve as inspiration to a new generation exploring means of insuring the survival of the unique and beautiful Hawaiian cultural and the correction of wrongs done on a sovereign nation by a hostile invader.

Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii,
Princess Ka'iulani's aunt and sister of King Kalakaua

Princess Ka'iulani proved to be a glorious fusion of two different worlds, bringing a special honor - and uniquely personal glamour - to both. While growing graciously into a "Victorian" royal of European stamp, Ka'iulani remained a true child of Hawai'i. She spoke her native tongue fluently, and was overjoyed to discover that fluency still intact upon returning home from scholastic and political "exile" in Europe. She practiced the ancient arts of surfing and canoeing; played the new Hawaiian spin on stringed instruments - the ukulele; loved to eat the Kanaka Maoli staff-of-life, poi, along with raw fish; strolled through the peacock-studded shadows of her lovely gardens in the loose-flowing elegance of the mu'u-mu'u, wearing fragrant maile-vine lei or lei hulu manu - exquisite feather-work lei suitable to her rank. However, the haunting beauty always remained and regardless of her guise she was always uniquely Ka'iulani.

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 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com  -- Rev. 29th March 2012)
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