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The Merrie Monarch
King Kalākaua

The Merrie Monarch
  • David Kalakaua (by )
  • Unwritten Literature of Hawaii: The Sacr... (by )
  • Around the World with a King (by )
  • The Legends and Myths of Hawaii : the Fa... (by )
  • Kalakaua's Reign : A Sketch of Hawaiian ... (by )
  • Hawaii under King Kalakaua from Personal... (by )
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King Kalākaua, the last king to reign over Hawaii, was much more than the partying happy-go-lucky man that his title as the Merrie Monarch suggests. On top of ending an economic depression by entering into  trade deals with Ulysses S. Grant, he single-handedly revived native Hawaiian pride and culture that had been repressed by European and American missionaries and brought Hawaii onto the international stage with strong relationships he built during two world tours.

Kalākaua took the throne on February 3, 1874. His restoration began with reviving the history of Hawaiian stories and traditions. He was the first to gather together all of Hawaiian myths in The Legends and Myths of Hawaii: The Fables and Folk-Lore of a Strange People. He understood that Hawaiian identity was tied inextricably to stories and the rituals that accompanied the storytelling. In 1830 the missionaries, along with a christianized Kaʻahumanu, banned public hula performances. Hawaiians apparently ignored the edict and continued to practice hula. King Kalākaua rescinded the ban and restored hula to its natural popularity.

“Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people,” he said. Hula was also a vehicle for passing down  history and religion to the following generations. For more on hula, read The Sacred Songs of the Hula.
He simultaneously focused on the restoration of Hawaiian traditions and the trajectory of Hawaii’s modernized future. In 1881, he became the first sovereign to ever circumnavigate the world, visiting leaders from China, Portugal, India, Spain, Germany,  Egypt, Italy, Wales, Belgium, and many other countries, in an attempt to see the world and have the world recognize Hawaii as a sovereign nation. In Japan, the emperor welcomed him with the song he wrote, “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī,” and they talked of strengthening their ties in order to balance American and British dominance. In an 1883 bid for more Japanese immigrants, Maui governor John Kapena traveled to Tokyo where he delivered the message: “His Majesty Kalākaua believes that the Japanese and Hawaiian spring from one cognate race and this enhances his love for you.”

King Kalākaua enjoyed no shortage of friends either. He befriended writer Robert Louis Stevenson and inventor Thomas Edison, the latter of whom helped set up the Iolani palace as the first electricity-powered royal palace.

For more on King Kalākaua’s life, read David Kalākaua by Ruby Hasegawa Lowe and Kalākaua’s Reign by William De Witt Alexander.

By Thad Higa

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