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King of the Hawaiian Islands
Reign 12 Feb 1874 – 20 Jan 1891
(&0000000000000016.00000016 years, &0000000000000342.000000342 days)
Predecessor Lunalilo
Successor Liliuokalani
Spouse Queen Kapiolani
Full name
David Laʻamea Kamanakapuʻu Mahinulani Nalaiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua-a-Kapaʻakea
Father Caesar Kaluaiku Kapaʻakea
Mother High Chiefess Analea Keohokalole
Born 16 November 1836(1836-11-16)
Honolulu, Oahu
Died 20 January 1891 (aged 54)
Palace Hotel, San Francisco
Burial Mauna Ala Royal Mausoleum

Kalākaua I, born David Laʻamea Kamanakapuʻu Mahinulani Nalaiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua and sometimes called The Merrie Monarch (16 November 1836 – 20 January 1891), was the last reigning king of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. He served in office from 12 February 1874 until his death at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California, on 20 January 1891.


1872 election

King Kamehameha V, the last monarch of the House of Kamehameha, died on 12 December 1872 without naming a successor to the throne. Under the Kingdom's constitution, if the King did not appoint a successor, a new king would be appointed by the legislature.

There were several candidates for the Hawaiian throne. However, the contest was centered mainly on two high-ranking aliʻi, or chiefs: William C. Lunalilo and Kalākaua. Lunalilo was the more popular of the two, partly because he was a higher-ranking chief than Kalākaua and was the immediate cousin of the deceased Kamehameha V. Lunalilo was also the more liberal of the two—he promised to amend the constitution to give the people a greater voice in the government. Many believed that the government should simply declare Lunalilo as the king. Lunalilo, however, refused to allow this to be done and insisted that everyone in the kingdom should take part in an election for the office of the king.

Kalākaua published a proclamation written in a Hawaiian poetic style. Here is an excerpt:

"O my people! My countrymen of old! Arise! This is the voice!"
"Ho! all ye tribes! Ho! my own ancient people! The people who took hold and built up the Kingdom of Kamehameha."
"Arise! This is the voice."
"Let me direct you, my people! Do nothing contrary to the law or against the peace of the Kingdom."
"Do not go and vote."
"Do not be led by the foreigners; they had no part in our hardships, in gaining the country. Do not be led by their false teachings."

Kalākaua was much more conservative than his opponent, Lunalilo. At the time, foreigners dominated the Hawaiian government. Kalākaua promised to put native Hawaiians back into the Kingdom's government. He also promised to amend the Kingdom's constitution.

On 1 January 1873, a popular election was held for the office of King of Hawaii. Lunalilo won with an overwhelming majority. The next day, the legislature confirmed the popular vote and elected Lunalilo unanimously. Kalākaua conceded.

Reign as King

Hawaii State Archives official painting of King David Kalakaua

Lunalilo died on 3 February 1874, and Kalākaua was elected to replace him, supported by the legislature although many of the populace, mainly the native Hawaiian and British subjects in the Kingdom, preferred Queen Dowager Emma, who stood against him.

Upon ascending the throne, Kalākaua named his brother, William Pitt Leleiohoku, as his heir, putting an end to the era of elected kings in Hawaiʻi.

Kalākaua began his reign with a tour of the Hawaiian islands. This improved his popularity. In October 1874, Kalākaua sent representatives to the United States to negotiate a free trade treaty to help end an economic depression that was ongoing in Hawaiʻi. In November, Kalākaua himself traveled to Washington DC to meet Ulysses S. Grant. An agreement was reached and the reciprocity treaty was signed on 30 January 1875. The treaty allowed certain Hawaiian goods, mainly sugar and rice, to be admitted into the United States tax-free.


The Merrie Monarch and the First Hawaiian Renaissance

During the early part of Kalākaua's reign, the king made full use of his power to appoint and dismiss cabinets. King Kalākaua believed in the hereditary right of the aliʻi to rule. Kalākaua continually dismissed cabinets and appointed new ones. This drew criticism from people of the "Missionary Party" who wanted to reform Hawaiian government based on the model of the United Kingdom's constitutional monarchy where the monarch had very little real power over the government but had a position of great dignity and was the head of state. The party believed the legislature should control the cabinet ministers rather than the king. This struggle continued throughout Kalākaua's reign.

Journey of King Kalākaua in 1881

In 1880 he chartered what would become Pioneer Federal Savings Bank. In 1993, First Hawaiian Bank acquired Pioneer Federal. First Hawaiian is the oldest bank and can trace its presence there back to the founding of Bishop & Co. in 1858.

In 1881, King Kalākaua left Hawaiʻi on a trip around the world to study the matter of immigration and to improve foreign relations. He also wanted to study how other rulers ruled. In his absence, his sister and heir, Princess Liliʻuokalani, ruled as regent (Prince Leleiohoku, the former heir, had died in 1877). The King first traveled to San Francisco where he was given a royal welcome. Then he sailed to the Empire of Japan where he met with the Meiji Emperor. He continued through Qing Dynasty China, Siam, Burma, British Raj India, Egypt, Italy, Belgium, the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the French Third Republic, Spain under the Restoration, Portugal, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and back through the United States before returning to Hawaiʻi. During this trip, he met with many other heads of state, including Pope Leo XIII, Umberto I of Italy, Tewfik, Viceroy of Egypt, William II of Germany, Rama V of Siam, President Chester Arthur, and Victoria of the United Kingdom. In this, he became the first king to travel around the world. [1]

Kalākaua was a credited for bringing back Hawaiian culture after nearly going extinct from half a century of Christian suppression. He brought Hula out of hiding, which prior to then had been practiced in secret; as well as surfing, another activity condemned by missionaries. He commissioned new buildings to modernize Hawaii in a unique style of Renaissance Architecture. He also encouraged music, Lua, and wrote the national anthem, Hawaii Pono'i.

Coat of Arms of the Hawaiian kingdom, ʻIolani palace, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Kalākaua also built ʻIolani Palace, the only royal palace that exists on American soil today, at a cost of $300,000—a sum unheard of at the time. Many of the furnishings in the palace were ordered by Kalākaua while he was in Europe.

Kalākaua decided to erect the Kamehameha Statue in recognition of Kamehameha I, the first king of the whole Hawaiian Islands. The original statue was lost when the ship carrying it sank near the Falkland Islands, so a replacement was ordered and unveiled by the king in 1883. The original statue was later salvaged, repaired and sent to Hawaii in 1912. A third statue was erected in 1969 and is currently the only statue in the United States Capitol that commemorates a native Hawaiian.

King Kalākaua is said to have wanted to build a Polynesian Empire. In 1886, legislature granted the government $30,000 for the formation of a Polynesian confederation. The King sent representatives to Sāmoa, where Malietoa Laupepa agreed to a confederation between the two kingdoms. This confederation did not last very long, however, since King Kalākaua lost power the next year to the Bayonet Constitution, and thus a reformist party came into power that ended the alliance.

By 1887, the Missionary party had grown very frustrated with Kalākaua. They blamed him for the Kingdom's growing debt and accused him of being a spendthrift. Some foreigners wanted to force King Kalākaua to abdicate and put his sister Liliʻuokalani onto the throne, while others wanted to end the monarchy altogether and annex the islands to the United States. The people who favored annexation formed a group called the Hawaiian League. In 1887, members of the League, armed with guns, assembled together. The King was frightened by this show of force and offered to transfer his powers to the foreign ministers representing the United States, the United Kingdom, or Portugal. The members of the league instead forced him to sign a new constitution.[1]

This new constitution, nicknamed the Bayonet Constitution of 1887, removed much of the King's executive power and deprived most native Hawaiians of their voting rights. The legislature was now able to override a veto by the King, and the King was no longer allowed to take action without approval of the cabinet. The House of Nobles, the house of legislature appointed by the King, was to be elected. It also inserted a provision that barred Asians from voting and established wealth and literacy thresholds for voting. A counter-revolution, led by a man named Robert Wilcox, aimed at restoring the King's power, failed.

Kalākaua, 1891

By 1890, the King's health began to fail. Under the advice of his physician, he traveled to San Francisco. His health continued to worsen, and he died on 20 January 1891 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. His final words were, "Tell my people I tried."

His remains were returned to Honolulu aboard the American cruiser USS Charleston (C-2). Because he and his wife, Queen Kapiolani, did not have any children, Kalākaua's sister, Liliʻuokalani, succeeded him to the Hawaiian throne.


Dancer with pūʻili (Hula ʻauana), Merrie Monarch Festival

King Kalākaua earned the nickname "the Merrie Monarch," because of his love of joyful elements of life. This was a reference to the nickname of the pleasure-loving Charles II of England. Under his reign, hula was revived, which had been banned by Queen Ka'ahumanu in the 1830 after converting to Christianity. Today, his name lives on in the Merrie Monarch Festival, a hula festival named in his honor. He is also known to have revived Lua, the Hawaiian martial art, music, and surfing. He commissioning the statue of Kamehameha the Great in front of Aliʻiolani Hale and one that was shipwrecked near the Falkland Islands (eventually recover). Politically he tried to restore the old monarch system in giving more power to the Hawaiian Nobles. He and his brother and sisters were known as the "Royal Fours" for their musical talents. He wrote Hawaii Ponoi, which is the state song of Hawaii today.

In Waikiki, an avenue is named after him, "Kalākaua Avenue"; this is in fact the main avenue of Waikiki taking people from the Ala Wai Canal to the famous Waikiki beach as it continues almost until the Diamond Head crater.

It is said that it was King Kalākaua's ardent support of the then newly-introduced ukulele as a Hawaiian instrument that led to its becoming so symbolic of Hawaii and Hawaiian culture.




  1. ^ Ka Momi
  • Tabrah, Ruth M. (1984). Hawaii: A History. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393302202.  

External links

Hawaiian royalty
Preceded by
King of Hawaiʻi
1874 - 1891
Succeeded by

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