Hawaiian secessionists try to inspire winners for 21st Century battles by conjuring the ghosts of 19th Century losers

by Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D.

Queen Lili’uokalani has become a cult figure. Hawaiian sovereignty activists worship her in an uncritical, mystical way similar to how Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. Some say her spirit lives at Iolani Palace or Washington Place, some say she lives at Mauna Ala (the Royal Mausoleum) or at her statue on the Capitol grounds; but all say she lives forever in the hearts of 527,000 Native Hawaiians (Census 2010). Other cult heroes include about 350 men arrested, including 189 put on trial, for the Wilcox attempted counterrevolution of 1895. This year at least one published essay says Hawaiians should try that again.

The activists have been working hard to make the general population of Hawaii think of Lili’uokalani as a noble, virtuous leader who was unjustly and illegally overthrown, who exercised non-violence in her peaceful surrender, who wrote beautiful music while imprisoned in her own Palace, and who behaved like a saint in forgiving those wicked haoles who dethroned her with the help of an armed invasion by the United States.

Lili’uokalani’s 175th birthday on September 2, 2013 provided an excuse for an unusually aggressive propaganda campaign aimed at stirring anti-U.S. and anti-haole resentment, and determination to restore Hawaii as an independent nation under ethnic Hawaiian control.

Of course Lili’uokalani was an important historical figure. She deserves to be remembered along with Hawaii’s other monarchs of the Kingdom period and Governors of the Territorial and and Statehood periods. But during her disastrous two years as Queen she accomplished nothing worthwhile except being overthrown. Why should she be more highly celebrated than King Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III, who reigned for 30 years with many great accomplishments? He gave up absolute power to create Hawaii’s first Constitution recognizing fundamental rights of all people regardless of race or inherited status; and he gave up absolute ownership of all Hawaii’s lands to create private property with fee-simple deeds.

Why should Lili’uokalani’s two years of ineffective and corrupt governance from Iolani Palace be more highly regarded than Sanford Dole’s masterful leadership? He governed from the Palace through nearly eleven years of profound and tumultuous change as President of the Provisional Government, President of the Republic, and first Governor of the Territory. Dole also gave earlier service as Kingdom legislator elected from Koloa, and Supreme Court Justice appointed by Kalakaua. And later Dole served for 12 years as Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Territory. Yet there’s no painting of him on the Palace walls alongside the other ruling chiefs of the independent nation of Hawaii; and no statue of him anywhere in Hawaii.

There’s a simple reason why the sovereignty activists elevate Lili’uokalani to cult hero. She was the last monarch of the Kingdom. They believe that sovereignty remained with her until she died in 1917, because the overthrow of the monarchy was illegal and annexation to the U.S. was illegal. Thus the sovereignty of the native Hawaiian people remains unrelinquished, and can be reasserted through U.S. and international courts. Hawaii does not have Holocaust deniers or Obama birth certificate deniers. But we do have overthrow deniers, annexation deniers, and statehood deniers. The Lili’uokalani cult has kuleana over the first two denials because those events happened during the ex-queen’s lifetime. Celebrating Lili’uokalani is a socially acceptable way to express resentment toward the U.S. and toward residents who lack Hawaiian native blood.

By portraying Lili’uokalani as a saintly, noble, kind-hearted, peace-loving and talented Queen, the sovereignty activists hope to make Hawaii’s people feel the pain and injustice of what was done to her by the evil haoles who overthrew her with help from an armed invasion by the U.S. In the name of Lili’uokalani, let’s rip the 50th star off the flag and give political control to the natives whose land this has always been! Her role is like Joan of Arc or Richard The Lionhearted, stirring up public passion to restore the “lahui” she championed.

As with any religious/political cult, the same small group of activists devote their lives to organizing and leading race-focused Hawaiian independence political rallies and media campaigns all year long, year after year. Some names that keep cropping up are Hayden Burgess (alias Poka Laenui) and his wife Puanani Burgess (community organizer), Lynette Cruz and her acolyte Evern Williams, Rev. Dr. Kaleo Patterson and his frequent companion Ha’aheo Guanson (peacenik), Meleanna Meyer (entertainer, filmmaker, artist, community organizer) and her sisters Maile Meyer (CEO of Native Books) and Manulani Meyer (Professor of Education at UH Hilo).

The Meyer sisters are proud to boast that they are descendants of and carrying forward the work of native Hawaiian nationalist Joseph Nawahi and his second wife A’ima (Emma) Nawahi. A’ima was a close confidant and companion of Lili’uokalani. Joseph Nawahi served for 20 years in the Kingdom legislature, served in Queen Lili’uokalani’s cabinet as Minister of Foreign Affairs, wrote the Constitution which Lili’uokalani tried to proclaim in 1893, was President of the Hawaiian Patriotic League which fought against the overthrow of the monarchy, and operated the Hawaiian language royalist newspaper Ke Aloha ‘Aina.

Five major propaganda events happened during the Summer and Fall of 2013 showing the intensity of feeling in the Lili’uokalani cult, and the willingness of its leaders to not only twist history but to proclaim outright falsehoods as truth. Meleanna Meyer was a principal organizer and participant in them all.

The programs described below, and the booklets and materials handed out free of charge, are very expensive to produce. Clearly there are some wealthy individuals and institutions paying for all this, including Kamehameha Schools, the Hawaiian Civic Clubs, and other private groups; but also including some government agencies using taxpayer dollars, who are spending enormous amounts of money on these propaganda materials, performances, and facilities. For example: Iolani Palace, Ali’iolani Hale (building behind Kamehameha statue), University of Hawaii faculty time and especially the UH Center for Biographical Research, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hawaii Public Library facilities for performances, and many others.

Here are the five major propaganda events led by the Lili’uokalani cult in 2013.

1. The overthrow deniers have gotten the State of Hawaii to rewrite history by changing the information on the famous Lili’uokalani statue to make it appear that she remained reigning Queen of Hawaii until her death in 1917, and held a ceremony to rededicate the statue with Governor Abercrombie and former Governor Waihe’e in attendance.

2. Lili’uokalani’s 175th birthday celebration at the Palace on September 1, 2013 (a day early) featured prayer, chanting, musical performances, and walking tours with twisted-history reenactments of events and speeches from the overthrow of the monarchy on January 17, 1893.

3. Sunday August 4, 2013 was “Hawaii International Forgiveness Day” at the Hawaii state Capitol, focused on Lili’uokalani as a “Heroine of Forgiveness” and poster-girl for nonviolence because she gave up without a fight. But the propaganda event conveniently left out the fact that a few months after the overthrow Lili’uokalani several times angrily refused to consider granting amnesty to the revolutionaries as part of an attempted mediation by U.S. Minister Albert Willis to restore her to the throne, insisting that she would behead them and confiscate their property. The propaganda event also left out the fact that in 1889 she conspired with firebrand racist Robert Wilcox and facilitated a violent attack on the Palace in an attempt to overthrow her brother (7 men were killed), and in 1895 she again conspired with Wilcox and facilitated a violent attempted counterrevolution (several men killed in 3 battles) for which she was placed on trial and convicted of conspiracy to commit treason.

4. For 5 months, September 2013 through February 2014, a program “He Lei, He Aloha” — the Legacies of Queen Lili’uokalani, is presenting a program at numerous branch libraries on 6 islands. The program resembles a church service, including an opening chant/prayer in honor of Lili’uokalani, carefully selected short passages about historical events from her book handed out to be read by volunteers from the audience, songs from her songbook with audience singalong for well-known ones, a short film, and talk-story where audience members are invited to tell their impressions and what they feel this program has inspired them to do. Audience participation is a wonderful propaganda tool, encouraging people to feel like they belong to the cult and are taking a pledge to engage in future support and action.

5. Another event in the “Mai Poina” [Never Forget] series was a theatrical performance — sort of an opera or Greek tragedy — entitled “The Trial of the Queen 1895.” Multiple performances were held in the old Supreme Court chamber at Ali’iolani Hale, including chanters, re-enactments of portions of the trial, and commentaries by a group of independence activist “scholars.” The concept is that poor dear Lili’uokalani was unjustly imprisoned for her role in the attempted counterrevolution of 1895, when several men were killed in three battles, a cache of guns and ammunition and bombs were found buried in the flower bed at Lili’uokalani’s private home (Washington Place) where she was living at the time, and letters were found which she had signed appointing the cabinet ministers for her new government when the counterrevolution succeeded. Naturally Lili’uokalani denied knowing about the cache of weapons or plans for the counterrevolution, and said she had every right to write letters appointing cabinet ministers. Of course the opera gives her the benefit of the doubt. Commentaries by the “scholars” praise the patriotism of the men who tried to restore the monarchy and were imprisoned, and praise the dignity and “mana” of Lili’uokalani.

For detailed descriptions and analyses of these five propaganda events, see

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