Story told of anti-annexation petition of 1897

History paints Hawaiians acted passively during the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and annexation of Hawai’i to the United States in 1898.

That image isn’t true, as both men and women, guided by Queen Liliu’okalani, strived to restore the Hawaiian Kingdom and to craft the Ku’e Petition of 1897, according to Prof. Noenoe Silva, an assistant professor at the University of Hawai’i- Manoa campus and Hawaiian historian.

The petition, signed by 21, 000 islanders opposed to annexation, ultimately prompted Congress to reject an annexation treaty, Silva said.

She recently made a presentation on the petition in a meeting room at the Lihu’e public library .

About 80 people attended the meeting, which was sponsored by the Kaua’i chapter of the Hawaiian Patriotic League, a statewide civic organization.

Silva, whose father was born in Waimea, Kaua’i, has taught Hawaiian language at the university since 1992, received a master’s degree in library and information studies in 1993, and received her doctorate degree in political science at the university in 1999.

Her dissertation, Silva said, used Hawaiian language sources to refute the history that portrays Hawaiians as being passive in two events that changed the course of the islands.

Her research, Silva said, led to public awareness of the mass, organized resistance to the annexation of Hawai’i. Today, virtually all native Hawaiians can trace their roots to the Ku’e Petition, she said.

The petition, she said, was signed by more than a 90 percent majority of native Hawaiian subjects and many non-Hawaiian subjects of the kingdom.

Her discovery of the petition, Silva said, was a catalyst that stirred thousands of marchers for the Centennial Commemoration at ‘Iolani Place in 1998.

“She has fleshed out the pieces of the puzzle of the history we don’t get from history books that are on the shelves that are written by non-Hawaiians,” said Michael Locey, president of the Kaua’i chapter of the Hawaiian Patriotic League. “We are lucky to have her here.”

Annexation came as a result of the military expansion of the Unite States in the Pacific, Silva said. At the time, the United States was preparing for the Spanish-American War.

But the annexation was illegal because a joint resolution passed by Congress authorizing it was “domestic legislation” that could not be applied to a separate and sovereign nation like Hawai’i, Silva said.

The annexation was done unilaterally and without consent of Hawai’i’s people , Locey said.

The impetus for the petition came about after the Hawaiian League forced King Kalakaua to impose the “Bayonet Constitution” of 1887.

After King Kalakaua died on a visit to San Francisco in January 1891, Queen Liliu’okalani ascended to the throne and was told to pledge her allegiance to the existing constitution, Silva said.

But Queen Liliu’okalani was petitioned repeatedly by her constituents to replace the constitution and to initiate efforts to put in place the 1864 constitution, which would restore the former powers of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Women weren’t allowed to vote, but they did anyway, Silva said. In July, 1892, Queen Liliu’okalani received a petition signed by men but was amended with women signatures.

Military occupation of Hawai’i began Jan. 16, 1893, followed by the deposing of Queen Liliu’okalani the next day. A provisional government formed shortly afterward.

Immediately after the overthrow, Joseph Nawahi formed the Hui Aloha Aina, also known as the Hawaiian Patriotic League, Silva said.

Nawahi was loyal to the queen and was a member of her cabinet, Silva said, but the appointment was overturned under the provision of the 1887 constitution.

Two months after the overthrow, U.S. congressman James Blount, arrived in Hawai’i from Washington D.C.

He had been sent by then-President Grover Cleveland to assess conditions in Hawai’i after the Hawai’i Republic had been taken over by the American sugar planters.

During his stay, Blount received petitions of protest signed by 9,000 members of the men’s Hui Aloha Aina and 11,000 members of the women’s Hui Aloha Aina, Silva.

Following the delivery of a report by Blount spelling out the conditions, Cleveland declared that the “queen should be restored,” Silva said.

Silva said Cleveland characterized the intervention by American businessmen in the overthrow of the monarchy as “an act of war.”

Silva said Cleveland told Sanford Dole, one of the main backers behind the overthrow, that he should step down as the head of a government that the majority of Hawaiians didn’t want.

But Dole told Cleveland and the United States had no business “interfering in the internal affairs of our country,” Silva said.

“It was stunning … No recognition that there was any irony in that statement,” Silva said.

Opposition remained steadfast. Between 5,000 to 7,000 opponents gathered and protested across the street from the Iolani Palace on July 2, 1894, Silva said. On July 4, the Republic of Hawai’i was established.

In her research, Silva said she came across documents that reflected unwavering support for Queen Liliu’okalani.

In one case, Hui Aloha Aina members sent a letter reminding the queen of their efforts, through the influence of the organization, meetings members held and testimony they gave to the new government asking for the restoration of the monarchy, Silva said.

Queen Liliu’okalani fully expected the United States to restore the monarchy through peaceful negotiations and urged supporters to have patience.

Queen Liliu’okalani was jailed in one room in the Iolani Palace from January to September 1895.

She had songs smuggled out to at least one Hawaiian language paper at the time, Silva, called Ka Maka’ainana. It offered her a way to keep in touch with her constituents, Silva said.

She was confined in Washington Place for another five months until December 1896.

That same year, Joseph Nawahi became sick with tuberculosis, visited San Francisco to try to improve his health, but died.

The supporters of the Republic of Hawai’i thought that his death would dampen the drive for restoration of the monarchy, Silva said.

Instead, Nawahi’s wife, Emma, stepped forward with other women in Hawai’i to fight annexation, Silva said.

Nawahi exchanged letters written in the Hawaiian language with Queen Liliu’okalani while the queen was in Washington D.C. between 1897 and 1898 to lobby Congress to spike annexation attempts.

“The letters between Emma and the queen in 1897 showed the leadership of the women,” Silva said.

Silva found the letters which were translated by Jason Achiu of the Hawai’i State Archives in the early 1980s.

Silva said people in Hawai’i began talking about a petition to oppose annexation in 1897.

Many men who had been imprisoned for supporting the monarchy were released and wanted to retake their nation, Silva said.

Many wanted to move quickly on the petition, but it was the women who “reined in” their exuberance, asking them to show restraint, Silva said.

Women also wanted their nation back, but they wanted to go about it in a more methodical way, Silva said.

Queen Liliu’okalani was concerned a petition drive was premature and urged better planning. Women urged the masses to be “educated” about the issues so they could “build unity, have planning and go forward,” Silva said.

Through letters, Queen Liliu’okalani urged the three main hui behind the petition drive – the Hui Aloha Aina for men, the Hui Aloha Aina for women and Hui Kalai Aina – to work together in drawing up a petition and to send it to Washington D.C.

As the mail had to be sent by ships and mail delivery wasn’t always prompt, not all of the hui received the letters from the queen at the same time, creating confusion, Silva said.

At some point, a hui suggested that people drop out of the Hui Aloha Aina and join Hui Kalai Aina, a proposal that got Emma Nawahi, connected with Hui Aloha Aina “mad,” Silva said.

“They were all butting heads, and Queen Liliu’okalani wasn’t happy about this,” Silva said.

The queen also recommended that women should put their signatures on petition documents separate from the men’s, Silva said.

The petitions from the two hui that made their way to Washington D.C. had the support of a vast majority of Hawaiians or kanaka maoli, the indigenous people of Hawai’i, with only 10 percent opposed, according to Locey.

A delegation comprised of the male hui eventually went to Washington D.C. and met with the queen.

Hui Aloha Aina brought a petition with 21,000 signatures opposing annexation.

Hui Kalai Aina brought another petition with 17,000 signatures asking for restoration of the monarchy.

But a committee comprised of delegation members decided to submit the former. The 17,000-signature petition was not accepted apparently because of its wording and because of the concern there was “overlapping” of signatures between the two petitions, Locey said.

Some of the points Silva made in her presentation are part of an upcoming book, Aloha Aina: Native Hawaiian Resistance and Persistence.

Silva’s comments hit home for audience members. “She knew what she was talking about,” said Doris Uyematsu, a non-Hawaiian. “Hawaiians should keep going for it (independence), just as she said.”

Cheryl Lovell Obtake said the information Silva brought out was historically sound and that Hawaiians today should look upon as role models the Hawaiians who opposed the overthrow of the monarchy and the annexation. Her grandmother, Mary Lovell, signed one of the petitions.

Michael Grace said Hawai’i would still be a kingdom today had Congress considered both petitions. “I am sure they knew about it (the 17,000-signature petition), but they never like bring it out.” he said.

Sondra Grace said what Silva brought out was an “elaboration of what we already know, and she found out more.”

Rupert Rowe commended Silva for having the “inspiration” to find information he said could help bring independence one day.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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