As many American immigrants arrived from European monarchies, seeking freedom and self-rule, Hawai‘i is the only monarchy that was absorbed into the country after annexation, and the only place where royal lineages are still honored and hold a deep place in cultural memory.
On March 26, 1871, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole was born in Koloa, the grandson to the last King of Kaua‘i — King Kaumuali‘i. Monday, the state celebrates Prince Kuhio’s life and his dedication to the islands.
Kuhio, known as the ‘Citizen Prince’ and ‘Prince Cupid,’ was in line to become king before the monarchy was overthrown in 1893. He witnessed the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani and was imprisoned for treason by the United States government for his attempt at returning to sovereign rule. He served one year for the failed conspiracy, while others he worked with were executed.
Typical of a nation’s freedom fighter, Kuhio was far from provincial and uneducated. He was given the best the world had to offer in schooling, traveling to California and England for his degrees in agriculture and business, respectively. Kuhio and his wife traveled extensively in Africa at the turn of the century. Not being able to stay away for long, it was upon his return that Kuhio made historical in-roads in American politics and legislation.
Kuhio is best remembered for his successful effort to get Congress to pass the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which provides homesteads for Native Hawaiians. It was his dream to save the rapidly declining Hawaiian race from extinction. His plan was to return tenement dwellers to the land and encourage them to be self-sufficient farmers, ranchers and homesteaders on leased parcels of reserved land. Kuhio switched from the Home Rule Party, to Democratic, to Republican, with the last leading to the most fruitful era in his career.
Prince Kuhio was elected to Congress March 4, 1903, and served until his death in 1922. During this time he created the county system, still operating today, allowing for more localized government. His leadership in staffing the civil service positions married the American construct of government with the indigenous Hawaiian system of appointing trusted allies to head those departments. This hybrid of old and new was a signature in Kuhio’s leadership style. Some of his major accomplishments were a $27 million appropriation for dredging and construction of Pearl Harbor, the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, the territorial building, the Hilo wharf and Hawai‘i Volcano National Park. In 1919, he introduced a bill requesting that Hawai‘i be admitted into America as a full-fledged state. Hawai‘i didn’t become the 50th state until 1959.
President Harding signed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in 1921. Prince Kuhio favored the land grants in hopes that they would provide a future for a very threatened indigenous population, but he was not a supporter of the high blood-quantum requirements, nor the terms of leasing rather than fee-simple land grants that in consequence restrict the grantee from ever using the land as collateral for other investments. This keeps Hawaiians tied to the government, faced also by Native Americans on the Mainland, he felt.
Prince Kuhio died of heart disease on Jan. 7, 1922, at the age of 50 and was buried at the royal mausoleum in Nu‘uanu Valley on O‘ahu. His strong commitment to Hawaiian history, people and culture has not been forgotten and his legacy is celebrated on Monday’s statewide holiday.