Iolani Palace, located in Honolulu, Hawaii, was the home of the Hawaiian monarchy. But, in 1893, the power was ripped away from the kingdom by the people of the United States. The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by a group of European and American citizens that were supported by the American government. After the Americans took over Hawaii, Iolani Palace remained in use as an executive building for the new government. The United States government did not see the importance of the building, and so they greatly neglected it. In the 1970s, the Friends of Iolani Palace helped fund the restoration of the palace to its original state, including much of the original furniture and décor from the time when Liliuokalani resided there and opened to the public. In recent years, Iolani Palace has been the site for many protests regarding Hawaiian sovereignty since it is the location where that sovereignty was lost, and the protesters want everyone to know about the importance of Iolani Palace’s history.
Backstory and Context
Iolani Palace was once a grand, magnificent palace for the monarchs are Hawaii to reside. But once Queen Liliuokalani and her kingdom were overthrown, the United States government took over the palace. They made Iolani Palace an executive building, and that was its only use by the new government. They did not bother to care for the beauty of the palace and quickly allowed it to deteriorate and crumble. In 1969, the government vacated the building for the newly built capitol building. However, in the 1970s, the Friends of Iolani Palace helped restore the palace to its original state before Hawaii became a part of the United States (“Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawai’i.”). The Friends of Iolani Palace were able to completely restore the building to how it remained in the nineteenth century to include some of the original furnishings and artifacts from the royal families of Hawaii. Iolani Palace then opened to the public as a museum. Although it may seem as though the Friends of Iolani Palace were restoring an old building to its previous splendor, they were actually restoring a large part of Hawaii’s history and bringing a large part of the United States’ history to light. However, this organization would not have known that Iolani Palace would continue to be a large part of Hawaii’s and America’s present, not just it’s past.
The most significant contributor to the history of Iolani Palace, which influenced the restoration, was the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii. In 1887, a constitution was passed in Hawaii that gave a considerable amount of power to a legislature dominated by Euro-American values, but Hawaii was still considered a monarchy. Queen Liliuokalani came to the throne in 1891 as the sole queen of Hawaii. She wanted to return much of the power that was given away in the new constitution back to the monarchy and the indigenous people of Hawaii. The queen’s claims of a change in power had followed shortly behind the declaration of the U.S. Congress’s Tariff Act of 1890. This tariff raised import rates on foreign sugar and was economically destroying the Hawaiian sugar industry. If Hawaii continued to be a single entity, the tax on Hawaii’s goods would stand and cause major economic hardships for the United States, which were already bad enough at the time. So, once the United States heard about Liliuokalani’s plans of altering the new constitution to restore the monarchy, the Euro-American people decided that they must overthrow the queen and abolish the monarchy to save themselves from paying the tariff. So, some European and American citizens performed a coup d’état in front of Iolani Palace, forcing the queen out of the palace and out of her monarchy (“Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawai’i.”). The United States government supported the coup d’état and offered no support to the Hawaiian people. After the removal of Queen Liliuokalani from Iolani Palace, she wrote a letter to an official of the United States government describing her perspective of the days leading up to the overthrow (“Liliuokalini’s Side.”). She states that she had been meeting with the legislature, and the meetings had not been going well, for the queen was not giving up on her position on various issues. After a discussion, the legislature was quite unsatisfied with the results, for they favored the queen. So, the party enlisted hundreds of men to take possession of the government, and it was successful. She was forced to adhere to the party’s terms to protect the people of her kingdom. Despite the critical information in the letter, the United States disregarded it. Almost immediately after the overthrow occurred, massive protests began as a result, and they continued for many years. A petition was created in 1897 when the annexation of Hawaii to the United States was proposed (Silva). Besides the petition, the native Hawaiians were unable to fight against the United States and were forced to give up their nation. The resistance shown by the Hawaiian people proves that they understood what was happening in their nation and that their world was about to change drastically.
Since the first protests when the United States removed Queen Liliuokalani from the throne, Iolani Palace has been the site of much controversy due to the negative history with the United States. Many indigenous Hawaii residents strongly believe that sovereignty should be returned to Hawaii and its people, as it originally was before the United States interfered purely for economic reasons. Within the past hundred years, there have been many protests that occurred at Iolani Palace, supporting the return of Hawaii’s rights. Perhaps the largest protest that took place at Iolani Palace happened on the one-hundredth anniversary of the overthrow of the kingdom. Thousands of native Hawaiians gathered at the steps of the palace to advocate for state sovereignty, but to also commemorate the day that the monarchy was taken away by watching a reenactment of the overthrow (“Anniversary Stirs Hawaii Sovereignty Movement.”). On this day, most of the native Hawaiians were protesting for the slow restoration of independence from the United States. This demonstration is just one example of a protest occluding at Iolani Palace. There are many other examples of these types of demonstrations there because that is the location where Hawaii’s monarchy ended. There have also been some commemorative events and efforts regarding the palace. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed an official apology for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom to reconcile with the native Hawaiians (“1983: President Clinton Apologizes for 1893 Overthrow of Hawaiian Monarchy.”). Also, on the one-hundred-twenty-fifth anniversary, thousands of people marched to Iolani Palace to raise the Hawaiian flag onto the building, exactly where it was taken down so many years before. Iolani continues to be the main memory site for any remembrance of the overthrowing of the Hawaiian monarchy (Hurley).
The remembrance, or lack of, of Iolani Palace and Hawaii’s history extends much further than the site of the palace. In the contiguous United States, the history of how the United States obtained the territory of Hawaii is left out in most history classes. So, most people do not know how the Hawaiian people lost their rights due to the greediness of the American people. The omission of this vital part of our history shows how historical narratives are written to leave out the parts of our history that are not so glamorous or that do not support patriotism. Instead, if the people in the contiguous United States visit Hawaii, that will be their first encounter with the fact that the United States overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. But, regardless of the history present at this site, some tourists may see the palace as a beautiful building rather than the focal point of a dramatic shift in Hawaii’s history. But, the natives are well informed of Iolani Palace’s history, for it is taught explicitly in schools. They understand the importance of the building and how it is much more than where the overthrow took place. To these natives, it is where the United States government forced them to be a part of a culture they did not support. Although the importance of Iolani Palace remains relevant to the natives of Hawaii, it is often forgotten or omitted by members of the contiguous United States. Instead, the truth is replaced by false narratives by citizens of the United States or even eliminated entirely.
“1983: President Clinton Apologizes for 1893 Overthrow of Hawaiian Monarchy.” Native Voices, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/timeline/578.html
“Anniversary Stirs Hawaii Sovereignty Movement.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Jan. 1993, https://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/18/us/anniversary-stirs-hawaii-sovereignty-movement.html
Hurley, Timothy. “Thousands March to Iolani Palace to Mark Anniversary of Overthrow.” Star Advertiser, 18 Jan. 2018, https://www.staradvertiser.com/2018/01/17/breaking-news/thousands-march-to-iolani-palace-to-mark-anniversary-of-overthrow/
“Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawai’i.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/places/iolanipalace.htm
“Liliuokalini’s Side.” Emporia Daily Gazette [Emporia Kansas] 9 Feb. 1893: n.p. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Web. 8 Oct. 2019. http://find.gale.com.www2.lib.ku.edu/ncnp/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=NCNP&userGroupName=ksstate_ukans&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=&docId=GT3017244315&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0
Silva, Noenoe K. Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism.. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004, pages 123-163.