Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer


a crowd of people standing next to a palm tree

100 Years Of Hawaiian Kings & Queens

Few societies on earth have undergone the immense and fast moving changes brought on by foreign discovery during the 18th and 19th centuries than Hawai’i. In ancient times this self sufficient and battle ready civilization was estimated to have been 1 million strong spread out on 6 major islands.

Kamehameha the Great battled for an estimated 40 years to bring the islands under his rule. His success was due to his brutal determination and intelligence – knowing when to make alliances and when to attack. Supported by his people and young wife Ka’ahumanu he continued his quest to unite all the islands until the job was finished.

He became the first monarch of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. His eight family members ruled through 100 years of strife and change until the Kingdom was overthrown by American businessmen in 1893 and annexed by the United States in 1898.

Ancient Hawai’i


The Hawaiian archipelago is one of the most isolated land masses on earth, yet is was discovered approximately 1000 years ago by Polynesian voyagers at a time in world history were few ventured so far from land. The culture and society that evolved here became one of the most impressive and robust in all of the Polynesian triangle.


For hundreds of years these immigrants arrived from the southern Polynesian islands of the Marquesas, Samoan, Tongan and Tahitian islands. They established communities and enclaves which were mostly separate from each other, but by the 13th century powerful priests arrived and began the formation of the “kapu system” of Hawaiian religion and government. This ancient lifestyle evolved with no outside contact for over 600 years.

When Captain Cook arrived in 1778 the warrior society was at its height with chiefs from the Big Island of Hawai’i and Maui vying for control of the entire island chain. Maui’s Ali’i Moi (king) Kahekili nearly accomplished the feat conquering or gaining control of all the islands except the Big Island.

Meanwhile on the Big Island, Kamehameha consolidated his power while obtaining western armaments of muskets, swords and a canon from now arriving western ships and invaded Maui and defeated Kahekili’s forces at Iao Valley in 1794. What was left of Maui’s army retreated to Oahu but were again defeated there by Kamehameha a year later in 1795. After Kamehameha’s fleet, which now included western ships, were turned back in a storm trying to invade Kauai, the island’s king choose allegiance to Kamehameha rather than war and the island chain became the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1810. Thus the 100 year reign of the Hawaiian monarchy began…

Kamehameha I

Kamehameha’s life was shrouded in supernatural powers and intrigue. There are several accounts of his young life with historians differing on events such as his time of birth. Since Hawaiians did not measure their age in years there are still some unknowns about how old Kamehameha was when he died in 1819 but most historians at the time believed him to be in his 80’s.

a clock tower in front of a palm tree

One story tells that around the time of his birth priests had foretold a prophecy of a king who would conquer all adversaries. Stories and legends (mo’olele) describe a comet seen in the sky during the time of Kamehameha’s birth, signaling the child’s powers backed by the gods. The king (Ali’i Moi) of Hawai’i Island sent warriors to kill the future rival, but his mother was aware of the plot and sent the newborn away into the mountains attended by servants. It is said he almost died of exposure in the mountains during the journey but was revived. Five years later the king (Alapa’i) who ordered his death died and Kamehameha was returned to his parents and raised by his uncle Kalaniopu’u, who eventually became king of Hawai’i Island, in the tradition of a warrior while learning the royal responsibilities of a Hawaiian chief.

Kamehameha the Great fought many battles throughout his young life.  After gaining control of Hawai’i Island he battled with Maui’s King Kahekili for control of the entire island chain. Kahekili was a skilled warrior chief who, in the mid 1700’s, had repelled an invasion of then Ali’i Moi of Hawai’i Island Kalaniopu’u when he attacked Kahekili’s forces in Wailuku. Kamehameha, an officer in Kalaniopu’u’s army, showed great bravery and skill in this battle even though Kahekili’s forces prevailed.

a close up of a person

Kamehameha was also there when Captain Cook arrived and boarded his ships in both Maui and the Big Island. Crewman accounts of the warrior speak of his size (well over 6 ft tall) and quiet intensity. He studied the westerners weapons and on subsequent arrivals of foreign ships procured canon and musket for his planned unification of the entire island chain.

Kamehameha soon went on to conquer Kahekili’s forces at Maui’s Iao Valley in the late 1700’s with the help of these western armaments. By 1795 Kamehameha’s army conquered Oahu and gained control of all the major islands except Kauai. Peace with Kauai was negotiated through western influences and by 1810 Kamehameha and his 10,000+ warriors had gained control of all the islands. He ruled peacefully for 25 years guiding the new kingdom through entanglements with foreigners of nearly every developed country of the time who came seeking adventure and profit in Hawai’i. He died at his royal compound in Kona in 1819.

Queen Ka’ahumanu

a man holding a book

Daughter of a prominent Big Island Ali’i (chief) living in Hana she was bequeathed to Kamehameha at a young age. By the age of 18 she had became the favorite wife and advisor of Kamehameha. She encouraged him in his conquest of the islands but held a secret desire to free herself of the repressive kapu system of government and religion of ancient Hawai’i.

After the death of her husband Kamehameha I, Queen Ka’ahumanu became one of the most powerful rulers in the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom and ushered in many of the new nation’s most sweeping changes.

a large body of water

Ka’ahumanu was born in 1768 in a cave below Hana’s Puu Kauiki (a steep hill on the southern edge of Hana bay) on Maui’s east side. At the age of 18 she became the favorite wife of King Kamehameha I. Upon Kamehameha’s death in 1819 Ka’ahumanu announced the king wished her to be co-ruler with the young Kamehameha II (Liholiho), much to Liholiho’s surprise. The council of advisers agreed and created the post of kuhina nui (similar to a prime minister).

Her power grew to Queen Regent as she ruled through the reigns of both Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III. She famously conspired to abolish the kapu system which suppressed the rights of women and commoners while ushering in the Christian religion to replace the centuries old Hawaiian religion. She introduced Hawaii’s first codified body of laws modeled after Christian ethics, values and the Ten Commandments.

Kaʻahumanu and King Kamehameha III negotiated the first treaty between the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the United States in 1826. The treaty assumed responsibility on behalf of native Hawaiians with debts to American traders to be paid in Sandalwood which won her the support of chiefs who owed money to the traders. The same document was also a free trade treaty, ensuring Americans had the right to enter all ports of Hawaiʻi to do business.

Kamehameha II


a close up of a book

The second king of the Kingdom of Hawai’i came to power at the age of 22. Born in 1797 as Liholiho he inherited the throne upon Kamehameha I’s death in 1819. However Queen Ka’ahumanu had intentions to rule the young kingdom herself.

As Liholiho arrived on the Big Island to claim the throne Ka’ahumanu greeted him wearing Kamehameha’s royal red cape and proclaimed “we two shall rule the land“. The young king, surprised, had no other choice. Liholiho died in 1825.

a stack of flyers on a table

Kamehameha II (Liholiho) is best known for breaking the over 600 year old kapu (taboo) system of rule by sharing a meal with Ka’ahumanu and his mother Keopuolani. This began the disbanding of the social class of priest and the destruction of temples and idol imagery and carvings.

Kamehameha III


Kamehameha III, also known as Kauikeaouli, reigned as king from 1825 to 1854. Under his rule Hawaii’s traditional system of land use along with the social systems of the native population underwent drastic change. When he came to the throne the native population was one third of what it was when Captain Cook arrived in 1778. During his reign it would be halved again due to a series of epidemics.

a painting of a man

Guided by foreign advisors, the king divided lands that had formerly been held in common and administered by the ali’i (chiefs) and their konohiki (land stewards or overseers). Known as the Great Mahele, 23% of the land was allocated to the king (called crown lands), 40% comprised konohiki lands to be divided among 245 chiefs; and 37% was declared government lands, to be awarded to commoners who worked the land as active tenants but in the end commoners were unaware of the new program and lost out on the distribution, receiving less than 1% of the 37% set aside for them.

a person taking a selfie in front of a palm tree

The Mahele was followed in 1850 by the Kuleana Act which established fee simple ownership of land. Historical land tenants were required to document their claims to specific parcels in order to gain permanent title. Once granted, a kuleana plot was independent of the traditional ahupua’a (ancient land divisions) in which it was situated and it could also be sold to foreign parties.

Kamehameha IV

Alexander ‘Lolani Liholiho

Kamehameha V, Queen Emma of Hawaii posing for a photo

Born Alexander ‘Lolani Liholiho in 1834, Kamehameha IV ruled from 1855 to 1863. His uncle King Kamehameha III decreed him heir to the throne as a toddler and raised him as the crown prince. When Kamehameha III died Alexander took the oath as King Kamehameha IV in 1855, succeeding his uncle when he was only 20 years old.

Only a year after assuming the throne, Alexander took the hand of Emma Rooke as his queen. Queen Emma was the granddaughter of John Young, Kamehameha the Great’s British royal advisor and companion. She also was Kamehameha’s great-grandniece.

Alexander died of chronic asthma in 1863 and was succeeded by his brother who took the name Kamehameha V. Alexander was only 29 years old.

Queen Emma

Queen Emma of Hawaii wearing a hat

Queen Emma remained active in politics. With the end of the Kamehameha dynasty and King William C. Lunalilo dying without an heir of his own, Queen Emma ran unsuccessfully to become the Kingdom’s ruling monarch. She lost to David Kalākaua who would establish a dynasty of his own.

Kamehameha V

Lot Kapuaiwa

Kamehameha V posing for the camera

Born as Lot Kapuaiwa in 1830, Kamehameha V reigned as the fifth Monarch of the kingdom from 1863 to 1872. His motto was “Onipa`a”: immovable, firm, steadfast or determined; he worked diligently for his people and kingdom and was described as the last great traditional chief.

He was the first king to encourage revival of traditional practices. Under his reign, the laws against “kahunaism” were repealed. A Hawaiian Board of Medicine was established, with kahuna members, and la’au lapa’au or Hawaiian medicine was again practiced.

As a young man he traveled abroad with his brother Liholiho under the supervision of their guardian Dr Judd. They sailed to San Francisco in 1849. From there they continued to Panama, Jamaica, New York and Washington D.C. They toured Europe and met with various heads of state including French president Louis Napoleon, British prince consort Albert, and US president Zachary Taylor.

Before his death Kamehameha V stated:The throne belongs to Lunalilo; I will not appoint him, because I consider him unworthy of the position. The constitution, in case I make no nomination, provides for the election of the next King; let it be so. With no heir at his death, the next monarch would be elected by the legislature. Lot died in 1872.


Lunalilo wearing a suit and tie with Seated Lincoln in the background

Lunalilo was grandnephew of Kamehameha I by blood and the monarch’s stepson by marriage. Affectionately known as “Prince Bill“, he was one of the royals (including King Kalakaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani) to write music. He composed Hawaii’s first national anthem, “E Ola Ke Aliʻi Ke Akua which was Hawaii’s version of “God Save The King“.

Lunalilo’s popularity was so great that many believed he could have walked into the capital and declare himself king. Lunalilo, however, insisted that the constitution be followed. As a cousin of Kamehameha V and a Kamehameha by birth, he demanded a general election and won, becoming the first elected King of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Kamehameha V had spent his reign increasing the powers of his office and trying to restore the absolute monarchy of his grandfather, Kamehameha I. Lunalilo, however, spent his reign trying to make the Hawaiian government more democratic.His goal was to amend the constitution to expand native Hawaiian voting rights, but he died from tuberculosis having reigned for one year and twenty-five days. He was 39 years old.

David Kalakaua

a man wearing a hat

King Kalakaua was known as The Merrie Monarch and was the last king of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. He reigned from 1874 until his death in San Francisco on January 20, 1891. Kalakaua had a convivial personality and enjoyed entertaining guests with his singing and ukulele playingAt his coronation and his birthday jubilee, hula dancing which had been banned in the kingdom was performed by his request, revitalizing this important part of Hawaiian culture. Today The Merrie Monarch Festival is held every year on the Big Island of Hawai’i showcasing hula performers from across the islands and around the world.

a vintage photo of a group of people standing in front of a building

During Kalakaua’s reign, the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 brought much prosperity and commerce to the kingdom. Its renewal continued the prosperity as the sugar industry began to expand. In 1881, he voyaged around the world to encourage the immigration of contract sugar plantation workers, meeting with kings, presidents and heads of state. Kalākaua also wanted Hawaiians to broaden their education beyond their nation, instituting a government program to sponsor students who qualified to be sent abroad to further their educations.


In 1886, Kalākaua and his Privy Council licensed the ancient Hale Naua secret society for persons of Hawaiian ancestry. The original Hale Naua had not been active since Kamehameha I, when it had functioned as a genealogical research organization for claims of royal lineage. When Kalākaua reactivated it, he expanded its purpose to encompass Hawaiian culture as well as modern-day arts and sciences, and included women as equals.

a large tree in front of Iolani Palace

He commissioned the building of today’s Iolani Palace in 1879, the only royal palace that exists on U.S. soil. Most of the koa wood used in the palace’s construction came from a mill in upcountry Maui.

The reign of Kalakaua was also characterized by the monarch’s emphasis on military pomp and extravagant entertaining. He was to known to enjoy gambling and was said to have wagered Molokini in a game of cards while visiting Maui.

In 1887 he was forced under duress to sign a new Hawaii Constitution (called the Bayonet Constitution) which stripped the monarchy of power. However he continued to revive the Hawaiian culture along with his sister Liliʻuokalani.

The reign of Kalākaua is generally regarded as the first Hawaiian Renaissance, for both his influence on Hawaii’s music, and also for other contributions he made to reinvigorate Hawaiian culture. This movement inspired the reawakening Hawaiian pride and nationalism for the kingdom.

In 1891, Princess Liliʻuokalani, sister to King David Kalakaua, ascended the throne after his death from illness while visiting San Francisco.

Queen Lili’uokalani

Possibly no other Hawaiian Monarch was more beloved by the people than Queen Lili’uokolani. Her brother King Kalakaua began a revival of the Hawaiian culture which she was determined to continue.

an old photo of Liliuokalani

Born into a high ranking Hawaiian family as Lydia Kamakaeha in 1838, her mother (Keohokalole) served as an advisor to King Kamehameha III. As was customary of the times, young members of the royal family like Lydia were educated by missionaries and traveled the Western world. When she was ten years old the boarding school she attended was closed as the result of a measles epidemic on O’ahu that took the lives of around 10,000 people, mostly native Hawaiians. Her three year old sister also died in the epidemic.

She spent time in the court of Kamehameha IV as Princess Kamaka’eha. She was married in 1862 at the age of 24 to the son of a ship captain named John Owen Dominus. He became an official in the Hawaiian government and later served as governor of O’ahu and Maui. The couple had no biological children but adopted (hanai) several.

Princess Kamaka’eha elder brother David was appointed to the throne in 1874 and her youngest brother William Pit Leleiohoku was named heir to the throne. When Leleiohoku died three years later, Princes Lydia Kamaka’eha was named heir apparent and received the title Lili’uokolani. She worked towards the creation of schools for Hawaii’s youth and acted as King Kalakaua’s regent during the King’s world tour in 1881.

a group of people standing in front of a building

In addition to her role as a monarch devoted to her country and people she was an important scholar and prolific musician and composer. She learned much on her travels abroad and became well versed with American and European composers as well as being an authority on traditional Hawaiian chants and songs. In her lifetime she composed more than 150 songs including her most famous “Aloha ‘Oe.

Overthrow Of Hawaii’s Last Monarch

After the death of her brother King Kalakaua in 1891 she ascending the throne and became Queen Lili’uokolani. Her first order of business was to amend the Bayonet Constitution and restore the power to the monarchy and the Hawaiian people. The sugar planters and businessmen of the islands instigated an overthrow fearing loss of revenue and the influence of a popular Queen. They prompted the U.S Marines to march on Iolani Palace and forced the Queen to surrender the Hawaiian Kingdom to the United States in 1893. Acting as leader of the Stand Firm Movement she advocated against U.S annexation and in turn was imprisoned inside Iolani Palace for 8 months.

a vintage photo of a group of people posing for the camera

A provisional government was established and named the Republic of Hawai’i with Sanford B. Dole as president in 1894. A rebellion ensued that included Prince Jonah Kuhio but the Wilcox Rebellion failed and the group was captured with Prince Kuhio spending a year in jail. She staved off annexation for 4 years with support from U.S. president Grover Cleveland who believed Hawai’i should stay a sovereign nation. That support ended with the election of William McKinley who quickly annexed Hawai’i in 1898.

a man standing in front of a window

Living out the remainder of her later life as a private citizen, she established the Queen Liliʻuokalani Trust in 1909 for the care of orphaned and destitute children of Hawai’i. The Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center exists today as part of her legacy.

Although she was never successful in her more than a decade of legal pursuits for compensation from the United States government for seized land, in 1911 she was finally granted a $1,250 a month lifetime pension by the Territory of Hawaii.

Liliʻuokalani died at her O’ahu residence in Honolulu on November 11, 1917.

On November 23, 1993, Congress passed Public Law 103-150, also known as the Apology Resolution, acknowledging the American role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. President Bill Clinton signed the joint resolution the same day.

Maui’s Ancient Ruling Genealogical Timeline

a clock tower in front of a palm tree

The ancient Hawaiians tracked time by the lifespan of ruling chiefs. Though it is not known how many years passed between ruling kings and chiefs early explorers noted that the Ali’i aged quickly due to their indulgence in drinking awa; a non alcoholic but psychoactive beverage made from the roots of the awa plant. Coupled with what was often continuous wars it is estimated that few Ali’i lived past much past the age of 40. From this archeologist and Hawaiian scholars have developed an estimated timeline of Maui’s rulers, though some may have lived longer or shorter lifetimes:

1490 – KA’ULAHEA I Hawaiian population grows exponentially. Large heiau begin to appear. Scattered settlements and dryland fields spread inland on leeward slopes. Columbus becomes first European to encounter Caribbean islands, returns to Spain (1493). Second voyage to Dominica, Jamaica, Puerto Rico (1493–1496). Third voyage to Orinoco(1498). Fourth voyage to Honduras and Panama (1502–1504)
1530 – KAHEKILI I 1541 – Hernando de Soto of Spain discovers the Mississippi River – tobacco from America introduced in Europe
1570 – PI’ILANI Pi’ilani rules Maui. His daughter Pi`ikea marries King of Hawai’i Island Liloa’s son `Umi.
After Pi`ilani’s death, his oldest son Lono-a-Pi`ilani inherited his rule but is ousted by Pi`ilani’s younger son, Kiha-a-Pi`ilani. Kiha beats Lono with the help of his brother-in-law `Umi. After their victory,`Umi rules the Hana district of Maui while Kiha rules the remainder of the island.
1590 – KIHA-A-PI’ILANI Kiha’s lasting contribution to the Maui people is the completion of the alaloa, a paved road that circles the perimeter of Maui (which includes today’s road to Hana) thereby permitting efficient communication, trade, and movement of troops.
1610 – KAMALALAWALU 1620 – November 9, the Mayflower ship lands at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with 101 colonists. On November 11, the Mayflower Compact is signed by the 41 men, establishing a form of local government.
1627 – Spanish sailors visit Hawaii, describe volcanic eruption in ship’s log
1710 – KEKAULIKE Kekaulike rules Maui. After Alapa`i attacks Maui, Kekaulike’s forces counterattack against the warriors of Hawai`i Island. Kekaulike is succeeded by his son, Kamehameha-nui.
1750 – KAHEKILI II 1760 – Kalani`opu`u wages war against Maui’s King Kahekili and is defeated in battle at Wailuku.
1770-1794 – Kahekili, brother-in-law to his avowed enemy, Kalani`opu`u, rules Maui. Kekauliki with his army secures control of Moloka’i, Lana’i, and O’ahu. He also gains a controlling interest in Kaua’i through a family marriage bringing a total of five of the six main islands under his rule.1778 – Captain Cook returns to the Hawai’i Island group after sighting Kaua’i and O’ahu the year before. He meets Kahekili offshore of Kahului. Days later sailing north he is met offshore by Kalani’opu’u and his nephew Kamehameha in what is estimated to be the Keanae area of Hana.
1790 – KAMEHAMEHA At the Battle of Kepaniwai, Kamehameha wins control of Maui. Landing at Kahului, Kamehameha chases Maui warriors and chiefs into `Iao Valley and defeats Kahekili’s warriors with canon and musket fire. Maui chiefs escape to O’ahu.
Kahekili dies on O’ahu 4 years later leaving his son Kalanikupule in charge.
  • Posted in: