How Hawaii Lost Its Last Queen, Liliuokalani, to the Fruit Tycoons at Dole

A mural of Queen Liliuokalani. Photographed by Mark Faviell on Flickr

Today, Hawaii has a democratically elected governor. Until 1893, it had a queen, who died 100 years ago today. But plantations, the American government and a coup changed all that.

Smithsonian recently published an article on Liliuokalani, just shy of the hundredth anniversary of the former Hawaiian queen's death. As the story details, her rise to power involved the deaths of a former king, which led to her brother ruling; his death led to her queenship. The fall of Liliuokalani, and of Hawaii as a kingdom, is stranger, and involves sugar and pineapples.

In the 1880s, American sugar and pineapple companies grew tremendously on the islands which at the time were subject to the rule of a native monarchy. The businesspeople had a problem with the royalty of the island, and in 1887, people who were affiliated with pineapple and sugar plantations forced Liliuokalani's brother, who was king at the time, to sign a new constitution. The Bayonet Constitution, which was signed at literal gunpoint, reduced monarchy rule and mandated that only people of certain ethnicities and who were rich enough could vote.

When Liliuokalani inherited the throne, she had no interest in this new constitution and proposed her own. The move angered the businesspeople, and only a coup to overthrow Hawaiian royalty entirely would do.

Sanford Dole led the coup with the help of the American government. His cousin once removed, James Dole, started The Hawaiian Pineapple Company, which is now Dole Food Company, on the islands. American militia came to the island, threatening battle, and Liliuokalani surrendered. After the coup succeeded, Sanford Dole was named president of the Republic of Hawaii.

Hawaii later became a state, of which David Ige is the current governor. Some descendants of Hawaiian royalty are trying to reinstate a monarchy.

Liliuokalani's life before the coup was more picturesque and fitting of a tropical queen. She married an American, adopted several children and was a songwriter. One of her songs, "Aloha Oe," remains to this day the most well-known Hawaiian song. Translated as "Farewell to Thee," it ultimately became a somber allusion to the sun setting on the Kingdom of Hawaii.