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Lili?uokalani's Peaceful Approach To Foreign Aggression Set Stage for Kapu Aloha

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Hula dancers honor Queen Lili'uokalani's birthday, September 2, on the grounds of 'Iolani Palace.

The words kapu aloha have emerged in the ongoing conflict over Mauna Kea. The term refers to a non-violent approach in Hawaiian activism. This code of conduct has its roots in the peaceful steps taken by Hawai?i’s last monarch, Queen Lili?uokalani.

At this past weekend's celebration marketing Queen Lili?uokalani’s birthday on the grounds of ?Iolani Palace, people remembered the overthrow and how the queen back in 1893 decided against taking up arms and fighting the forces seeking to take over her nation. 

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Lei draped over a portrait of Queen Lili'uokalani at her 'Onipa'a Birthday Celebration at 'Iolani Palace.

"She knew that violence wasn?t the answer because we were up against countries that have the means to violence," said Healani Sonoda-Pale, a reference to the military forces aligned against the monarchy.

Some may have wished she had taken up arms in defense of the country, but not T.J. Joseph.

"I think in her na?au she felt that that was the best for her people because she loved her people," he said.

And Leon Siu agreed.

"It was absolutely the right thing because ultimately she preserved our right, right now, today to demand the return of our country," he said. "And so by doing so, one she avoided bloodshed, which was her immediate concern. Secondly, she signaled that she depended on international law that through diplomacy this issue could be settled."

At the time, the queen urged the United States to investigate the overthrow. It would eventually issue a report calling for the restoration of the monarchy.

Laiana Kanoa-Wong says the report gave the queen hope that the overthrow would resolve itself – just as it did 50 years before when Hawaiian sovereignty was restored after a four-month occupation by the British.

Queen Liliuokalani's Household Guard being disarmed by Col. John H. Soper, following the overthrow of the monarchy in January 1893.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

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That was not to be.

Still, Kanoa-Wong said the queen took a stand that was just and correct. He says native Hawaiians are proud of what she did to keep her people safe.

And Sonoda-Pale believes the queen laid down a foundation for what is now known as kapu aloha.

"Which is a peaceful non-violent means for change, for justice for our people. She set the stage when you look at our movement for 127 years, we?ve been non-violent."

Credit Ryan Finnerty / HPR
Demonstrators gather at a blockade of Mauna Kea Access Road in an attempt to prevent construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope.

Siu sees her influence in today’s protest on the mountain.

"She basically took the spiritual high ground in this and by doing so, and by our people today standing on that spiritual high ground you know even though the issue on Maunakea is not necessarily the claiming our country, it is our nation rising," he said. "Our l?hui coming together."

Kanoa-Wong says he appreciates the queen’s steadfastness or ?onipa?a.

"K?l? mana?o nui ?onipa?a he ha?awina maoli no k?ia ao, e pono e ?onipa?a no ka pono," he said. 

That is the lesson we take with us to this day -- we need to be steadfast in seeking justice, he said.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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