Remembering Queen Liliuokalani’s state funeral

Remembering Hawaii

Photo: James Watson Moser, Library of Congress

On November 18th, 1917, Hawaii held a state funeral for Queen Liliʻuokalani. She died at the age of 79 a week prior on November 11th, after months of declining health.

Born on September 2nd, 1838, Liliʻuokalani was the daughter of high-ranking chiefs Caesar Kapa‘akea and Anale‘a Keohokālole. She married John Dominis in 1862, and ascended to the throne when her brother King Kalākaua died in 1891. Within two years as Hawaii’s Queen, a group of businessmen instigated an overthrow and instituted a provisional government. She spent much of the rest of her life fighting for compensation for lands that were seized by the American government after Hawaii was annexed.

After her death, the Kawaiahaʻo Church rang its bells 79 times, once for each year of her life. In keeping with Hawaiian tradition, her body was taken from her house during the night so that it could not be seen. The funeral took place in the throne room of Iolani Palace.

Casket of Queen Liliʻuokalani in the throne room of Iolani Palace. Photo: Library of Congress

According to news reports at the time, the funeral was adorned with “brilliant hues of feathers and silken drapes.” It was a spectacle of modern style and traditional eloquence, a “cavalcade of history” that represented Old and New Hawaii, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The Hawaiian Gazette stated: “the symbols of ancient rule, the crossed spears, surmounted by gilded crowns, above the windows, and the feathered-caped watchers lent an air of ancient splendor to the scene.”  

It’s estimated that over 1500 people marched in the funeral. President Woodrow Wilson sent a lei, and a representative of the Japanese Emperor was in attendance. 

“November 18, 1917, will be a memorable date to all Hawaiians as the day on which the expression of monarchy was concluded,” said the Gazette. It listed the funeral on a timeline of important dates in Hawaii history, alongside Captain Cook’s “discovery” of the islands, the battle of the Nuʻuanu Pali, the death of Kamehameha, and the annexation of Hawaii by the United States. 

As she was getting entombed in the Royal Mausoleum, a children’s choir sang “Aloha ‘Oe,” perhaps the greatest song penned by the prolific Queen. “Tears flowed fast down the cheeks of many,” said the Gazette, “particularly Hawaiians, as they sensed the actuality of the departure of every vestige of former royalty and the existence of the monarchy from Iolani Palace, the beautiful name given by Kamehameha IV, for Iolani means ‘Bird of Heaven,’ and Liliuokalani’s soul had already winged its way to the kingdom of eternity.”

Footage of the funeral was recorded, but was lost to a fire in 1921.

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