A Small Time Mariner’s Voyage, Days 2 & 3, Part Two: The Sanctuary Called Iolani

October 12-13, 2014, Honolulu- There is, in the story of any people, an account of their casting the net of interaction with both neighbouring peoples and those in far-off lands.

Such interactions go back further than is commonly thought, and were far more frequent than often supposed.  Hawaiian people, having come from islands far to the south, had little contact with outsiders, however, until the voyages of the English, under James Cook.  Conflicts between the two groups were not long in coming, however, as the concept of private property was far different in Hawaiian society than in that of the English.  Material goods and property under kapu, or special protection, were not to be taken or disturbed.  The rest was regarded as community property, much as it is in many Native American societies.

When the Hawaiians took items from English ships, after having fed and watered the English, an enraged Cook took action against them, killing a ceremonial chief and destroying a sacred temple.  In response, he was clubbed to death, and while the English fled the islands, they, and ships of several other nations, soon returned. Hawai’i’s strategic value began to draw Americans, Russians and Germans, as well as British and Spanish ships.

This is the background which led to American missionaries and industrialists taking interest in Hawai’i, Hawaiians taking an interest in the wider world, and the eventual de facto colonization of the islands by the United States.

Iolani Palace, built first by Kamehameha III, in 1844, and replaced by David Kalakaua, in 1879, as the first structure, being wooden, had fallen victim to termites.  Another palace (Aiolani Hale), across the street, built by Kamehameha V, is used as a Judiciary Building today.  Hale (HAH-lay) means “chief’s house”, in Hawaiian.  King David’s Iolani is the structure which at which visitors can come to appreciate the level of sophistication to which the Hawaiian nation had attained, by the 1870’s.  It was here that Queen Liliukalani was held, while under house arrest, during the American oocupation of the early 1890’s.

In the 1960’s, the new State of Hawai’i realized the need for preservation of structures such as Iolani Palace, and a preservation campaign ensued, resulting in the marvelous example of American Florentine architecture seen in the following photos.  First is the Iolani Barracks, where private security forces stayed, while taking control of Honolulu in the 1890’s.  It is now a Visitors’ Center for Iolani Palace.  Photos of the palace exterior follow.




Banyan trees cover the grounds immediately to the north of the palace.


Prior to entering the palace, visitors are briefed as to protocol, and given plastic booties, to place over their shoes.  This is a continuation of a practice begun by Kamahameha III.  Indeed, visitors to Hawaiian homes are expected to remove their shoes, before entering.

The Grand Staircase presents itself to the visitor, upon entry into Iolani Palace.  The architect initially wanted to build a separate staircase for royalty, but the King and Queen vetoed the idea, saying they could use the same entry and exit as their servants and advisers.  While Hawaiian society was quite stratified, there were key elements of egalitarianism in place.


The dining room was maintained in the manner which David Kalakaua had seen in Europe, during his round the world journey.


In fact, most of the Palace reflects European regalia.

The Red Throne Room was a place of coronations, and of official greetings afforded visiting Heads of State, including Emperor Franz-Josef, of Austria-Hungary and his Empress.  The twin crowns placed on King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani are shown in the bottom photo.  King David’s tastes were quite extravagant, which he justified by pointing to the similar largesse of the crowned heads of Europe.  Hawai’i, however, could not sustain the costs, and the country plunged into depression.  This opened the door for the Dole family and their accomplices to machinate for the overthrow of the monarchy.



The Blue Room is a conference room, and was also where the monarchs entertained their guests.  Queen Liliukalani, who briefly succeeded her brother, Kalakaua, was a prolific songstress and musician.  Several of her compositions, including Aloha Oe, are staples of Hawaiian music, to this day.


Queen Liliukalani was held in this room, during the islands’ rule by the Committee of Safety, the term which the American businessmen used to justify their seizure of the country.


While incarcerated, she sewed a magnificent quilt, shown here.


Here are some other collections of the royal family- wine bottles and the family jewels.  These are found in the basement of the palace.




Finally, here is a view of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.


Thus, we see the conundrum in which the Hawaiian people found themselves.  In striving for modernity and to be taken seriously as a country, Hawai’i walked right into the waiting arms of opportunists.  For a period of time, Native Hawaiians could not vote, and had few civil rights.  It is thus no wonder that Haole are viewed with mistrust, in certain circumstances.  In visiting this most unique part of our country, it is well that the visitor familiarize self with both the gentle Spirit of Aloha and the unresolved grief that lies behind the welcome. Below, are Queen Liliukalani and King Kamehameha I.    Mahalo, my friends.



4 thoughts on “A Small Time Mariner’s Voyage, Days 2 & 3, Part Two: The Sanctuary Called Iolani

  1. Iolani Palace was still in restoration when I lived in Honolulu in the early 1970’s — I never saw the inside! It’s beautiful, and very central to the history of the State!


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