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Hawaii's Own

A look at a century of annexation

Part 1 of 6

Associated Press
Sunday August 9, 1998
(Published in the Hawai'i Tribune Herald and the Maui News)

by Michael Tighe
Associated Press

Editor's note: A century ago, "Hawai'i Pono'i," or "Hawai'i's Own," lost their nation to an expansionist United States. This is the first of a six-part centennial series on the Hawaiian people.

HONOLULU - Flags of Hawaii and America garnished Iolani Palace that lucent August afternoon in 1898 as Sanford B. Dole crowned years of scheming by his fellow revolutionaries.

Already, they had overthrown Queen Lili'uokalani and established an American-dominated provisional government, with Dole as president. Their one policy: persuade the United States to annex the islands.

Aiding this persuasion was manifest destiny, the notion that U.S. expansion from Atlantic to Pacific and even beyond was divinely ordained.

And so, on Aug. 12, 1898, the pineapple baron handed America the Republic of Hawaii. As the Royal Hawaiian Band played "Hawai'i Pono'i," the national anthem, the Hawaiian ensign flapping above the palace was replaced by the Stars and Stripes.

"The transaction was in every way impressive and of greatest strength," reported The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, a pro-annexation daily. "The spectacle was one of a lifetime."

Yet few of the 40,000 Hawaiians alive witnessed it. Most, including Lili'uokalani, shuttered themselves in their homes, protesting what they considered an illegal transaction.

"When the news of Annexation came it was bitterer than death to me," her niece, Princess Ka'iulani, told the San Franciso Chronicle. "It was bad enough to lose the throne, but infinitely worse to have the flag go down..."

A century later, the bitterness remains for many of the state's 208,000 residents of Hawaiian descent. Although Hawaiians have two state agencies and two legislative committees specifically addressing their needs, many believe they are ignored in their own homeland.

"August 12 is, of course, a date that rings in the memories and the history of Hawaii as a time when huge change occurred," said Sen Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who is Hawaiian. "Even today, as we look at the plight of the Hawaiians, sometimes some people refer to that date when that change came about - the Hawaiians started to decline, the ills that Hawaiians suffer today can date to that time."

So, as the 100th anniversary of Hawaii's annexation by the United States approaches, Hawaiians are looking inward to discover what they were and what they want to be.

A resurgent nationalism has materialized in many forms among the kanaka maoli, or indigenous people.

Hawaiians today are renewing study of their endangered native language and advocating repeal of federal fules that define native Hawaiians based on bloodlines.

They are discussing a proposal to restore the monarchy and seeking federal recognition of some form of Hawaiian self-rule, with options including restoration of their independence.

Hawaiians also want control of 1.4 million acres of crown lands ceded to the federal and state govenrments during annexation and statehood. Those lands comprise a third of the state and include parts of Honolulu International Airport and Pearl Harbor.

"The situation is, in a sense, desperate," said Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell, a sovereignty activist. "There are moral, historical, legal reasons to correct the wrongs, restore our nation and, indeed, to rescue our people from predicted extinction."

To observe the Aug. 12 centennial, Hawaiian groups plan an 18-hour vigil at the palace and marches here and in Washington. The Bishop Museum will display the 1897 petition signed by half the Hawaiian population protesting annexation.

While Akaka believes annexation wrapped Hawaii in the American cloak of liberty and justice for all, other prominent Hawaiians disagree. They say America steamrolled Hawaiians in its pursuit of money and military bases.

The Hawaiian nation lost its struggle in 1898 after highly suspect behavior by American missionaries, businessmen and government officials.

American interests gained a foothold with the 1820 arrival of New England missionaries, who quickly assumed leadership roles in government, business and education. After cultivating sugar into Hawaii's major industry, they sought absorption by the United States to ensure their economic future.

But the Hawaiian monarchy stood in the way. So in 1893, an American-dominated cabal overthrew Queen Lili'uokalani with help from U.S. Minister John Stevens, an ardent annexationist who lined armed American sailors outside Iolani Palace. She abdicated two years later.

"The Hawaiian pear is now fully ripe, and this is the golden hour for the United States to pluck it," Stevens wrote back to Washington.

President Grover Cleveland, though, labeled the overthrow an unauthorized "act of war" and urged lawmakers to right "a substantial wrong."

They did not.

In 1897, newly elected Republican William McKinley prodded the Senate to annex Hawaii, but he could not muster the constitutionally required two-thirds majority.

When war with Spain erupted in the Pacific, Hawaii's strategic importance as a coaling station and naval base overrode ethical dilemmas.

Using the 1845 annexation of Texas as precedent, McKinley pushed through a joint resolution requiring only a simply majority in both chambers. He signed it July 7, 1898.

Hawaiians had little, if any, say in these events, activists say. They were not consulted on the overthrow of their queen or the annexation of their nation by the United States.

To make some amends, Congress in 1993 apologized to Native Hawaiians for America's role in deposing Lili'uokalani and expressed "its commitment to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow." It was not more specific.

A few activists have latched onto that apology and demanded that all American-Hawaii ties after 1893 be voided.

That belief binds them to their ancestors. For on that summer day 100 years ago, only a few Hawaiians watched Dole surrender their nation.

"Those who were present covered their eyes as their beloved flag was lowered, while tears streamed down their cheeks," wrote Bernice Piilani Irwin, a friend of Lili'uokalani.

"...(O)ur beloved flag, quivered as though itself in protest of the final quavering notes of Hawaii Pono'i..."


Note: this article includes a photo of a hula performance in front of the U.S. Capitol building and another photo of a woman holding a Hawaiian flag with this caption:

"Kathy Uluwehi Knowles, center left, and other members of Mahina's Halau, perform outside the U.S. Capitol Friday in Washington. Mahealani Thompson, of Washington, D.C., waves a Hawaiian flag Saturday. The two-day demonstration marked the 100th anniversary of the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands."

Associated Press

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