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Vol. 17, no. 3
June/July 2014


In Her Own Words 

Story by Julia Steele

When Barbara Pope was a girl, she read Queen Lili‘uokalani’s autobiography the way most everyone did: struggling through a cheaply printed paperback with pictures that looked like shoddy Xeroxes. Later, after she’d become Hawai‘i’s most esteemed book designer, the Lili‘uokalani Trust approached her about doing a redesign of the queen’s book; everyone agreed it was high time to honor it with the respect it deserved. Pope tracked down a copy that had been printed in 1904, and that much more elegant tome — timeworn as it was—became the inspiration for a new edition of Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani.

The book is just out, a beautiful hardback printed on thick paper and filled with crisp photographs from the queen’s day. Its turquoise- and-gold cover gives an intimation of the richness within. Lydia Lili‘u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka‘eha was born in 1838; her autobiography came out in 1898, when she was sixty. In those six decades Lili‘u lived a full and complex life and played a central role in a nation struggling to protect its sovereignty. Her book—its dignified prose, its captivating accounts— is fantastic for what it is: the queen’s life in her own words. She writes of her love for the Hawaiian people with sweetness and devotion (“it is for them that I would give the last drop of my blood”), of fellow leaders like Grover Cleveland with respect and appreciation (“he showed the greatest anxiety to do that which was just”) and of the men who undermined the monarchy with outrage and sarcasm, calling them rascals and traitors. Lili‘u’s aim in writing the book was to keep Hawai‘i from being absorbed into the United States and in that she did not succeed: Hawai‘i was annexed six months after her book was published.

As a piece of writing, though, the book remains invaluable. It chronicles key events in Hawai‘i’s history, among them Queen Emma’s bid for the throne, King Kaläkaua’s trip to Washington to secure the Treaty of Reciprocity and, of course, the overthrow of the monarchy. In the midst of it all is Lili‘u’s own life: her constant travels, her devotion to her husband, her joy in her music. At the close of the book, you feel as if she’s invited you in and told you stories for days—which, of course, she has.