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Campus & Community

Students and alumni share how Hawaiian monarchs’ stories inspire them to live with patience, virtue, and bravery

landscape shot of the outside architecture of Iolani Palace
The exterior of Iolani Palace, showcasing the intricate stonework and carvings throughout the palace.

BYU–Hawaii alumna and native Hawaiian Alohilani Housman shared when she visited Iolani Palace for the first time, she felt its special presence and it helped her connect with Hawaiian history.

“We have these sacred places to remind us of our connection with the land, our ancestors, and God. Sacred places [such as Iolani Palace] are necessary because they teach us who we are and where we come from.” She said learning about these special places and their stories is something every BYUH student should do.

Taking a guided tour in the palace

During the summer break, members of the Ke Alaka‘i staff toured Iolani Palace. While entering the doors to the Iolani Palace, the tour guide emphasized the deep meaning of the historic landmark.

“It has beautiful memories of grand halls and public hula festivals, along with painful ones of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s imprisonment and the eventual overthrow,” explained the tour guide and volunteer docent while guests explored and took pictures of the entrance hall, which is decorated with vases and presents from all over the world for the Hawaiian monarchy.

While the guide led visitors up the staircase to the second floor, where the private suites of the monarchs are showcased, she explained Iolani Palace was first built in 1879 by King David Kalakaua, who is also known as the Merrie Monarch due to his cheerful personality.

a landscape close-up shot of Queen Liliuokalani's black dress and blue sash on a bust inside Iolani Palace
Queen Lili'uokalani's dress and pendant.

The guide explained King Kalakaua was inspired to build the palace due to his travels around the world where he saw the grand palaces owned by other monarchs. She added the king dreamed of a royal palace built for a modern state such as Hawaii.

After his return to Hawaii, he commissioned the construction of Iolani Palace, and his vision created a palace that was ahead of its time—with electricity, an indoor plumbing system, meaning flushing toilets and running water, and the telephone—shared the tour guide when leading the tour group into the king’s office.

While pointing out the electric lights on the ceiling, the tour guide explained King Kalakaua was interested in modern technology and connected with leaders in technology around the world.

“He met with Thomas Edison, and Edison convinced the King to use electric lights instead of gas lights. With this, the Iolani Palace used electricity even before the White House or Buckingham Palace did.”

Moving through the Queen’s bedroom and the music room showcasing sheet music of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s famous song “Aloha ‘Oe,” the tour guide stopped in a connecting room where a framed photograph on an easel portrays female hula dancers in front of the palace.

a close-up landscape shot of Queen Liliuokalani's handmade quilt on display inside Iolani Palace
Queen Lili'uokalani's handmade quilt.

The guide explained public hula dancing had previously been banned in Hawaii due to it being deemed immoral by Christian converts, but King Kalakaua revived the tradition by celebrating it at his coronation and birthday jubilee.

The guide then guided the guests through a hall that leads to a room where a quilt is laid out on a table in the middle of the room. She shared this is the room where Queen Lili‘uokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch, was imprisoned after the overthrow.

The Queen was convicted and lived in solitude, not able to leave the room or receive any visitors for eight months, shared the guide. In those months, the tour guide explained the Queen wrote music and poems and created the quilt on display in the room.

A legacy left behind 

Eugene Lucerna, a BYUH alumnus from the Philippines who majored in Hawaiian Studies, said people should know Hawaiian monarchs were humble royals who were there for the people and intelligent in every way.

“It’s important for the [monarchs’] story to live on. I think monarchs wanted their people to be united. To fight for their land and protect their culture. King Kalakaua revitalized the culture, and it is still lived upon to this day.” Lucerna said he looks up to a lot of women, and Queen Lili‘uokalani became one of them when he came to Hawaii and learned about her story. “Her intelligence, her grace, how she fought for the people, her resilience, and that she never gave up speaks to me. I think of her as such a powerful woman. She is one with the people, and the people love her.”

Lucerna said his love for music and poems is another reason he relates to the Queen. One of his favorite hymns written by the Queen is a song entitled “Ke Aloha O Ka Haku” or “The Queen’s Prayer,” which she wrote during her imprisonment and, Lucerna added, “showcases her power as a Queen but also as a woman.”

The translation of the hymn into English is as follows, according to Kalena:

landscape shot of old upright piano inside Iolani Palace
A picture of an old piano on display at Iolani Palace. Queen Lili'uokalani's love for music and poems is manifest in the many songs and chants she composed during her lifetime.

Your loving mercy
Is as high as Heaven 
And your truth 
So perfect 

I live in sorrow 
You are my light 
Your glory, my support 

Behold not with malevolence 
The sins of man 
But forgive 
And cleanse 

And so, o Lord
Protect us beneath your wings
And let peace be our portion 
Now and forever more


Mana Borden, a junior from Pearl City, Hawaii, majoring in accounting and Hawaiian Studies, said she is amazed by the Queen’s integrity and patience.

“She didn’t have to endure all that she did. She could have rebelled very easily, but she didn’t. She had a bigger vision and a compassionate mind and heart. She hoped for the best.”

Borden explained those stories have lessons we can learn from. Even though she had every right to, he said Queen Lili‘uokalani did not hate and was patient all throughout her imprisonment.

vertical sideview of the Coronation Pavilion on the Iolani Palace grounds
The Coronation Pavilion, which was built for King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani in 1883, is located on the Iolani Palace grounds.

“You could tell from each generation what [the monarchs] did was for the people. You can see the love or aloha they had for their people by learning those stories. They tell us something about who they were and what kind of vision they had for the future.”

Embracing Hawaiian culture

Housman emphasized a huge part of Hawaiian history is genealogy. There are four core aspects of Hawaiian culture, said Housman, which are genealogy, language, loving behavior and spirituality.

“Those four make up our culture as a whole. All these intertwine into who we are as Kanaka Hawaii.”

Housman said royals exemplified those core values and learning about those four aspects can help people who want to learn about and connect with the culture today.

In the case of Queen Lili‘uokalani, Housman shared, “She put her feelings into her music for us. She left that for us to feel what she was feeling and to connect with our culture in a different way.

To experience a 3D virtual walkthrough of Iolani Palace, visit the Iolani Palace website.