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Who was the Merrie Monarch?

David Laamea Kamanakapuu Mahinulani Naloiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalakaua was the seventh king of Hawaii, ruling from 1874 until his death in 1891. He was nicknamed the "Merrie Monarch" because of the many gala events and festivals he hosted at Iolani Palace during his reign. Today, the Merrie Monarch Festival is held in his honor, as he was instrumental in reviving hula, which had been banned by the missionaries.

King David KalakauaIn this statue, King Kalakaua is holding an Ipu Heke (double gourd hula implement) in his left hand and a taro plant (kalo, from which poi is made) in his right.  These items symbolize his commitment to restoring Hawaiians "to our former position of pride and power in our own land."  This naturally put him at odds with those intent on having Hawaii annexed to the United States to protect their business interests. 

Kalakaua was born in 1836 and was of chiefly rank, the son of High Chief Kapaakea and the Chiefess Keohokalole.  He was trained in the military and as a lawyer, and served as the Kingdom's first Postmaster General.  Following the death of King Lunalilo, he was elected king in 1874 at age 37. 

Described as a very fine and intelligent man by Robert Louis Stevenson, Kalakaua was an accomplished musician and author.  His most notable works are Hawaii's national anthem, now the state song, Hawaii Ponoi, and The Legends and Myths of Hawaii, originally published in 1888 and still in print! 

There were several important firsts during King Kalakaua's 17 year reign.  He was the first Head of State to circumnavigate the globe, visiting many nations in Asia and Europe, strengthening Hawaii's diplomatic ties and also increasing his knowledge and understanding of other countries.  He commissioned the design of `Iolani Palace (completed in 1882) and had electricity installed there in 1887 (earlier than the White House!).  He was one of the first to have a telephone (1878) and his words were recorded on one of Thomas Edison's phonographs in 1891.


There are many versions and interpretations of Kalakaua's rule, especially when it comes to the politics that led to the overthrow in 1893.  History is written by the winner, but perhaps remembered a little differently by the loser.  One of the key events was the constitution of 1887, as described here by John Kamakawiwo`ole Osorio, part of an excellent Hawai`i Overview:
In 1887 a small group of haole business owners and lawyers, backed by their own private paramilitary force, coerced King Kalakaua into abrogating the Hawaiian Kingdom's constitution in order to replace it with one they themselves had drafted. This constitution, known as the Bayonet Constitution, eliminated the king's power and undermined the Native Hawaiian-controlled legislature by making the House of Nobles accessible only to those with large incomes or land holdings. This constitution also ended citizenship for hundreds of Asian immigrants who, in the eyes of the haole, were not considered trustworthy.

But, that is enough politics for this short bio intended to give you a glimpse of the man honored by the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo on the Island of Hawaii during April.  Web Links provide many online resources for digging into Hawaii's history for those who wish.

More: Hawaiian Monarchs | History of Hawaii Timeline


Hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people

Web Links

King David La'amea Kalakaua biography by Gregory Wong for the Kalakaua Middle School in Honolulu.

Na Lani 'Eha - The Four Chiefs or The Royal Four, referring to David Kakakaua and his three siblings, all accomplished composers and musicians. Short bios: Kalakaua; Lili'uokalani; Likelike; Leleiohoku.

The Hawaiian Monarchy - a condensed look at the royal family tree, from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Hawaii Hula - the story of hula, past and present, from hawaiian.com (the Live Aloha folks)

Kalakaua and the History of Hula - hula halau from Okinawa, Japan named for the King.

HECO & Hawaii - the history of Hawaiian Electric Co. and electricity in the islands.

In Association with Art.com
Buy this poster at Art.com

Merrie Monarch

The Sounds of the Hula: Kawika mele inoa (name chant) honoring Kalakaua. Also see: Kawika in Hawaiian and English.

Before the Glory. a look behind the scenes at the preparations for the annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

Merrie Monarch Videos from The Hula Source.

Merrie Monarch Festival - excellent resources from Kalena.

Merrie Monarch Festival History from KITV4.

Hula celebrations perpetuate culture, stimulate economy - article from the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board on 2001 Merrie Monarch Festival

Hula Terms - a short reference from KITV4.


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