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Queen Lili’uokalani: The Last Queen of Hawai’i

Queen Lili’uokalani was known for her beautiful music and brave leadership. She ruled the Kingdom of Hawai’i during a difficult time. As American businessmen and politicians tried to take over the kingdom, she fought tirelessly for her people.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Haley Dapkus with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Gina Gotsill and edited by Abby Sher and Haley Dapkus. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by Barrie Kealoha. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Our executive producers were Joy Smith and Jes Wolfe. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!


The year was 1893, and Queen Lili’uokalani was inside the stately ‘Iolani Palace, in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Queen was being kept there against her will, separated from her beloved people. And yet, she would not let this confinement stop her. As she stood by one of the windows, the queen closed her eyes, and listened to the familiar sounds of the island.

A gentle breeze flowed over the nearby mauna or mountain ridge and down through the trees. Along the shore, sparkling waves rose and fell, and seabirds called out familiar tunes. 

Queen Lili’uokalani cherished these sacred sounds. To her, the rustles, chirps, and rhythms of Hawaii sounded almost like a song. Their music beckoned her. 

The queen yearned to walk among her people and guide them through this difficult time. She had so much love to give to her kingdom as they faced their greatest challenge yet.

Even alone in her locked room, the queen was focused on  leading her people. She would find a way.

I’m Barrie Kealoha. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us.  

On this episode, Queen Lili’uokalani, the last Queen of Hawaii.

Lydia Lili’u Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamaka‘eha was born on September 2, 1838, in Honolulu, Oahu. Honolulu was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, a spectacular archipelago of islands in the Pacific Ocean, teeming with birds and tropical plants. Native Hawaiians had arrived there many hundreds of years ago, and were indigenous to the land. They called themselves Kānaka Maoli.

The Hawaiian Kingdom was a nation of abundance – from the glistening waters to the mightiest mountains.  Ancient ancestors had planted sugar cane, sweet potatoes and bananas in the rich soil, and sunshine and rain nourished their thriving fields. There was plentiful food and work, good schools and hospitals, and everyone had a place to live. It was a thriving kingdom, and Lydia’s life was full of opportunity. 

When she was just four years old, Lydia went to live at the Royal School. She LOVED to study all subjects, but mele, or music, was her favorite by far. She learned how to sing, read music, and play four different instruments! She even began to compose songs, which became as natural to her as breathing. 

Lydia was never happier than when she put together a new melody. Each note or chord felt like a continuation of her thoughts and feelings. And the words she chose to sing came from the vibrations in her heart. 

As she grew older, Lydia began to take on more responsibilities as a princess. She was committed to bettering the lives of the Kānaka Maoli, the Hawaiian people. She learned the importance of managing money and started a bank just for women. And as someone who loved to learn, she worked hard to create lively schools for Hawaiian children. 

Lydia traveled to meet other leaders around the world, too. She visited the United States, where she met President Grover Cleveland, a leader who would support her later in life. She was also invited to a celebration of Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in England. 

Years passed, and people from other countries kept coming to Hawaii and marveling at its natural splendor and plentiful resources. In fact, many people wanted to own a piece of this utopia. More and more foreign businessmen started buying up portions of land and starting sugar and pineapple empires that hurt Native Hawaiians. Soon, a group of men, mostly Americans, began to plot against Lydia’s brother, King Kalakaua to take over the kingdom. Trouble was brewing.

One day, a troop of foreign outlaws held King Kalakaua at gunpoint and forced him to sign a new document, which became known as “the Bayonet Constitution.” With the stroke of a pen, the governing powers of the Kingdom of Hawaii were stolen. The royal family would be allowed to stay in the palace, but their rule was greatly diminished.

A few years later, in 1891, Lydia was named Queen Lili’uokalani after her brother the king got sick and passed away. Lydia was now the first female monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii. But after the Bayonet Constitution, the position of “Queen” didn’t have the power that it used to. 

Still, Queen Lili’uokalani toured the islands and listened to everyone she met. She heard how terrified they were about losing their homeland, their civil rights, and the ability to vote. She promised to do whatever she could to reclaim Hawaii and help its people.

First, she passed a law to protect public land from falling into the hands of businesses who wanted to use it for themselves. This land would always be for the Kānaka Maoli. 

Next, the queen proposed a new constitution — one that would return power to the kingdom. But American businesspeople and politicians were determined to do away with the kingdom altogether and make Hawaii part of the United States. The queen worked so hard to preserve Hawaiian independence. She published papers telling the story of the Hawaiian people, drafted petitions, and urged others to join their cause.

As the queen gained momentum, the American businessmen felt threatened and decided they had to silence her. The United States military was brought to Hawaii, and soldiers marched through downtown Honolulu. 

The people of Hawaii took to the streets in protest. Anger and outrage escalated on both sides. And on January 17, 1893, the foreigners arrested and imprisoned Queen Lili’uokalani in her own palace. 

The United States took control of the Hawaiian government. Their war ship – the USS Boston – cast long shadows in Honolulu Harbor. 

The new government blamed Queen Lili’uokalani for her people’s armed protests. They put her on trial and convicted her of treason. 

How could this be? Treason is the betrayal of one’s own country. Queen Lili’uokalani was fighting for the rights of her people and her kingdom!

The queen was sentenced to five years of hard labor in prison. Then the new government changed their minds. They decided to hold her in a room at ‘Iolani Palace instead. Hidden behind the locked door, the queen spent her days praying, reading, quilting, and creating music.  

She was isolated from the country and people she loved. But she still had a voice, and a heart full of mele. She started composing songs of resistance. She wrote her lyrics on paper so they would live forever. And she did what she could to get these songs out from her palace to the people. They got published in the newspaper. And they gave the Hawaiian people the strength to stand up to her jailers, and to the new government. 

Perhaps Queen Lili’uokalani’s most treasured song was “Aloha ‘Oe,” a song that bid farewell… “until we meet again.” The details are still a mystery, but somehow, the words and melody to this song made their way from her palace room, across the islands, and even to the mainland. 

People on the streets were soon humming this tune, channeling the queen’s hope, resilience, and belief in her country being whole again soon. 

After eight months, Queen Lili’uokalani’s captors unlocked the door and she was allowed to leave her prison room. They had wanted to humiliate the queen, intimidate the people of Hawaii, and capture the Kingdom. With their goals achieved, they let her go. 

The queen decided it was time to take her fight for Hawaiian independence to President Grover Cleveland in Washington, D.C. President Cleveland sympathized with her. He acknowledged that the United States had unlawfully invaded Hawaii, and illegally overthrown the government. He attempted to make a deal that would restore power to Queen Lili’uokalani. But too many other politicians and businesspeople were in favor of keeping Hawaii for the United States. 

Queen Lili’uokalani spent the rest of her life pushing for Hawaiian independence, and many Hawaiians still fight for that independence today.

Queen Lili’uokalani was more than a monarch. She made history as the last queen of Hawaii, and she left a legacy of creative resistance. She worked passionately to improve the lives of her subjects and she encouraged her people to keep their culture and traditions alive, no matter what. 

Accomplishing such huge goals often felt impossible. But that only made the queen fight harder. As she said, “Never cease to act because you fear you may fail.”

Queen Lili’uokalani’s legacy of determination and rebel spirit is still very much a part of Hawaiian culture today. And her songs can still be heard in that gentle breeze flowing over the nearby mountain ridge and down through the trees. 

Aloha ʻ oe, aloha ʻoe

Until we meet again. 


This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

This episode was narrated by ME, Barrie Kealoha. It was produced and directed by Haley Dapkus, with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. 

The story was written by Gina Gotsill and edited by Abby Sher. Fact checking by Joe Rhatigan. Our executive producers were Joy Smith and Jes Wolfe.

Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi.

A special thanks to the whole Rebel Girls team, who make this podcast possible! Until next time, staaaay rebel!