Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

‘Iolani Palace in Honolulu a reminder of Hawaii’s royal past

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Soana Aholelei | Reporter / Director

Tucked away in the middle of Honolulu, surrounded by a small park stands the grand ‘Iolani Palace, a symbol of Hawaiian royalty.  

Built in 1882 by King Kalākaua, it was home to the last Hawaiian Monarchs to reign over the islands.  

For more than 40 years the Hawaiian community have been painstakingly restoring the palace to its former glory.

Palace historian and docent educator Zita Cup Choy started working at the palace as a volunteer in 1977. A valued employee, she has seen many changes and work gone into the restoration.

“When we first opened in 1978 it was an empty palace tour. The only furniture was the carpet in the throne room,” she says. 

The Thrown Room is the largest room in the palace. Photo: Tagata Pasifika.

“We installed furniture that belonged to the state of Hawai’i that they paid to restore and then some of the Aliʻi (royal) portraits you see in the hallway and gradually we have been adding furniture and artifacts a little bit at a time and more recently, one room at a time.” 

The throne room is the largest room in the palace, the two thrones, for King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi’olani, are flanked by the Royal kāhili, feather standards that are traditional symbols of Hawaiian Aliʻi. 

Upstairs are the private royal rooms; iIn 2018 the King and Queen’s bedroom were also restored with the help of the ‘The Friends of the ‘Iolani Palace’ organisation who painstakingly looked through old inventory lists and photographs to reference.

“Using those photographs and using newspaper reports and other descriptions of the government furniture, was all made by the A H Davenport Company of Boston.   

“So, just slowly but surely and one thing you need to realise too, is that just about everything in the palace except the textiles, the carpeting, the upholstery, the drapery is original,” says Zita.

When King Kalākaua (middle) died in 1891 his sister Queen Liliʻuokalan became his successor. Photo: Tagata Pasifika.

The ‘Iolani Palace served as the official royal residence of Hawai’i’s monarchs.  When King Kalākaua died in 1891 his sister Queen Liliʻuokalan became his successor.

She proposed a new constitution for her people, angering powerful business owners. One of those men was Sanford B.Dole who led a coup against the monarchy with the help of the American government.

The palace remained a royal residence until the Hawaiian Monarch was overthrown in January 1893.

In 1895 after a failed attempt to restore Queen Liliʻuokalani to power, she was arrested and forced to abdicate her throne.  She was imprisoned in a room in one wing of the palace for almost 8 months.

Queen Liliʻuokalan’s quilt she made while imprisoned in one of the Palace’s rooms. Photo: Tagata Pasifika.

“The quilt in the Queen’s imprisonment room was begun when she was in prison. It was begun because she was not allowed any writing materials. She was fearful she might never be released. So, she began the quilt to speak to the future about who she was and what had happened to her,” says Zita.

Sewn into the quilt is a timeline of important events in her life, both happy and sad. The central panels specifically point to the rise and fall of the Hawaiian Monarchy.

Director of Learning and Engagement at the ‘Iolani Palace Anuhea Kānealiʻi says it’s important to teach the history of the palace to the next generation.

The outside of the ‘Iolani Palace. Photo: Tagata Pasifika.

“I’m currently revamping our education tours to expand it not only for elementary schools, but all the way up to the college systems as well, and instilling more Hawaiian values and language with our staff and volunteers,” she says..

“This is where our culture rose to its highest, but this is also the place where it fell. It’s important that we learn all of the history, all the good things that happened and learn the bad and challenging things because all of it has brought us to this moment. 

“When we come here, we find that peace and the answer to why things are the way they are here in Hawaii, because it is a special and unusual place unlike any other.” 



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