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A Prince for the People – Remembering Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole

April 07, 2017

Prince Kuhio was a skilled horse rider, athlete, and showed a great deal of sportsmanship even in politics. (Image: Hawaii State Archives)

Just like Hawaii itself, there is something very special about the last prince of Hawaii, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole. The irresistible charm of his as a person is seen in every picture of him and felt in the hearts of many through the written records as if he is actually talking to you. It was his signature smile which gave him his famous nickname “Prince Cupid” throughout his entire life. Combined with his impeccable academic and athletic prowess as well as his charismatic presence and influence of being the only royalty and first native Hawaiian in the U.S. congress, he left a stellar impression everywhere he went. What he is remembered for most is his unparalleled compassion and support throughout his life for his people to regain their pride and strength as Hawaiian. People called the Prince as “Ke Ali`i Maka`ainana” (the Prince of the People). He didn’t become a king after all, but he was the true Ali‘i (chief) who never stopped fighting the battles for the rights of the Hawaiian people.

Being the foster sons of King Kalakaua and their aunt Queen Kapiolani, he and his two brothers received the best private education to be prepared for royalty. They studied at St. Alban’s college (called Iolani School today) and at Punahou School. His athletic fitness started to become noticed during this time. While attending Punahou, he was a football star and finished the 100-yard dash regularly in ten seconds. He rowed, bicycled, and was one heck of a polo player (the list just goes on and on when it comes to his athletic abilities). He was also a skilled “lua” player—a traditional Hawaiian martial art. It is said that he learned 250 varieties of lua “holds” in his youth and never forgot them in his later years.

At St. Matthew’s Military School in California, while engaging in study, he surfed in Santa Cruz with his brothers. It was many years before surfing became introduced in California. In England, the Prince studied agriculture and business at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. The King was prepping the princes for their high office positions within the kingdom or for their roles as a future king. Sadly, the purpose of their best education was never fulfilled after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893, but he certainly made the best use of it for his own people as Hawaii was forced to follow the turbulent path going forward.

He joined the counter-revolution force to restore the throne to Queen Liliuokalani. He helped to raise funds and assisted the operation in the field. Unfortunately, the operation ended in failure and he was tried and imprisoned in the county jail. This was when the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed and annexed over to the United States.

After the release of both the Queen and himself in 1895, he married and left Hawaii for a trip around the world with his wife, having thoughts of settling down in another country. One can only assume that he must’ve been too heartbroken to stay.

He favored to wear a fiery red tie in congress. The color of Ali‘i always kindled in his heart. (Image: Library of Congress)

After visiting all major European cities as well as Africa from 1899 to 1901, he eventually returned to Hawaii. This was when a new chapter of his life as a political figure began; he was called to stand for his people. He represented Hawaii as a delegate to the U.S. congress for the next twenty years until his death. He worked tirelessly to restore the life, rights and pride of the Hawaiian people. To educate the mainlanders about the Hawaiian affairs, he even spent his own pocket money to invite the delegates to the islands. He believed that people need to see the land and people with their own eyes before making any opinion about the proposed bills regarding his homeland. Representative Curry of California once said that no other man argued for his bill so sincerely with greater feeling than Prince Kuhio. Not only did he wholeheartedly dedicated his life to his people, but he also possessed a natural charm to attract people. According to the newspaper articles back then, many described the Prince as always happy, smiling and friendly, and was known for his gracious and lavish entertainment for the guests. He never lost his Aloha spirit no matter where he went.

After years of fighting for his people back home, his efforts finally paid off. The Rehabilitation Act (or better known as the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act) passed. Native Hawaiians were reconnected with their ‘aina (land) by special homestead lands. Also, with the funding that he secured for Hawaii, major harbors were improved, national parks were developed, federal buildings were built, and Pearl Harbor and the peripheral military commissions were installed. And women in Hawaii went to vote for the first time. To preserve the healthy future for the Hawaiians, he founded the Hawaiian Civic Club. It was dedicated to rebuild the declining population of the Hawaiian race, provide educational opportunities for younger generations, and assist in social welfare of Hawaiians. It was Prince Kuhio who also brought back the Kamehameha Day observance, which continues onto today.

It is never enough, to learn the heroic acts of the great people who passed down the beautiful legacy to the following generations. It charges us up with hope and renewed energy and makes us feel strong. To commemorate his accomplishments and legacy, the lively faces of today’s proud Hawaiians marched down Waikiki at this year’s Kuhio Day parade, a day prior to his birthday on March 26th. Filled with joy, music and aloha, we observed what he championed for has been well-preserved and still stays strong in modern day Hawaii.

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