Kamehameha IV set standard for islands' pageantry
POSTED: 2:55 p.m. HST, Apr 26, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 2:23 p.m. HST, Apr 27, 2011
When it comes to the pageantry of a royal wedding, the British aren't the only people who know how to mark the occasion.
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Back in the middle of the 19th century, on a clear summer day, the people of old Hawaii witnessed a union that many feel was the grandest ceremony the islands have ever seen.
The marriage of Emma Rooke and Alexander Liholiho, who ruled as Kamehameha IV, was said to have electrified the entire kingdom.
The young monarch — Liholiho was 22 — had ruled for two years when he made the 20-year-old Emma his queen. They were a stately couple and had known each other since they were schoolchildren.
Liholiho was handsome and intelligent, although moody; he once shot a man whom he wrongly believed was having an improper relationship with Emma. Known for her taste in fashion, the bride was a dark-haired beauty with the fair skin of her grandfather John Young, a personal friend of Kamehameha the Great.
They were married June 19, 1856, in Kawaiaha‘o Church. The day was declared an official holiday throughout the kingdom, and flags of many countries flew from rooftops and ships in Honolulu Harbor.
An estimated 3,000 people lined King Street to watch the couple's arrival. Inside Kawaiaha‘o, the largest building in town, 500 filled the pews.
Decorations transformed the church, according to an account of the wedding in The Polynesian, a newspaper of the times.
"What before was bare and blank looking was converted into a sight that no eye could see without admiring," the unidentified journalist wrote. "The festoons of glittering leaves that adorned the large expanse of roof and the chaplets that hung like rings for Cupid's doves to settle on lent a peculiar freshness and beauty to the scene."
As the king's carriage left the royal palace, on the same site where Iolani Palace was built in 1882, his departure was announced by cannons fired from somewhere on Punchbowl, according to David Gregg, U.S. commissioner to the kingdom, who recorded the events of the day in his diary.
The bride's procession joined with the king's as they traveled on a road covered with rushes and lined by soldiers who prostrated themselves until their foreheads nearly touched the ground. Court favorites of the king's late father were said to have removed outer layers of clothing and tossed them under the hooves of the passing horses.
The palace band played "God Save the King" as the procession entered Kawaiaha‘o on foot to stand before the altar on a special platform.
"His Majesty was dressed in the ordinary uniform of his rank, blue coat richly embroidered with gold and white cashmere pantaloons with a strip of gold lace running down to the foot, large Hawaiian star on the left breast and a scarf of blue, (and a) small sword," Gregg wrote in his diary.
The queen-to-be was a vision. She was petite in stature, evidenced by her dress, which is barely 5 feet in length with a waist of 19 inches, according to the staff of the Daughters of Hawaii, stewards of her summer palace and belongings in Nuuanu.
The Polynesian called the dress, which was purchased in New York by W.C. Parke, marshal of the kingdom, a perfect fit.
"Nothing could have been more elegant or have better suited her fairy-like proportions," the newspaper said. "The robe was of white silk, heavy and lustrous with three flounces richly embroidered. The veil was of Brussel's point lace, confined to the hair by a wreath of roses and orange flowers beautifully blended."
The veil was a gift from England's Queen Victoria.
And, of course, she wore diamonds.
The service was done in Hawaiian and English, "each promise being doubly made," The Polynesian noted.
To tell the crowd outside that the vows were being taken, each acceptance was announced by cannon fire.
There was only one glitch in the service: Liholiho had forgotten the ring.
Former U.S. Consul Elisha Allen quickly slipped off his own wedding band to serve as a substitute.
When the ceremony was finished, more artillery fire — from the shore and the harbor — announced the couple's departure from Kawaiaha‘o.
That night the palace gates were opened for a royal ball that included 500 guests beneath a huge tent. The grounds were illuminated by fiery wicks floating in containers of oil. It was described in The Polynesian as a fairy land.
"I have rarely been present on an occasion which displayed more propriety and good taste," Gregg wrote in his diary.
The ball began at 8 p.m. with the king and his new queen arriving at 9 p.m. Emma's evening dress was an "exquisitely airy fabric of lace embroidered with white silk and silver," The Polynesian noted.
It was an occasion to remember. From atop Punchbowl, a fireworks display lit up the night sky, while below, caught in the rapture of a royal wedding, the king, his new queen and their guests all danced late into the night.