Native Hawaiians, other Hawaii residents and visitors gathered to celebrate Queen Liliuokalani’s birthday yesterday with hula, mele and prayer on the grounds of Iolani Palace.
Among others, the girls of Halau La Onohi Mai Haehae, dressed in lavender and white, performed hula and sang songs commemorating the queen, a composer herself of poetry and music, including "Aloha Oe."
But a number of attendees solemnly walked through roughly 1,500 names handwritten on white placards that lined the lawn of Iolani Palace yesterday, searching for ancestors who may have signed the 1897 petition against the annexation of Hawaii to the United States.
The 1,500 names represent just a few of the more than 21,000 who signed the petition against annexation of Hawaii in 1897. The petition was retrieved from the U.S. National Archives to Hawaii in 1997 by Noenoe Silva.
"It’s significant because there was a segment of the population that believed annexation was wrong," said Kerry Yen, 56, of Mililani.
Yen was looking for his great-great-grandmother on his father’s side, Jane Buckle Clark, who served as a lady-in-waiting to the queen and was imprisoned with her at Iolani Palace for at least one night.
"She was in prison up there," he said, pointing to the palace.
Pomaikai Kinney, 71, said he discovered the first of three relatives’ names among the thousands of signatures when a copy of the petition opened up to the page containing R. Kinney, whom he believed to be his great-great granduncle Raymond Kinney. "My legs just wobbled," he said. "The name was just looking at me."
"What is significant to me is that William A. Kinney tried the queen for treason, so when I saw this book, I said, ‘Well at least not all the Kinneys went against the queen.’"
"A lot of people don’t know what this meant," he said.
He pointed out that many of the names are not only Hawaiians, but also non-Hawaiians.
About 600 names were first displayed on Presidents Day this year at McKinley High School. Then 1,100 names were displayed at Iolani Palace on Kamehameha Day, June 12. On July 31, a third display was set up for Sovereignty Day.
A small group, with the aid of U.S. military, overthrew the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893 during the reign of Queen Liliuokalani. The petition was later delivered to the U.S. Senate in 1897, while Liliuokalani was in Washington.
Luwella Leonardi, 62, of Waimanalo said her ancestor, Alexander Auld, was part of a Hawaii delegation that hand-delivered the petition to Washington, D.C.
Leonardi has been participating in the queen’s birthday celebrations since 1992, when she, as a University of Hawaii student, would sit with other students at the corner of the palace under the queen’s bedroom and "sing to her all night."
She said her grandmother, Tutu Keleileki, was a seamstress for the queen, and that the queen would stop at their home in Maunawili where she would bathe at a swimming hole.
Leonardi took part in writing the names on the placards, saying, "We were emotional just writing the names," adding, "we could just imagine" what they were feeling as they signed the petition.
Leonardi discussed those historic events with Niklaus Schweizer, who wrote "Turning Tide," in which the overthrow and events leading up to it are discussed, and who teaches a UH class on Europeans in the Pacific.
Schweizer said it was a very small group of sons of missionaries who overthrew the monarchy despite the whole nation being against it.
He said the Senate lacked the needed votes to support annexation after realizing the citizenry opposed annexation, so it was never put to a vote. So President William McKinley used a joint resolution to annex Hawaii, which cannot legally be used to annex a country.
He said the story has gotten "so twisted and hidden for such a long time."
Within 30 years’ time, through the educational system and the media, the story became confused as elders died off, he said.