Saturday, December 11, 2010

In Memoriam: Kamehameha V

The best thing about writing this blog is the people I get to meet... Not (as with Facebook) that I ever get to actually meet any actual people as a result of it - yet - but between my fellow bloggers with whom I play 'comment tag' and the parade of historical figures both famous and obscure traipsing through here I've managed to trick myself into thinking that these proceedings are like some cosmic cocktail party with a guest list not even Truman Capote could throw together.

PhotobucketSome of my favourite guests here at the Pop Culture Institute are the Hawai'ian royals; not only are they among the only native royalty to have been added to the American melting pot, they are somehow both famous and obscure at the same time - which contradiction I love with all my love...

One such royal is the Hawai'ian king, Kamehameha V, who was born on this day in 1830 to High Chief Mataio Kekuanaoa and Princess Elizabeth Kinau; ultimately a tragic figure, he nevertheless did his part in shaping modern Hawai'i. Within his short lifetime he oversaw his nation's progress from a remote paradise to a tourist destination, raised his voice against alcohol - which killed his countrymen (who, like his fellow members of the North American First Nations, had the sort of metabolisms which were unable to process it) with impunity - and otherwise did his level best to insure the sovereignty of Hawai'i despite overwhelming odds.

Of course, Hawai'ian royalty wasn't exactly blessed with fecundity; maybe if they'd been able to establish a consistent line of primogeniture the international community would have seen fit to protect their line from the depredations of American gunboats, which would ultimately make their once-great nation into a mere state. Betrothed to Bernice Pauahi at birth, when she chose instead to marry Charles R. Bishop His Majesty was so heart-broken he never again considered marriage; as much as I feel his pain, I also know that royalty's number one job is to perpetuate the line, meaning if I'd been there I'd have told him to man up and beget the son and heir like pronto.

Despite a mere nine years on the throne, in addition to strengthening the role of the King under the terms of the the 1864 Constitution Kamehameha V built both the Aliʻiōlani Hale and expanded the ʻIolani Palace built by Kamehameha III, although he both drained the treasury and went into debt to do it. Since he steadfastly refused to name an heir, when he died - also on this day in 1873, on his 43rd birthday - the legislature chose the ill-fated Lunalilo to succeed him.  It did not, as you might have already guessed, go well...
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