On Jan. 17, 1893, the Hawaiian Nation was wrongfully overthrown by a small group of haole businessmen with the support of the U.S. minister and troops.

On the same day, Queen Liliuokalani, the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian islands, drafted a letter of protest temporarily conceding to “the superior force of the United States of America” until the facts were reviewed by the U.S. and the queen’s authority reinstated.

An investigation was launched into the overthrow and on Dec. 18, 1893, President Cleveland acknowledged to Congress that the overthrow was a “substantial wrong” committed to a friendly nation that the U.S. should “endeavor to repair.”

U.S. troops lower the Hae Hawaii (Hawaiian flag) on Aug. 12, 1898, at Iolani Palace. Hawaii State Archives

Unfortunately, what followed was the unlawful annexation of Hawaii (through a U.S. congressional resolution rather than by treaty) and the seizure of nearly 2 million acres of Hawaiian national lands by the U.S.

On Aug, 12, 1898, the Hae Hawaii (Hawaiian flag) was lowered at Iolani Palace and the American flag raised. It was a day of mourning for the Hawaiian people, many of whom wept in the streets.

Despite an apology 100 years later by the U.S. for the role they played in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, the “substantial wrong” that had been done to the queen and the Hawaiian people to this day has never been rectified. 

A Time Of Mourning

Wednesday marks the 125th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation. Thousands of Hawaiians and supporters will be marching from the Royal Mausoleum at Maunaala starting at 9 a.m. to Iolani Palace where the Hae Hawaii will be raised once more.

The event will be followed by music and inspirational speeches by past and present Hawaiian leaders such as Kaleikoa Kaeo, Mililani Trask, Jamaica Osorio, Kahookahi Kanuha, and Kekuhi Kanahele at the Palace Bandstand.

Despite the challenges of U.S. colonization and occupation, we are still here and over half a million strong.

The commemoration of 125 years since the overthrow for many of us is a time of mourning for a traumatic event whose ripple effects can still be felt today with the Hawaiian people owning some of the worst socio-economic statistics and over-represented among the houseless and incarcerated populations in Hawaii.

For others it’s a time of celebration, that despite the challenges of U.S. colonization and occupation, we are still here and over half a million strong spread throughout Hawaii and the continental U.S.

No matter what emotion the overthrow evokes, the events of Jan. 17 are clearly part of the collective historical experience of the Hawaiian people. It is this collective experience that united 40,000 Hawaiians and supporters 25 years ago at the 100th anniversary of the overthrow, and it is this experience that calls Hawaiians from all walks of life, political corners and cultural backgrounds to converge once again at Iolani Palace.

During weeks leading up to the 125th Overthrow Commemorative March and Gathering, there has been a lot of discussion and contention on the topic of “unity.”

Thousands converged on Iolani Palace on Jan. 17, 1993, on the 100th Anniversary of the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation. Courtesy: Ed Greevy/1983

There is a fallacy that Hawaiians as a collective have never been unified enough to rise to power in our own homeland, to determine for ourselves our political status, and to pursue social and cultural development as one people and nation. This fallacy has been used time and again as an excuse by the U.S. and its agents to hold back any serious attempt at justly reconciling the wrong that was done to the Hawaiian people in 1893 at the time of the overthrow.

The truth of the matter is that Hawaiians are more unified than not. Bound together by a common genealogy tying us to this aina (land), an ancient culture and shared experiences no matter what we call ourselves and wherever we go, we are connected to this special place and this historical moment.

The march and the gathering commemorating the overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation is not about some unachievable idea of “unity’ but rather a call to all Hawaiians and supporters to onipaa (stand firm) until the wrong that was done 125 years ago has been made right. 

Mahalo to Hui Ku Like Kakou and the many organizers of this important event. For more information on the 125th Commemoration of the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation go to www.onipaakakou.org.

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About the Author

  • M. Healani Sonoda-Pale
    M. Healani Sonoda-Pale is the chair of Ka Lāhui Hawai'i Political Action Committee and is one of the organizers of the "Stand for Aloha" trademark movement. She has genealogical ties to the chiefs of Kona of Hawaii island and the Levu family of American Samoa. Currently, she helps advise the undergraduate student government at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and resides in Kuliouou valley on the island of Oahu with her husband and two sons.