Dressed in all black, Native Hawaiian fashion designer Micah Kamohoalii stood alongside his models for four hours on the streets of London. Feathered capes adorned their shoulders, and several feathered staffs towered over a vast crowd awaiting Queen Elizabeth II to be put to rest.

When the queen’s coffin arrived, Kamohoalii and his models quietly sang “Aloha Oe,” a famous song by Queen Liliuokalani.

Kamohoalii, who was in the United Kingdom capital for London Fashion Week, said this is how Native Hawaiians traditionally honor someone’s death.

“This isn’t a performance for us,” Kamohoalii said. “If our alii (chief or chiefess) had died, this is what we would do. Whether we like her or don’t like her, we know how to honor alii.”

Native Hawaiian fashion designer Micah Kamohoalii and his models paid their respects to Queen Elizabeth II, who died earlier this month.
While in London, Native Hawaiian fashion designer Micah Kamohoalii and his models paid their respects to Queen Elizabeth II, who died in early September. Courtesy: Dezigns by Kamohoalii/2022

Elizabeth, the UK’s longest reigning monarch, died in early September at age 96. Her funeral on Sept. 19 drew 28 million viewers in the UK and millions more globally, according to BBC News.

While many mourned Elizabeth’s death, that sentiment isn’t universally shared in Hawaii and other Pacific nations, many of which spent decades under colonial rule. Native Hawaiians, in particular, are conflicted over the queen’s death, many expressing their views on social media in the weeks following her death.

Some say it’s a poignant reminder of a nation losing its monarch, while others condemned Elizabeth because she symbolized the monarchy’s colonial past.

Hawaii was never colonized by the UK, although it did spend some time under a compact before the British became one of the first nations to recognize Hawaii’s independence in 1843. Hawaii’s monarchy also drew some inspiration from the British monarchy.

Some cultures remain attached to the idea of monarchies, but monarchial rule is widely rejected worldwide, according to Bishop Museum historian DeSoto Brown.

“Where royalty was even still acknowledged, it was subjected to active public criticism,” Brown said in an email. “Its survival in many places as a source of national pride or cohesion has shown it does have some value, but since it’s seen as synonymous with oppression of both people in the home countries as well as in colonized ones, it’s also rejected.”

Portrait, Queen Victoria, Iolani Palace, Artifact
A portrait of Britain’s Queen Victoria given to the Iolani Palace by Queen Elizabeth I. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

For many, Elizabeth symbolized a bygone era when the UK expanded its control over the globe. Most countries, including the Pacific, were colonized under Queen Victoria’s reign in the 19th century.

But Elizabeth, who was crowned in 1952, was in favor of decolonization, according to University of Hawaii Professor Niklaus Schweizer, who specializes in European and Pacific history.

He said dozens of countries gained independence under Elizabeth’s reign including Ghana, Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.

Schweizer underscored that Hawaii was never colonized by the UK because the British recognized the islands as an independent nation in 1843.

“Once you have reached that status you cannot be colonized,” Schweizer said. “But there’s a lot of confusion. Many people think Hawaii is and or even now is colonized, but that’s not true.”

“There’s a mental colonization, which came after the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani,” he continued. “But the political colonization never happened here. So in that sense, Hawaii is different from French Polynesia and the other island groups.”

A Unique Relationship

Hawaii’s relationship with the UK in the 19th century was both friendly and threatened, according to Brown.

“As is well known, Britain was aggressively colonizing lands all over the globe for several hundred years, and Hawaii could have been potentially one of these targeted places,” Brown said. “At the same time, however, the Hawaiian monarchs looked to England for assistance and guidance and sought a friendly interaction with it.”

Throughout the 19th century, Hawaii adopted some western influences such as weaponry like firearms, international business and establishing a flag.

Hawaii’s relationship with westerners started in the 1700s after the arrival of Capt. James Cook. According to Iolani Palace historian Zita Cup Choy, King Kamehameha took ideas and tools like firearms from Cook, to “make himself and his community stronger and eventually unify the islands into a single kingdom in 1820.”

The Union Jack is prominently imprinted on the state flag, which was created in 1816. While consulting with British Capt. George Vancouver, King Kamehameha created a flag to send his ship to China to sell sandalwood, Cup Choy said.

Hawaiian Flag, Union Jack
The Union Jack is part of the Hawaii state flag. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

“Great Britain was a friend of Hawaii,” Cup Choy said. “France and Russia were very powerful nations at the time. The Union Jack, and the red, white and blue, will send a message to other nations that we have some powerful friends.”

However, that friendship was jeopardized in 1843 during the Paulet Affair when Hawaii was briefly seized by a UK representative.

Hawaii’s independence was restored that same year after British Adm. Richard Thomas traveled to Honolulu holding the Hawaiian flag to end the occupation. Hawaii was officially recognized as a sovereign nation in 1843.

Today, Thomas Square pays tribute to that day and is one of the few sites in Hawaii where the Hawaiian flag is allowed to fly by itself.

Much of the Hawaiian monarchy’s attire and regalia, especially during King Kalakaua’s reign, was modeled after Europe to “position himself and his kingdom as being of the same stature as other more substantial countries,” according to Brown.

“He (Kalakaua) also tried to expand his nation’s influence in the Pacific by attempting an alliance with Samoa (which was unsuccessful since Germany was already trying to take it over),” Brown said. “Kalakaua proposed a marriage between his niece, Princess Kaiulani, and a prince of Japan, the type of thing which had gone on in Europe for centuries to build connections between countries. This led to nothing since the Japanese prince — while still only a child — already had an arranged marriage in his future.”

Iolani Palace Artifact, Etching,
An engraving donated to the Iolani Palace of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Service in Westminster Abbey. Queen Kapiolani and then Princess Liliuokalani are pictured on the left-hand side. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Inside Iolani Palace are two engravings relating to the British monarchy. Elizabeth gifted Iolani Palace an original 1838 engraving of young Queen Victoria. Another engraving displayed Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in Westminster Abbey, featuring Queen Kapiolani and Princess Liliuokalani.

“Because of their genealogy, they outranked many of the other royals present,” Cup Choy said. “She welcomed them, kissed them on the cheeks, introduced them to her kids and just felt like these were sister monarchs.”

Mixed Emotions

Elizabeth’s death has brought up mixed feelings among Hawaii residents. While some mourned her death, others felt conflicted.

Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, who watched the funeral on TV, said she was sad, adding that Elizabeth’s death is a remembrance of a nation mourning its monarch.

“This is a passing of a whole era,” Wong-Wilson said. “I was very sad. I was glued to the TV watching, and watching the nation mourning. For me, it was reminiscent of how our people must have felt when Liliuokalani passed.”

University of Hawaii student Nainoa Kahiona said he didn’t care about Elizabeth’s death, although he was surprised she finally died.

“I’m not going to celebrate or mourn because there hasn’t been anything recent for me to appreciate the royal family,” he said.

Kahiona said he recognized the relationship Hawaii had with the British monarchs but said “when it comes down to the end of the timeline during the overthrow, there wasn’t British support for Queen Liliuokalani to put her back on the throne.”

Kamohoalii was in London for fashion week to display his clothing line on the runway. He said it was appropriate to pay his respect to Elizabeth because of Hawaii’s historical relationship with UK’s monarchs.

“Our ancestors had a direct relationship with Queen Elizabeth’s great grandparents and great-great grandparents,” he said. “So we felt like this would only be fitting on behalf of my genealogy and on behalf of her genealogy that we stand there to give our aloha.”

A video of Kamohoalii and his models singing “Aloha Oe” in London faced praise and criticism on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and Twitter. He said it took two days to delete “negative comments” on his social media.

Some posts said “To sing Queen Liliuokalani’s song for that woman is vile,” a Twitter user wrote about the video.

Kamohoalii said some people in Hawaii who may feel conflicted about the queen’s passing is due to illiteracy but also resentment because of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

“Meaning like ‘How can you have your kingdom and ours was taken away? If you were friends with us, why didn’t you help us get ours back?'” Kamohoalii said.

Although many people adored the royals, that admiration has faded over time. Brown said Elizabeth’s symbolic role representing the remnants of the British Empire has mostly gone away.

“Since so much time has passed, since most of the former colonies broke free, the traumas and oppression have receded,” Brown said. “Most people who lived under colonization have died by now and the personal experiences are no longer prominent. For this reason, the most common feeling has been sadness/poignant loss at the end of a lengthy and well-defined era.”

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