The Diaries of Queen Lili'uokalani - Miriam Fuchs

Many factors in Hawaii work against the preservation of print media. They include Hawaii's semitropical climate—high humidity and frequent rain—and long tradition of the open-window system of air cooling, which takes advantage of the trade winds. State and university buildings that house important documents are usually air-conditioned but not always in all rooms, and the conversion to air conditioning has been gradual and slow. For example, only one floor of the undergraduate library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is currently air-conditioned; my office still waits. Rooms used by the English department were only recently converted, putting an end to such dramas as classroom windstorms and visits by local birds. Sunlight, even when filtered through windows on the opposite side of a room, has a quick, devastating effect on print media. Books lose their color, and the writing fades. Hardbound covers attract a type of mildew that leaves them soft and with a slightly furry surface. Paper clips oxidize and leave documents with brown imprints. Paper stays soggy, and as the ocean salt works its way into expensive machinery, printers jam and computer innards begin to corrode. Cockroaches eat the glue of bindings until books come apart. What the cockroaches neglect, the bookworms undertake. They burrow their way through the text and leave behind them pin-size tunnels, sometimes from cover to cover.

Manuscripts and records are therefore guarded with vigilance, and they are not always easy to gain access to. In particular, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century documents from the time when Hawaii was a monarchy and, as such, a Pacific island nation tend to be kept out of sight in restricted sections of library collections, state archives, and museums, so cool that one might think they were refrigerated. But as sovereignty for Hawaiians has become a pressing ethnic and political issue, interest in Hawaiian language, history, and culture has gained momentum, and increasing numbers of people are requesting access to print materials that once were of interest primarily to scholars and historians. Among these documents are memoirs, official reports, and newspaper accounts containing information about the 1898 annexation of Hawaii to the United States as well as about Hawaii's last reigning monarch, Lili'uokalani. The year 1993 marked the hundredth anniversary of her overthrow and 1995 the hundredth anniversary of her formal statement of abdication. These landmark dates and numerous commemorative activities continue to generate interest in Lili'uokalani, who could readily serve as a rallying symbol for the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

Interested in Lili'uokalani myself, I did research on the book Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen, which Lili'uokalani wrote from late 1896 through 1897 and which is widely known and read in Hawaii. Published in the United States only months before Congress was to vote for or against the annexation of Hawaii, the book was Lili'uokalani's final effort to intervene in the political process, from which she had been removed by her overthrow, forced abdication, trial, and imprisonment in her own palace (which now stands restored in the middle of Honolulu). In the book, Lili'uokalani argues and pleads with the American people not to take over her country. She declares "absolute authority" in saying that "the native people of Hawaii are entirely faithful to their own chiefs, and are deeply attached to their own customs and mode of government; that they either do not understand, or bitterly oppose, the scheme of annexation" (370). Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen is rich in Hawaiian history and will undoubtedly be cited in future debates on the contested history and status of indigenous Hawaiians and of their land and political rights.

The question that arose in my research on Queen Lili'uokalani resulted from my willingness to rely on photocopies of her transcribed diaries from 1878 through 1906. The original volumes are not readily available to the public, but I anticipated no particular problems in using the photocopied versions, which are conveniently shelved in the Hawaiian and Pacific Collection at the University of Hawaii. I offer the following paragraphs as a cautionary tale to illustrate the dangers of not using original documents, dangers that unfortunately become apparent only when researchers decide for some reason to examine the original documents. Reproducing primary materials by any method—even simple ones such as transcription and photocopying—may have the effect of distorting the original text.

Using typed copies of the diaries seemed altogether reasonable to me—that is, until I began to think, very surprisingly, that Lili'uokalani may not have written Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. It was not my intention to discredit her authorship of a book that is so widely known. Still, rumors of a ghostwriter or of a very liberal collaboration with the man who served for a time as Lili'uokalani's secretary have existed at least since the 1930s, when Lorrin A. Thurston, a grandson of missionaries and a leader of the pro-annexationist party, declared Lili'uokalani's authorship of Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen a sham. In his own memoir of the overthrow of the monarchy, Thurston uses Lili'uokalani's diaries to support his embittered accusations against the queen, who had worked so hard to thwart his plans for a Hawaii that would be tied politically and permanently to the United States. After his political party confiscated the diaries and other personal papers from the queen, Thurston, who had a law degree from Columbia University, examined them. Certain passages turned up in the case against the queen when a military tribunal of the Provisional Government put her on trial for treason. She was found guilty of misprision of treason and sentenced to five years of hard labor and a $5,000 fine. The sentence was commuted to imprisonment, and when it was over, she had spent eight months confined to one room of her palace, five months under house arrest in her private residence, and for another eight months she was forbidden to leave the island of Oahu (Allen 341). In Memoirs of the Hawaiian Revolution (1936), Thurston discredits the queen's authorship even though, while imprisoned in 1895, she worked on the first English translation of The Kumulipo, a Hawaiian poem and chant of the Creation, which she published in 1897 with her own introduction. (She was also one of Hawaii's most talented and prolific composers.) Thurston insists, however, that there is too large a disparity between the style of the diaries and that of Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. "I have checked the record in various sources," he writes, and "[t]he English of the book, as compared with that of the diary, is evidence of my statement. Lili'uokalani personally was incapable of using such clear-cut English as that published" (175, 180).

To my regret, the typed copies seemed at first to confirm Thurston's charge: the entries were often short and oddly fragmented or elliptical, with a pattern of abbreviations and errors. Lili'uokalani seemed also to write on standard-size paper, but strangely she ignored its horizontal dimension; her sentences were foreshortened and rarely came close to the right-hand margin. There were many oddities in the diaries that I read for the years 1878, 1885, and 1898 and many inconsistencies from diary to diary. Deciding it was necessary to view the original volumes, I learned that some were sequestered in the State of Hawaii Archives Building and others in the Bishop Museum, both in Honolulu. I went to the Bishop Museum, which stores thousands of documents and artifacts from pre- and post-Contact Hawaii, and consulted with an archivist there. He agreed to remove the diaries from a room that is dehumidified and air-conditioned twenty-four hours a day, which I was not allowed to enter. Returning to another room in which I waited, the archivist handled the diaries with spotless white gloves and carefully placed one volume, then another, and then another on a table before me, and he patiently turned down each fragile page for me to examine but not to touch. I then discovered something that surprised me even more than had my initial skepticism of Lili'uokalani's authorship, something I would never have discovered had I not seen the original entries.

Utterly absent from the photocopied transcripts and utterly obvious in the originals was the way in which the physical dimensions of each diary determined the odd style of its entries. Only by viewing the originals did I realize that the diaries, in contrast to the photocopied versions, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Furthermore, nearly all the diaries are very small. For example, the 1886 diary is 3 by 4 1/2 inches, the 1898 diary 3 by 5 inches, and the 1906 diary 2 3/4 by 5 1/2 inches. Some of the diaries are so small they are more accurately described as appointment books with space only for quick, hasty entries. The materials that I had examined earlier were physically identical, all the standard 8 1/2 by 11 inches, all in bound notebooks the size of academic theses. Also, and again in contrast to the photocopied texts, the original diaries do not generally have conspicuous gaps between the text and the edges of the paper. In fact, the original diaries show what the typed copies camouflage, that Lili'uokalani's handwriting often goes to the very edge of the page, leaving no space whatever. In the smaller diaries the queen's handwriting is very cramped with occasional additions even written upside down, providing evidence that she worked hard to utilize all the space available to her and was thus expressive rather than reticent.

The conclusion I drew from even a cursory study of the original documents was the opposite of the impression I first received from the photocopied version: Queen Lili'uokalani was more than capable of writing Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. Many of the supposed errors and idiosyncrasies of her prose are a natural and logical result of writing in what she considered a private genre and in the physical books she chose for her diaries. The typed copies that are available throughout Hawaii give the impression that Lili'uokalani used standard American notebook paper, which she collected and bound as a manuscript. They also suggest obvious improbabilities—that, for example, she typed some of the entries or that when she wrote in Hawaiian, she also translated those sentences. In retrospect, I see that the insufficiencies of the copies are embarrassingly evident, and yet I was slow to recognize them. They corrupt the originals in ways that led me, at least for a few days, to divest Lili'uokalani of authorship of her important Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen.

Although without systematic study it is difficult to generalize about the textual corruptions from one year's diary to another, I think it fair to say that the duplicating process and the preparation of fragile materials for undergoing that process create significant problems. In fact, they produce "copies" that are dangerously unfaithful to the original. The decision, for instance, to photocopy typed versions of handwritten diary entries produces odd differences and dislocations. The decision concerning the relation between text and page tends to magnify minor errors so that they appear glaring. Without sufficient editorial apparatus, copies that aren't really copies emphasize qualities of Lili'uokalani's prose that seem idiosyncratic on a standard page but are absolutely appropriate to the cramped format of the actual diaries. Lili'uokalani's prose, removed from its original context, is thus stripped of its history.

Thurston, who read the original diaries, surely understood that the fragments and elliptical constructions were the result of the dimensions of the diaries. Given Hawaii's benign climate, which is anything but benign for the preservation of print, and given Hawaii's volatile politics, perhaps he believed that the diaries would not survive but that his accusations would. The crucial diary of 1897, which Lili'uokalani must have written in while she worked on Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen and which would probably corroborate her authorship and offer details of the drafting process, has never been found. In view of the history of Lili'uokalani's confiscated possessions, I suspect that it never will be found.

Thurston proclaims Lili'uokalani incapable of writing her own book. I conclude that Hawaii's last indigenous ruler not only wrote her own book but also was someone for whom writing was imperative. Using those pocket-size diaries was very practical. Lili'uokalani was able to keep one or two of them hidden in the folds of her late Victorian dresses and write the instant she felt the urge to write. Symbolically, if not in fact, she was protecting the record of her life from those who she feared might gain political ascendancy and who eventually did. They were the same people who imprisoned her, ransacked her private rooms, and confiscated every diary and personal and official paper they could find, allowing her to keep only one document, her last will and testament. We are uncertain why some of the diaries still have not surfaced and why others show evidence of tampering and erasures, but we know this much: Lili'uokalani could not be stopped from writing. Not only are the diaries written in English and Hawaiian, but in later years, after Hawaii became a Territory of the United States, Lili'uokalani began to use a private numerical code that was not broken until 1971 and occasionally a personal shorthand. It seems certain that Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen was indeed written by Hawaii's queen, and it is ironic that the original diaries, but not their typed copies, offer strong support for this conclusion.

University of Hawaii, Manoa


My thanks to DeSoto Brown, an archivist at Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, for his helpful reading of this paper.

Works Cited

Allen, Helena G. The Betrayal of Liliuokalani: Last Queen of Hawaii, 1838–1917. Honolulu: Mutual, 1982.

Lili'uokalani. An Account of the Creation of the World according to Hawaiian Tradition. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1897.

———. Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. 1898. Honolulu: Mutual, 1990.

Thurston, Lorrin A. Memoirs of the Hawaiian Revolution. Ed. Andrew Farrell. Honolulu: Advertiser, 1936.

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