Saturday, May 15, 2010


Princess Ka`iulani

Henry Curtis

I went to the opening of the film “Princess Ka`iulani”. The film quickly departed from the history as I have learned it. I am willing to concede that my knowledge of history has errors, but there were so many discrepancies between my understanding and the film that it seemed that someone was tampering with history.

The film showed Ka`iulani riding her horse on windward O`ahu and many scenes in the film occurred there, but she lived on the grounds of what is presently the Ka`iulani Hotel in Waikiki.

The Bayonet Constitution occurred in 1987 and electrification of Honolulu occurred in 1888, however, the film depicted these as occurring simultaneously. There is some discrepancy in history as to whether Ka`iulani threw the switch electrifying `Iolani Palace. The switch logically was turned on at the power plant located in Nuuanu Valley. The film showed Ka`iulani turning it on in a very public event at `Iolani Palace.

The film focused on her resistance to the decision by her father (Archie Cleghorn) to send her to Europe while actually King Kalakaua sent her. The film showed her arriving in England accompanied by only Archie and going to the Theo Davies Estate in Southport north of Liverpool along the Irish Sea. Historically, Archie only went to San Francisco with Ka`iulani, then he returned to Honolulu. She continued on to England with her half-sister Annie Cleghorn and the Walkers. She arrived in Liverpool and went immediately to London (southeast of Liverpool).

The film centered on a long-term relationship and engagement of Clive Davies and Princess Ka`iulani. Historically he was one of the men linked to Ka`iulani, but not the only one. They were not engaged. Towards the end of the film Clive meets Ka`iulani along windward O`ahu and asks Ka`iulani to marry him and move to England. But in reality the event was a lu`au thrown by Ka`iulani for Clive as he was leaving Hawai`i to go to England to marry someone else.

The depiction of her meeting President Cleveland was shocking. The film showed Archie arriving at the Theo Davies Estate, informing Ka`iulani that he had sent telegrams to her regarding the overthrow. Ka`iulani had been unaware that the overthrow had occurred. Theo Davies had kept these hidden as they would interfere with the Clive-Ka`iulani marriage. She and Archie sailed to New York City and then Washington D.C. to meet with the President, but since he had only four weeks left to his term, there was little he could do. She then appeared to go the Honolulu.

In reality, Archie was in Honolulu during the overthrow, Mr. Davies got the telegrams on January 30, 1893, showed them to Ka`iulani, and then Theo Davies, his wife and his daughter Alice went with Ka`iulani to New York City. While they were in New York City the President was being inaugurated (March 4, 1893) having just been elected President. She then met the President. She returned to Europe for 4 more years.

The film had a tight shot of her return to Honolulu. Greeters could not be seen. She was then brought by an armed escort to see the imprisoned Lili'uokalani. In reality, she returned to Honolulu two years after the release of Queen Lili'uokalani and the docks were full of well wishers.

May the next film on Ka`iulani have some connection to reality.


100 years off on the Bayonet Constitution, Henry. 1987? Oops.

Thanks, Henry, I, too, went to see the film yesterday, but with less knowledge. However, I came away with an inner anger at the disception by some Americans and the continued illegal occupation and exploitation of Hawai'i in spite of all that has transpired.

Just a small note on the introduction of electric service in the 1800's: It was not uncommon for the wealthy, who first enjoyed electricity, to have a large open disconnect switch installed in the home. I would expect this to be true for the palace. People were suspicious of electricity. Gas lamps had a history of going out and leaking gas which led to explosions. So the master of a home often had a large (and rather dangerous) disconnect in the bedroom. They could turn off the power at night for safety. Gradually as confidence grew this feature was eliminated. I have seen this feature in old mansions in Virginia. The switched were huge Frankenstein looking affairs with open hot wires and brass.
Very dangerous themselves.

Just an oddity of early electrification.

Princess Ka`iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People by Sharon Linnea (1999) states: “Early one evening in March, the princess dressed for an official outing. On this occasion, she would be joined by Aunt Lydia and Mr. Lorrin Thurston, who was Minister of the Interior. Together they would make the two-hour trip to a power station in the valley outside of the city. ... Precisely at seven o’clock, the superintendent of the station and his assistant helped Princess Ka`iulani onto a chair. Then she threw a switch that sent power flowing – and suddenly, all of Honolulu was shining with electric lights.” (p.65)

How can anyone of an oppressed nation expect any truth from their oppressors.
Does anyone know if Princess Ka'iulani learned how to French-kiss in finishing school or is that just naturally Hawaiian? Maybe the Office of Hawaiian Affairs OHA) will produce a sequel like "LOST" that will correctly restore Hawaiian history.

As a prelude, to those that don't know Hawaiian History, the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom was a successful "inside-job" but the Hawaiian Nation still exists. Please let OHA know?

Hawaiian National (1936)

Mahalo to all the strong voices speaking the truth about this problematic film. It is sad, in a way, that the sincere and lovely Ms. Kilcher appears to be a victim herself of the continued haolewood manipulation of the histories of indigenous peoples...bringing to this attempt to evoke Ka'iulani's life the baggage of having portrayed another mythical white version of a native life. (As one Native American elder has said, "Since when are the indigenous interchangeable?" Perhaps this wouldn't be as painful an issue if the creator of this film hadn't PROMISED the community he would cast a part-Kanaka Maoli actor.)
It is time for the Kanaka Maoli/Kanaka Maoli supporter film/documentarist/writing community to make a PONO documentary free from oversexualized, pseudo-Hawaiian silliness and fact-morphing: a film that "stars" Ka'iulani as her own photos, her own letters, in the accounts of the Hawaiian language press and other accurate period records. (For instance, how much more interesting and inspiring would be the story of how Ka'iulani taught herself to ride the bicycle - an activity frowned on for women at that time - on the rough roads of Jersey Island, instead of that drippy "romantic" bicycle ride with the Davies character the film includes!) Ka'iulani was a "strong-brained wonman", and doesn't need to be represented as the plaything of any man - the details of her own life achievements (short as that life was) are far more diverse...her disciplined efforts to become an excellent artist, her dedication to music (how about the time she played the guitar to cheer the boys at a reform school? Or was inspired to try the violin by famed violinist Ede Remenyi?) What about her dedication to Hawaiian watersports - her excellence in surfing, swimming and pulling wa'a? More importantly, there is the subtle and nobly subversive Ka'iulani who with her Aunt planned that last dinner in order that the Hawaiian Patriotic Societies could present THE PETITIONS to those annexation commissioners? (Aue - that "vote" thing - the film is a mess of awkwardly compressed and misinterpreted events.) Let's all get moving, folks, to make something worthy of Ke Ali'i Ka'iulani.

This movie is a work of fiction. It's not an attempt at a documentary of what happened back then. No sense trying to pick apart it's incorrect historical parts.

Most of the U.S. population has no clue what so ever as to what happened in Hawaii back in 1892! If asked, What do you think about the U.S. government issuing an apology to Native Hawaiians? The reply would be, "For what?" And if asked "Where is Hawaii?" They would point to some island in the Atlantic Ocean!

Greetings. I just wanted say that I saw this film last night for the very first time via Netflix. I have known nothing of the actual history of Hawaii beyond a cursory mention of King Kamehameha in some far distant text book in middle school. I grew up in Southern California so surfing was a part of the culture. My mother fell in love with a Hawai'ian boy when she was a girl. My grandfather played his guitar Hawai'ian-style. I read A Different Mirror: A Multicultural History of the United States by Ronald Takaki in the late 1990s and as an activist in Virginia working to reclaim Richmond's oldest municipal African Burial Ground from its 2nd asphalt blanket of a parking lot at the hands of our local university, I knew that Hawai'i was a victim of criminal US imperialism. As an African-Norwegian-American woman I could see clearly that few to no Hawai'ians were involved in the writing and directing of the film. On sight, I accepted that Ms. Kilcher might have Polynesian ancestry of some kind, so I was a little startled to read that she is Incan/Swiss. I also think she is a fine actress who did a good job at some key moments in the film. All that said, I did not watch this historical dramatization with any conviction that it would all turn out to be true, especially in its timeline and interpersonal or political details. It was a story. What it did for me and my husband was to drive us to the internet this morning looking for sites and booklists that COULD give us 1) a history of Hawai'i, 2) a factual account of Ka'iulani's life, and 3) a sense of what Hawai'ians thought of this film - in general as well as from the perspective of those engaged in the struggle for self-determination. For stimulating our curiosity, I am grateful for this film. However, my real purpose in commenting here is to share that while I am not usually facinated by "royalty", one thing that occurred to me while watching this film was the way in which a monarch, especially of a society being deliberately obliterated, whose life is steeped in the profound and mundane rituals of their society can come, at a key moment, to embody RESISTANCE simply because they embody their culture. That is clearly as powerful a symbol as a resistance fighter dying on the fields and was strengthened for me by seeing the videos and articles that so fiercely defend the integrity of this woman against the detraction and trivialization of contemporary pop culture filmmaking. That she died so young, even if pneumonia was the practical cause, adds to the sense of a nation's recognition that the old way has died and the new ways are not yet revealed. And yet, we fight. I agree wholeheartedly that "It is time for the Kanaka Maoli/Kanaka Maoli-supporter film/documentarist/writing community to make a PONO documentary free from oversexualized, pseudo-Hawaiian silliness and fact-morphing: a film that "stars" Ka'iulani as her own photos, her own letters, in the accounts of the Hawaiian language press and other accurate period records." I respectfully look forward to that event. In the meantime, I would appreciate recommendations for books on the history of the Kanaka/Maoli people.
Ana Edwards
Chair, Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project,
Host, DefendersLIVE,
Richmond, Virginia

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