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Palani Vaughan

He doesn’t get paid for it, but the Hawaiian musician and historian helps clean the Iolani Palace grounds.


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photo by Mark Arbeit

About a year ago, my daughter called me and said, “Dad, there are a bunch of guys on the palace grounds, drinking and leaving their trash around the burial mound.” When I got there, they were lying all around the area. One was pitching a tent. One guy was so boozed up, he couldn’t even get up. This is no place for that.

I spent the rest of that day figuring out who was responsible for the care of these grounds. It’s a state park under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, but I hate to call it a park. This is the seat of the late monarchy. The mound is the first Royal Mausoleum, before the one in Nuuanu was built [in 1865]. King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamamalu were buried there.

DLNR doesn’t have security for the grounds. The Friends of Iolani Palace only has security for the palace. Fortunately, the sheriff’s office agreed to help, and it’s gotten better.

I come here every day in the afternoon, bringing gloves and trash bags. I throw away beer bottles and cardboard boxes. The executive director of the Friends of Iolani Palace, Kippen de Alba Chu, introduced himself to me one day, and he helped.

This is a historic site. That coronation stand is where King Kalakaua was crowned in 1883. In the garden area, there’s a concrete bench broken in half—Kapiolani composed songs there. Robert Wilcox led a rebellion here, after Kalakaua was forced to sign the Bayonet Constitution. When you think back on these heroes to the Hawaiian people, what I’m doing is nothing. I’m just trying to protect what should obviously be protected.

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Honolulu Magazine January 2018
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