The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: The Funeral of Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole

HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor Paradise of the Pacific, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s a look back at February 1922.
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Much of February’s issue of Paradise is dedicated to the funeral of Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole, who died early in the morning on Jan. 7. “As thoroughly democratic as he was born royalistic, Prince Kalanianaole had requested that there be no elaborate ceremonial funeral for him,” Paradise writes. Instead, he asked “that his remains be cremated and the urn containing his ashes carried to the crypt in the lap of his wife, Princess Elizabeth, with only a close friend or two accompanying her in the family automobile.” As you can probably guess, that didn’t happen for Hawai‘i’s last reigning prince. Instead, “the obsequies for Prince Kalanianaole exceeded in splendor anything of the kind in the annals of Hawaii past or present,” including Queen Lili‘uokalani’s grand funeral five years ago.


“Early in the day on January 8, Hawaiians began taking from secret hiding places bags of feathers—many of them from native birds now extinct—which are used to adorn the royal kahili standards, and the special kahilis of the Kalanianaole household.” Helmets, cloaks, spears and more “were brought forth to be used for the last time, except, perhaps, as an historical exhibit.” Indeed, a pair of kāhili used at Kūhiō’s funeral, known as Kaolahaka, are currently on display in the Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kāhili Room at Bishop Museum.


Hundreds of people walked the 3 miles from Pualeilani, the home on Waikīkī Beach where Kūhiō died, to Kawaiaha‘o Church, where his body lay for a week. “Several of the marchers were close to the century mark in years. Devotion kept them afoot. And the silence! It is difficult to believe that a long procession could cover that distance without a sound other than the guarded tread of feet. Not a whisper from people who are wont to make frank display of emotion.”


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All week, crowds watched over the body and chanted 24 hours a day. At midnight on Jan. 14, the procession moved to ‘Iolani Palace. “So, before the throne and on the spot where as a child he had knelt to be created a prince of the Crown, all that was mortal of Hawaii’s last alii lay in state,” Paradise writes. Kūhiō’s coffin was made from koa and native kou, which was thought to be extinct at the time (invasive kou leaf worms killed many of the kou trees in the Islands in the 19th century, but the native species has since bounced back). At dawn, “the Prince was paid the last honors due a general in the Army and an admiral in the Navy” before the procession grew “as long as the line of the march, or longer,” led by the 21st Infantry Regiment.


“Promptly at 11 o’clock the casket was borne down the steps of the Palace by sturdy Hawaiian chiefs—it weighed a ton and a half—and placed on the catafalque which was drawn by three hundred poolas (Hawaiian stevedores).” And though the kāhili were impressive, it’s the torches the writer finds most striking. Boiled, steamed and shelled kukui nuts were strung on splints of bamboo “gathered around the stiff rib of a coconut leaf and bound with a sheathing of green ti leaves. … The finished torch is three and a half feet long and burns brilliantly eight or ten hours, throwing off clouds of pungent smoke.”


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The prince was placed within the crypt of the Kalākaua dynasty at Mauna ‘Ala after eulogies in English and Hawaiian. “‘Aloha Oe,’ so muted as seemingly to issue from the sun drenched air, poured its bitter sweet melody over the scene. The Princess lifted her veil for a moment and gazed upon the casement which held all that was mortal of her Prince—the man who for twenty-five years had been her husband and constant companion, and for longer than that her devoted lover. A low, moaning sob escaped her. This was the end!”


The Royal Mausoleum holds six of the Islands’ eight monarchs, including King Kamehameha II, the first to be interred, and Queen Lili‘uokalani, as well as princes, princesses, ancient chiefs and others. The state monument is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.


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