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To celebrate a queen: Lili‘uokalani memorial service features powerful portrayal of beloved monarch

On the 100th anniversary of her death, Queen Lili‘uokalani was remembered as “an example of what true pono, true reconciliation is.”

The observation was made in a homily delivered Saturday by the Right Rev. Robert Keali‘ikoaokeakua Fitzpatrick, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii. He was the celebrant during a 100th anniversary memorial service commemorating the passing of Hawaii’s first and only reigning queen and last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The service, organized by the Friends of Lili‘uokalani Gardens and the diocese, was attended by an overflow congregation of about 200 at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles in Hilo.

Alii and dignitaries including Mayor Harry Kim, county Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy and state Rep. Chris Todd brought ho‘okupu, gifts for the queen, as did private residents. The gifts, mostly lei, were placed before a large photograph of Lili‘uokalani to the right of the church’s altar.

Much of the program was drawn from the queen’s burial service, which took place Nov. 18, 1917, at ‘Iolani Palace in Honolulu. There were hymns sung at her service and songs written by Lili‘uokalani, including her best-known composition, “Aloha ‘Oe” and “Ahe Lau Makani” — a waltz that remains popular through recordings by the Sons of Hawaii and others.

Jackie Pualani Johnson, a retired University of Hawaii at Hilo drama professor who has portrayed Lili‘uokalani in numerous productions, presented a self-penned living history monologue as the queen. Dressed in white, she entered the church with kumu hula Moses Kaho‘ohele Crabbe chanting and kumu hula Leilehua Yuen as kahili bearer.

“I am Hawaii’s last monarch,” Johnson, as Lili‘uokalani proclaimed. Her portrayal of the beloved queen, in English and Hawaiian, was powerful. Congregants sat in rapt attention, some with tears visibly welling.

“I took my last breath at Washington Place. … My last breath was taken on Nov. 11, 1917, 100 years ago. … Bells rung at Kawaiaha‘o Church and St. Andrew’s Cathedral.”

Johnson’s monologue touched upon the week the queen lay in state.

“I am pleased that Kawaiaha‘o Church was draped in mourning both outside and inside. The kahili moved endlessly as 10,000 of my people … walked solemnly by my casket,” she said.

One plea, which appeared to be directed toward Lili‘uokalani’s hanai daughter, Lydia Ka‘onohiponiponiokalani Aholo, could also be interpreted as a message for all her people.

“I beseech you to carry on as I would have for love of country that’s deep seated in the breast of every Hawaiian, no matter what his station,” Johnson implored.

As for the legacy of Hawaii’s only reigning queen?

“If I need to be remembered, I wish to be remembered for my love of education, of art and of all things that raise and elevate our nature …”

She also took note of the makeup of the queen’s burial procession.

“As I leave … I am forced to look at our history and what has been wrought on our nation. When the Army band plays ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is it a final act of defiance? Or, as I hope, a final expression of respect?”

As pointed out in Bishop Fitzpatrick’s homily, Lili‘uokalani built a chapel so American soldiers could worship, something he said was consistent with her belief in “reconciliation and forgiveness.”

“Reconciliation and forgiveness does not mean surrender. Reconciliation and forgiveness means the truth,” he said. “… The labor’s not yet over, but she gave us a glimpse of what can be if we have the courage.”

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