Too many excerpts from my journal. Enjoy!
Iolani Palace: We begin the tour, being led by yet another volunteer docent, who is a kind older woman with a Hawaiian flower tucked behind her ear. She leads us into the main entry way, “We’ve all been invited to the King’s Ball today,” she says and begins to give us some background on the Kings of Hawaii, starting with everyone’s favorite Kamehameha I. She continues up until King Kalakaua who began work on this palace. We will learn more about him as the tour continues, but for now we look in wonder at the gifts displayed in the lobby which have been given to the King by foreign politicians (vases, statues and things I couldn’t even categorize if I wanted to).
We are taken away from the lovely wood floors and massive staircase of the entryway into what is called the Blue Room, and for good reason. The rugs, upholstery and walls are all blue. “This is where we will meet the King and Queen for tea,” our guide tells us, as this room is for smaller social events. Right next door is the dining room. We see a table wonderfully laid out with French glass plates and shiny silverware. The docent points out that the King’s chair was placed in the center of the table, along one of the sides, rather than at the head, because the most important thing to him was being able to participate in the conversation. She tells us that the King would often invite sailors to dinner for the conversation, and of course, the news which took about a week to get to Hawaii by snail mail.
They would eat for about 2 hours, she tells us. And the one thing that would never be absent from any menu, even breakfast? Ice cream. King Kalakaua knew what was up.
Now King Kalakaua get’s interesting. He was the first monarch, from any country, to visit the United States during his reign. He was also the first monarch to travel the world. “That’s because all the other monarchs were afraid someone else would be ruling when they got back,” the docent tells us. And perhaps most interestingly, he met Albert Einstein was able to look at the new electric light bulb. When he got back home, although the entire palace had been wired for gas, he had it all changed to electric. This cost about the same amount as the construction of the palace, but it made Iolani palace the first in the world to be electrically wired. He is also an interesting figure because he was very adamant about preserving Hawaiian culture (he wrote a book of Hawaiian myths and legends to preserve the oral culture), but he was also determined that Hawaii not fall behind the rest of the world. I think he succeeded on both accounts.
Next we move in to the most somber room in the palace, the room where Queen Liliuokalani was locked up for 8 months as the United States took control of Hawaii. The room is bare wood floors with windows that are covered in icing so that the Queen wouldn’t be able to see out. We pass a small bathroom on the way in, the only place she was permitted to visit outside of the room. And in the center, covered in glass, is a magnificent quilt. The Queen was allowed one lady-in-waiting with her during her imprisonment and this is what they passed the time doing. You can see her tiny needlework and images, names, and Bible passages that meant so much to her. In the center of the quilt, four panels show what she identified as the most important moments in her life.
While she was in this room she wrote music, quilted and prayed. Prayed for her people. Prayed for her friends. And prayed her forgiveness for those who had imprisoned her. You can almost feel her presence in the room. Maybe because of how the tour is led, as if we are there in the moment with these people, or because they’ve kept the room in almost exactly the condition it was once in.
We are told throughout the tour about the different pieces in each room. I am astounded as the docent tells us that each and every piece in the palace is authentic and was there when the Kings and Queens lived in it. They are slowly acquiring the rest of the artifacts that were once in the palace (artifacts that can be seen in pictures taken during the time). We are told not to touch anything, and to carry our bags in front of us so that we don’t accidently brush into anything. They take great pride in being America’s only palace.
We take the elevator back downstairs in our two groups and enter into the ballroom. “We have arrived at the ball. Ladies, you are dressed to the nines in your best gowns and slippers. Men, tuxedos or military uniform. You each have been given a ticket as you entered the museum today. That is an exact replica of a dance ticket that you would have been given at the King’s ball. The King and Queen enter from over there (she gestures to the doors at the far end of the room) and the names of very important guests are read out so that the King may personally introduce himself. Now the dance begins. On the back of your dance cards are several lines and as the gentleman ask you to dance you write down their names. But you want to save at least one line on the card for a man who loves to dance more than anyone. The king would try to dance with every girl at the ball, and was quite a magnificent dancer as well. Now it’s about midnight, and we’ll head into the parlor for a buffet and then back to the ballroom for more dancing. These balls would end around 2 a.m. and you would meet your carriage at the front of the palace to be taken home for the evening. And as we walk this way we will come back into the 21st century where you can look at some more artifacts on the levels below.”
It’s almost as if we’ve just been woken up. The group expresses their thanks for the wonderful tour and I pull the woman aside to ask her a few questions. I guess I will be doing some interviewing today after all…
My next stop is the King Kamehameha statue across the street. I grab a picture and head towards the Mission Houses Museum. On the way there I pass the Kawaiaha’o Church and have to stop to take a look. Seeing shut doors I ask the security guard standing nearby if I can go on. He gets excited when I ask and starts to tell me a little about the church. How it’s made of coral, and is the oldest church on Oahu. He tells me I can go in the door on the right and on the second floor I can look at the pictures of the Kings and Queens. “We had kings and queens for a long time before the missionaries came. Then when we found out about…(he looks up at the sky) I guess we realized we’re not the king after all!” He smiles and waves me in as I thank him for the little history lesson and I walk up the steps to the entrance. Inside of the church there are American and Hawaiian state flags hanging and I can see the pictures of the Kings and Queens on the second level. It is huge inside and I feel very small inside of it. I quietly walk the perimeter of the church, afraid to make noise although I don’t know what would happen if I did, and leave as quietly as I came in.
“What did you think?” the security guard asks. “It’s beautiful,” I tell him. “It should be. It’s the first church on Oahu, for the kings!” he replies. He points me in the direction of the Mission Houses Museum and I’m on my way again.