King David Kalākaua, who reigned over the Hawaiian kingdom from 1874 until his death in 1891, is best known as the “Merrie Monarch.” This name was inspired by the king’s love of music, parties and fine food and drinks, but he is remembered most for being the king who brought pride back to the Hawaiian people.

During his reign, King Kalākaua successfully restored Hawaiian cultural practices and traditions that were suppressed for decades, replaced instead with Christian missionary teachings. There was a time when dancing hula was forbidden.

Hula is the Language of the Heart

Photo: Dennis Oda.

King Kalākaua, however, was a fan of the arts and a proponent of Hawaiian mythology, chant and hula. He once said, “Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.” Those words still resonate with the Hawaiian people today, and the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai‘i was created in his honor.

Hula’s place in Hawaiian history is about much more than mere lūʻau entertainment. Hula was how the stories of the Hawaiian people were expressed and remembered in absence of a formal written language. It was how history and religion were carried from one generation to the next.

A Sense of Pride for the Hawaiian People

Iolani Palace. Photograph by Joseph Philipson.

When King Kalākaua revived hula and other Hawaiian traditions, he brought a sense of pride back to the Hawaiian people. There were also many other aspects of the culture that thrived under his leadership.

He wrote “Hawai‘i Pono‘ī,” an anthem of the kingdom of Hawai‘i, and the Hawai‘i State song today. He also oversaw construction of ‘Iolani Palace, which still stands in Honolulu as a symbol of Hawai‘i’s independence during his reign.

Hawaii’s Last Reigning King

King Kalakaua was the last reigning King of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Show here is a photo of His Majesty King Kalakaua, his ring, and pieces of jewelry belonging to his wife, Queen Kapiolani, including her diamond broach, compact, and diamond butterfly pin with wings that will flutter gently when moved. (Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB)/Linda Ching)

King Kalākaua was a world traveler as well, and was the first reigning monarch to ever visit the United States. He was married to Queen Kapi‘olani but had no children. So after his death, he was succeed by his sister, Liliu‘okalani. King David Kalākaua was the last reigning king of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.

For more information about the Merrie Monarch Festival, visit www.hawaii.com/merrie-monarch.