A Stamp of Approval

Lili‘uokalani park recognized in honor of its 100-year anniversary

News Editor Nick Carrion

Photographer Elizabeth Lough

Description of photo

In honor of its centennial this year, Hilo’s own Lili‘uokalani Park and Gardens will be featured on the new Priority Mail stamp, which is slated for distribution nationwide. The stamp, which showcases one of the park’s many traditional Japanese structures, will commemorate a site that has been a favorite spot of both locals and tourists for the past century.

Lili‘uokalani park, and nearby Moku Ola (Coconut Island), are popular spots for jogging, fishing, swimming, and many other forms of recreation. The park is said to boast the largest Japanese-style garden outside of Japan. It is also host for many local events in Hilo, from the Rotary Club’s annual Hilo Huli fundraiser to the Valentine’s Day Parade of Paws Dog Walk, put on by the Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Lili'uokalani Park

Mitchell O’Connor, a Hilo resident and Hawai‘i Community College student, says he visits the park and gardens “two or three times a week.”

“I’ll go to Coconut Island, or hang out with my friends. We’ll jump off the tower or hang out on the grass. Maybe do some workouts on the grass or play soccer over there. I know people throw parties and barbeques there. It’s a great place to be.”

But what people often overlook is the history of the park and its namesake, the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. O’Connor himself admits that when it comes to the history of the park, he knows, “not one single thing, except that Queen Lili‘uokalani was Queen of Hawai‘i before she got overthrown, or something like that.”

Lili‘uokalani took the throne after the death of her brother, King Kalākaua. Known as the “Merrie Monarch”, Kalākaua is famous in his own right for his patronage of native Hawaiian arts and culture. The Hilo-based Merrie Monarch Festival, the world’s preeminent hula competition, is named after him.

When Lili‘uokalani took the throne in 1891, Hawai‘i’s political climate was in turmoil. The kingdom, a sovereign entity, was becoming increasingly under the control of the wealthy businessmen who grew sugar and pineapples on large plantations throughout the state. These businessmen had staged an armed revolt and forced through changes to Hawai‘i’s constitution during the reign of Kalākaua - changes that Lili‘uokalani openly and vehemently opposed.

This tension between the monarchy and the plantation owners finally resulted in the businessmen calling upon the United States government for aid. In January 1893, U.S. Marines helped them bring the Hawaiian monarchy to an end. Hawai‘i was eventually annexed by the United States, and became a state in 1959.

Although her reign was brought to a premature close, Lili‘uokalani remained a champion for Hawaii for the rest of her life, petitioning against annexation thought the U.S. court system. She was also an accomplished songwriter. Perhaps her most famous work, “Aloha ‘Oe”, has been covered by such artists as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

Lili‘uokalani Park stands today as a monument to the last queen of Hawai‘i, to the longstanding relationship between the Hawaiian Islands and Japan, and to the native culture and natural beauty that permeate the town of Hilo. It serves as a gathering place for the community, provides sustenance for those who fish in the pond or bay, and has perfect paths for walking or jogging.

When asked if the park was an important part of Hilo in the eyes of its residents and visitors, O’Connor replied, “Probably one of the most important parts.” The many who share this sentiment will be happy to know that now Americans across the country will be able to get a taste of the park, and indeed a taste of Hawai‘i Island, with the new memorial stamp.