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The islands of Hawaii are renowned for their lush landscapes, active volcanoes, and vibrant culture. However, Hawaii does not actually have a ruling monarch nowadays. So if you’ve wondered ‘who is the King of Hawaii?’, read on to uncover the fascinating history behind this question.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: There is currently no monarch ruling over Hawaii. The islands were once home to a robust kingdom with kings and queens, but after Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown in 1893, Hawaii’s monarchy ended.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore topics like:

A Brief History of the Hawaiian Monarchy

The Early Kingdom

The Hawaiian islands were first settled around 500-700 A.D. Over the next few centuries, the islands were unified into a single kingdom ruled by powerful chiefs. According to oral traditions, the first king of the islands was Pīlīwale in the 16th century.

He was succeeded by many generations of kings and chiefs over the following years. The kingdom continued to develop with a complex social structure and religious belief system focused around the god Kāne.

The Unification of the Islands

In the late 18th century, King Kamehameha I set out to unify the Hawaiian islands through diplomacy and warfare. After years of battling rival chiefs, he managed to unite all the main islands by 1810 and established the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi with himself as monarch.

His successors continued to rule over the unified kingdom in the ensuing years. The capital was moved from Lāhainā on Maui to Honolulu on Oʻahu under King Kamehameha III in 1845.

The End of the Monarchy

The Hawaiian monarchy persisted for many decades but ultimately came to an end in the late 19th century. Growing American business interests and political tensions led to the 1887 Bayonet Constitution which stripped powers from King Kalākaua.

After his death, his sister Queen Liliʻuokalani took the throne in 1891. However, her rule was interrupted by the 1893 Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom led by American settlers who established a provisional government.

Despite multiple attempts to regain power, Liliʻuokalani was never able to restore the monarchy. Hawaii was formally annexed by the United States in 1898, ending over 500 years of indigenous royal governance.

Key Monarchs in Hawaii’s History

King Kamehameha I

King Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great, was the first king to unite the Hawaiian Islands into a single kingdom in 1810. Through both warfare and diplomacy, he consolidated rule over Hawaii’s eight major islands.

His successful unification of Hawaii brought relative peace and political stability to the islands for the first time.

Kamehameha implemented a number of political and social changes to establish his rule and kingdom. He maintained control over taxation and land distribution, promoting both agriculture and trade with visiting ships.

He welcomed foreign advisors, acquiring Western weapons and ideas while preserving native Hawaiian cultural traditions.

King David Kalākaua

King David Kalākaua ruled Hawaii from 1874 to 1891. Sometimes called the “Merrie Monarch” for his joyful spirit and love of the arts, King Kalākaua helped spur a resurgence in native Hawaiian culture and arts during his reign.

King Kalākaua modernized Hawaii’s infrastructure and economy, improving transportation links between the islands with new roads and boats. He granted a Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy.

She unsuccessfully fought to regain sovereignty until her death in 1917.

Queen Liliʻuokalani sought to limit suffrage to Hawaiian subjects and drafted a new constitution to strengthen monarchical rule and native Hawaiian rights. This threatened American business interests invested in pineapple and sugar cane plantations, prompting the coup d’etat that deposed her.

Though her rule was brief and turbulent, Queen Liliʻuokalani endures as a symbolic leader for native Hawaiians and sovereignty movements in the state to this day.

Hawaii After Statehood

After Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state in 1959, there were several key developments related to its economy, culture, politics, and environment. Here is an overview of some major events and changes in Hawaii in the decades after it achieved statehood.

Economic Growth and Tourism Boom

Hawaii’s economy transformed in the post-statehood years. Tourism boomed, becoming the state’s largest industry.Visitor arrivals more than doubled from 296,000 in 1959 to over 6 million by 2000 (State forecast). Hotels sprouted up, especially along Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.

Air travel became more affordable, bringing visitors from across America and Asia.

Development of luxury resorts and golf courses accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s. While supporting job growth, this also raised environmental concerns and cultural impacts to native Hawaiian lands.

Other major Hawaii industries like agriculture, military defense, construction, and manufacturing grew as well post-statehood. Overall, Hawaii’s economy diversified while still relying on tourism and federal spending as core pillars.

Movement for Native Hawaiian Rights

In the decades after statehood, there was an cultural renaissance and activism related to native Hawaiian rights. Movements like the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s revived traditions like the Hawaiian language, voyaging canoes, and hula.

This was catalyzed by developments like the return of ancestral lands through the Hawai‘i Homes Commission Act.

There were also increased efforts for sovereignty and self-determination. Activist groups like Na‘i Aupuni formed to establish governance models and reclaim native culture. In 1993, President Clinton signed the Apology Resolution, acknowledging the U.S. role in overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy 100 years prior.

Debates continue today over how native Hawaiians can gain federal recognition allowing for self-governance similar to Native American tribes. But the post-statehood era marked the beginning of a native Hawaiian cultural revival.

Political Shifts

Politically, the Democratic Party has dominated Hawaii politics at the state and federal level since 1962. Only two Republican governors have been elected since statehood.

Notable politicians who rose in the post-statehood era include Daniel Inouye, who served Hawaii in Congress from statehood until his death in 2012, including 9 years as President pro tempore of the Senate.

On environmental issues, Hawaii pioneered innovative sustainability policies banning certain sunscreens to protect coral reefs in 2018 and setting 100% renewable energy goals to combat climate change.

Cultural Legacy of Hawaii’s Monarchs

Architecture and Art

The Hawaiian monarchs made significant contributions to the islands’ architecture and art. King Kamehameha the Great constructed the ancient heiau (temples) and puʻuhonua (places of refuge), while King Kamehameha III initiated the building of ʻIolani Palace, the only royal palace on U.S. soil (Iolani Palace).

The palace beautifully fuses Victorian, American Colonial, and Hawaiian architectural styles with its throne room, grand hall, and winding koa wood staircase. Hawaiian royals also patronized native art forms like kapa (barkcloth) making, featherwork, and wood carving, supporting master craftsmen to preserve these traditions for future generations.

Music and Dance

The aliʻi (royalty) played an integral role in developing uniquely Hawaiian music and hula. Kings David Kalākaua and Kamehameha IV wrote several Hawaiian mele (songs) that are still performed today, including “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī” which later became Hawaii’s state anthem.

The monarchs also hosted grand lūʻau festivities at their palaces, with nights filled with Hawaiian food, music, and hula dancing. These royal celebrations revived public hula performances that had been banned for many years under missionary rule.

Today, Merrie Monarch Festival, established in 1964 to honor King Kalākaua, has become a premier event celebrating Hawaiian music and hula that perpetuates cultural traditions.


The unique fusion cuisine of Hawaii owes much to the monarchs’ rich culinary traditions. Kings Kamehameha I and II honored Hawaii’s bounty of seafood and crops by hosting large feasts, including 175-pound pigs, beer made from ti roots, and meat wrapped in ti leaves cooked underground in an imu oven.

Later monarchs like King Kalākaua introduced new fruits like mangos and new cooking methods like Chinese stir-frying. The royal chefs masterfully blended Polynesian, Asian, and Western elements that laid the foundation for modern Hawaiian cuisine characterized by dishes like kalua pork, poke bowls, loco moco, haupia, and more.

Annual events like the King Kalākaua Luncheon feature these classic dishes made from local ingredients, continuing the gastronomic legacy of Hawaii’s kings and queens.


While Hawaii no longer has a ruling king or queen, the islands’ history and culture remain deeply connected to the vibrant monarchy that once reigned there. Figures like King Kamehameha I and Queen Lili’uokalani left an indelible legacy that continues to shape Hawaii today through landmarks, traditions, food, and more.

So next time you bask on a Hawaiian beach or drive past Iolani Palace, reflect on the rich royal heritage intertwined with these sun-kissed Pacific islands. Hawaii may lack a modern-day monarch, but the spirit of its kings and queens endures.

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