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The Hawaiian islands have a long and storied history of monarchical rule before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. If Hawaii still had a monarchy today, who would sit on the throne as king or queen?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The most likely candidate to be king of Hawaii today would be Quentin Kawānanakoa, who is considered the heir apparent to the Hawaiian throne by royalists.

In this detailed article, we’ll provide background on the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in the 19th century, examine the different dynastic lines with claims to the throne, analyze the legitimacy of those claims, and profile the person most likely to have ascended to the throne if Hawaii’s monarchy had continued to the present day.

Background on the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy

The Reign of King Kalākaua

King Kalākaua ruled Hawaii from 1874 to 1891. He was known as the “Merrie Monarch” because he enjoyed partying and reviving Hawaiian culture.

During his reign, the sugar industry boomed and Hawaii became an important exporter of sugar to the United States.

However, American business interests gained a lot of power and influence over Hawaii’s economy and government. The McKinley Tariff of 1890 increased the tariffs on imported sugar, including sugar from Hawaii. This change in tariff policy had a significant impact on Hawaii’s sugar industry and economy.

The Overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani

After King Kalākaua died in 1891, his sister Liliʻuokalani became Queen. She tried to enact a new constitution to restore power to the monarchy and native Hawaiians.

However, American sugar plantation owners, pineapple plantation owners, financiers and missionary descendants actively plotted to remove her from power to protect their interests.

In 1893, the planters and businessmen formed a provisional government with the support of the U.S. minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens, and U.S. sailors. They forced Queen Liliʻuokalani to abdicate, effectively ending the Hawaiian monarchy.

Annexation by the United States

After the monarchy was overthrown, Hawaii was declared a republic. However, it was tightly controlled by American business interests. Over the next few years, they sought annexation by the United States.

Many native Hawaiians strongly opposed annexation. Queen Liliʻuokalani lobbied against it in Washington DC. However, the outbreak of the Spanish–American War in 1898 convinced President William McKinley and Congress to approve the annexation of Hawaii.

It officially became a U.S. territory on August 12, 1898 without the consent of Hawaii’s native population.

Also read: Was The Annexation Of Hawaii Justified?

Dynastic Lines with Claims to the Throne

The House of Kawānanakoa

The House of Kawānanakoa descends from the sister of King David Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last two monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the Kawānanakoa family remained prominent in Hawaiian society.

Today, the main representatives are Abigail Kawānanakoa and her niece Kekauʻōnohi Carmack. Though not directly descended from a king, they have a strong claim to the Hawaiian throne if it were still in existence.

The House of Kalākaua

The House of Kalākaua ruled Hawaii from 1874 when David Kalākaua was elected by the legislature after the death of King Lunalilo.

His sister Liliʻuokalani succeeded him in 1891. After she was overthrown in 1893, the line of succession became unclear.

Today there are several descendants who could claim the throne, including Kaʻiulani Kawānanakoa, a great-grand niece of King Kalākaua. However, their claims may be weaker than the Kawānanakoa line.

Also read: Who Was The Last King Of Hawaii?

Other Claimants

There are other Hawaiian families that are more distantly related to the royal Kamehameha and Kalākaua dynasties that could potentially claim hereditary rights to the throne. These include the Beamer family, the Dowsett family, and the Wilcox family.

While not directly descended from the last kings and queens, they have deep roots in ancient Hawaiian nobility.

Historically, Hawaiian monarchs were often elected by councils of nobles, so these families cannot be discounted as contenders.

In the end, the question of who would be monarch today if Hawaii retained its independence remains open to debate. There are persuasive arguments that the Kawānanakoa line has the strongest claims.

But there is no clear consensus, which reflects the complex history of succession in traditional Hawaiian governance.

Also read: A Comprehensive History Of The Rulers Of Hawaii

Assessing the Strength of the Claims

The Kawānanakoa Claim

The Kawānanakoa family has one of the strongest claims to the Hawaiian throne. Their ancestor, High Chief David Laʻamea Kamanakapuʻu Mahinulani Nalaiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua, was the older brother of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last two monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

When King Kalākaua died without an heir in 1891, the throne passed to his sister Liliʻuokalani instead of his nieces as would have been traditional.

After Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown in 1893, she named her niece Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani as her successor. However, the princess tragically died young at age 23.

This left the Kawānanakoa heirs, descended from the abdicated King Kalākaua’s brother, as the next closest relatives in line for restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy, according to royal genealogists.

Their claim is considered the most credible by Hawaiian sovereignty activists pushing for independence or self-governance.

Challenges to the Claims

There are some big challenges facing the various claims to the Hawaiian throne today.

The monarchy was overthrown over 100 years ago in 1893 by American businessmen backed by U.S. Marines. Hawaii then went from an independent nation to being annexed as an American territory until becoming the 50th state in 1959.

Needless to say, the United States government is unlikely to give up Hawaii’s strategic military importance and tourism economy to restore its monarchy. According to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs ruling in 2009, “Hawaii is now a state and there is no avenue for its restoration as an independent sovereign nation.”

Moreover, surveys show less than 20% of Hawaii residents favor full independence or a restored monarchy, despite some support for Native Hawaiian self-governance on domestic issues. Practical economic and social policy hurdles would also arise in trying to transition from U.S. laws and institutions.

Critics argue that hereditary monarchies represent an outdated, undemocratic form of government as well. However, royal descendants counter that the Hawaiian monarchy was always a constitutional one with elected legislators checking the monarch’s powers.

In the end, despite passionate views on all sides, realistic solutions likely lie in some form of expanded Native Hawaiian self-governance over land use, historical preservation, language education and cultural matters.

But, barring an unexpected reversal from Washington D.C., restoration of Hawaii’s monarchy remains mostly a romantic vision for now.

Also read: When Was Hawaii Made A State: A Detailed History

Profile of the Most Likely Monarch Today

Quentin Kawānanakoa as Heir Apparent

As the grandson of the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliʻuokalani, Quentin Kawānanakoa has a strong claim to the Hawaiian throne if the monarchy were to be restored.

Now 72 years old, Kawānanakoa was born into the royal family and grew up aware of his heritage and status as a high-ranking Hawaiian noble.

Over the years, Kawānanakoa has been an outspoken advocate for Native Hawaiian issues. He has pushed for sovereignty, promoted the Hawaiian language, and worked to preserve Hawaiian culture. Many see him as a leader of the Hawaiian people and a defender of their rights.

His Life and Background

Kawānanakoa comes from a long line of Hawaiian royalty. His grandfather was Prince David Kawānanakoa, who acted as regent for Queen Liliʻuokalani after King Kalākaua passed away in 1891.

His grandmother was Princess Abigail Campbell Kawānanakoa, one of the last direct descendants of King Kamehameha I.

Born in 1950, Kawānanakoa grew up immersed in Hawaiian culture and with a keen understanding of his royal origins. He studied at the Kamehameha Schools, founded by his ancestor Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop to educate Native Hawaiian children.

As an adult, Kawānanakoa took over the management of his family’s royal trust. He partnered with Bishop Museum to return precious artifacts, like feathered cloaks and helmets, to the Hawaiian people.

According to the Bishop Museum site, over 300 cultural items were transferred back to Hawaii thanks to Kawānanakoa’s efforts.

Kawānanakoa has continued to be a prominent figure in Native Hawaiian politics and activism. He ran unsuccessfully to be governor of Hawaii in 1998. He has also strongly advocated for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians and their right to self-governance.

At 72 years old, Quentin Kawānanakoa still stays busy fighting for Hawaiian issues. Many believe that if Hawaii’s monarchy were ever restored, he would be the rightful heir apparent to become the next reigning monarch.

His royal lineage, deep knowledge of Hawaiian culture, and lifelong activism make him a natural leader of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

Also read: Current Descendants Of Hawaiian Royalty


Over a century after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, the question of who would rule Hawaii today if it had remained a kingdom is an interesting historical exercise.

Based on an analysis of the dynastic lines and the strength of their claims, the most likely candidate to have ascended to the throne in the present day is Quentin Kawānanakoa.

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