Queen Emma was born in 1836 to Fanny Kekelaokalani Young (High Chiefess), the daughter of John Young, King Kamehameha. Her father George Naea was a High Chief. Her first name was Emalani, but it later changed to Emma Rook. Her parents were high ranking members of the society known as the “alii” meaning, members of royalty. She was raised by her childless aunt, Grace Kamaikui Rooke and her husband, Dr. T.C.B. Rooke as was the requirement in the Hawaiian culture (Kanahele, p.69). Emma’s aunt tried so hard to bring her up in the native Hawaiian way, but Grace’s husband brought her up in the English way. She therefore grew up speaking very fluently both Hawaiian and English…Emma’s life was quiet cross cultural. She got her education at Royal School in Honolulu, a school which was put up by American Missionaries. The youthful Emma found herself at odds with her peers most of the time, while her age mates sought to get engaged to their suitors, she found no interest in men and was not at all prone to hyperbole.
She developed interest in reading and her foster father Dr. Rook helped her enhance that reading culture. At 20, she had grown into a slender, beautiful and well accomplished woman. Standing at 5’2 tall, acutely proportioned with black beautiful eyes. On top of this, she had great talent in music…a fine vocal voice, a great pianist, a perfect dancer and a skilled equestrian. These are the qualities that caught the attention of the handsome young, tall, intelligent and well read King Liholiho (O’Brien, pp.196-198). At the age of 22, she got engaged to King Alexander Liholiho, popularly known as Kamehameha IV, her childhood friend. Once on the throne, the new Queen occupied herself with what she termed, her main objective of saving the Hawaiian people from being extinct. This was a major threat to the Hawaiian people and the reason was attributed to poor health. So for a start, the Queen linked up with a willing former Queen, Queen Victoria who helped her to look for funds for her project of coming up with the first hospital in the area. The idea was to prevent the entire population from plummeting. This was the birth of “Queen Medical Centre” in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1860. In 1865, she traveled to England to solicit for funds to build a build a school and an Anglican Cathedral. She managed to collect a total of $16,000 enough for the two projects. Queen Victoria had this to say about that; “…nothing could be nicer or more dignified than Emma’s manners” (Masters, pp.1-3). Emma visited the sick who were admitted in Queen Medical Centre everyday whenever she was in Hawaii.
Both the King and the Queen were Christian leaders and participated greatly to the spread of Christianity among the Hawaiians. Emma worked with the husband side by side especially in promoting unity among their people who they valued dearly. They were sincere in their dedication to both material and spiritual welfare of the population. Together with her husband, she established Saint Andrew Priory School for young Hawaiian women and also laid the foundation for an Episcopal Secondary School “Lolani School” (O’Brien, p.201).
Three years into their happy marriage which celebrated by many, the royal family was blessed with a son, Albert Kauikeaouli Leiopapa in 1858. It was a happy moment for the entire population. Literally, everyone was in high spirits as they welcomed Albert, the new heir to the throne (Kanahele, p.68). But their joy did not last for long. At a tender age of four, young Albert succumbed to “Brain fever” and as if that was not enough grief for the Hawaiians and Emma, King Kamehameha IV died, only fifteen months after his son. His death was reported to be due to a Chronic Asthma facilitated by a broken heart from losing his beloved Albert; he blamed himself for the loss of the young prince. Emma was given the name “Kaleleonalani” after the tragedy; to serve as a remembrance of the King and Prince. The name meant “the flight of the heavenly ones”. To describe her departed two loved ones.
It had been the King’s wish that Emma succeeds him at an opportune time but he had not fulfilled the legal requirements prior to his death, denying Emma an opportunity of being a Sovereign Queen in a Democratic State. That however did not deter her; she vigorously campaigned but lost the throne to David Kalakaua. Setting a stage for a grave animosity between the Kamehameha’s and the Kalakaua; bitterness which persisted for so many years (Stafford, p.210). Emma’s candidacy was accepted by the native Hawaiians greatly because of her closeness to the descent and her good character, not just because she was a wife to the fallen King. She was more pro-British while her opponent, David Kalakau was pro-American. As she campaigned, she stressed the need to make native Hawaiians more independent by giving them more say in the government (Stafford, pp.231-247).
The reports of her loss was received by mixed reactions and resulted to riots in large scale, but the rioters were contained by a joint American-British troops stationed at Honolulu Harbor. She later recognized Kalakau as the legitimate King but not so for Queen Kapiolani, she never spoke with Kapiolani, Kalakau’s wife as a result of what was said to be family dispute. Emma pointed accusing fingers to Queen Kapiolani, blaming her for the death of her only son and heir to the throne. Emma claimed that it was on the Queen irresponsibility that resulted to Albert’s death: Kapiolani was the child’s governess by the time of his death (Stafford, p.211). After the loss, she retired from public life and left politics, and concentrated on humanitarian issues. It appeared that Emma was loved even more as a humanitarian worker than a politician. She touched several hearts and was loved by many, making her one of the most memorable figures in the history of Hawaii. She therefore dedicated her entire life charitable endeavors, which she did with all her heart. It was very hard to stop admiring Emma and her benevolence and highly rated kindness; it was next to impossible to separate her from a saint if the opinion of the natives were anything to go by. She had a strong feeling of Hawaii nationality, and strived to do all within her power and humanly possible to make her people happy (Masters, p.3).
Emma did not remarry after the death of her husband but decided to remain single for the rest of her life. This was the reason that made her to be affectionately referred to as the “Old Queen” as she advanced into her late years. Whenever there was a royal occasion, King Kalakau would reserve for her a seat, but in most cases she would never attend, but still the King persisted in doing so. Emma’s services set wonderful examples for the Hawaii’s Royal legacy which was honored even after her death at the age of 49 on 25th April 1885. She died after suffering several strokes two years earlier. Queen Emma was accorded a royal funeral and laid to rest in Mauna Ala, next to the people she loved dearly in her life. That was, her son Albert and her husband, King Liholiho (O’Brien, p.222).
She had kept up a simple life till her demise; she loved fishing, local delicacies even when she was away from it…in a nut shell; Emma remained undoubtedly and unquestionably pure Hawaiian. According to one acquaintance of hers, Emma had a great sense of eclecticism–all in the spiritual, physical and emotional aspect…she was the first of her kind, the renaissance of a Queen (O’Brien, p.281). Up to date, Queen Emma and King Kamehameha are being honored annually with a feast to celebrate their lives and service to people. The day (28th November) is marked on the Episcopal Church calendar of the United States.
Kanahele, George S. Emma: Hawaii’s Remarkable Queen: a Biography. University of Hawaii Press. (1999). pp.5-69.
Masters Elaine. Humanity of a Queen: the life of Queen Emma, her joys and her Struggles. Special Star Bulletin. (2008). pp.1-3.
O’Brien Harriet. Queen Emma and the Vikings: Power, Love, and Greed in the 11th Century England. Bloombury: USA. (2005). pp.196-281.
Stafford Pauline.Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women in Power in the 11th Century England. Blackwell Publishers: Malden, Massachusetts, USA (2001). pp.209 250.