The Prison Songs of Lili‘uokalani

Last week the Hawaii Herald Tribune ran an interesting article about how the Lyman Museum in Hilo, Hawaii showcased the prison songs of Queen Lili’uokalani during a one-day exhibition on February 4.

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Photo from Lyman Museum

For more than a century, the original manuscripts to seven of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s original songs have been kept under lock and key at the Hawaii State Archives. Musicologist Cynthia Morris finally brought to light these poignant songs, composed by Lili‘uokalani during her incarceration at ‘Iolani Palace from February to September 1895.

Her prison songs stand as important contemporaneous testimonials, composed in the midst of turbulence and upheaval — songs of resistance, hope, spiritual protest, and subversion. These songs also provided a rare glimpse into the life and perspective of a queen who was dethroned and imprisoned, yet able to communicate with and inspire her subjects by way of her compositions.

Queen Liliuokalani was convicted of having knowledge of a royalist plot, and was fined – she was sentenced to five years in prison and hard labor – although it was later reduced. Instead she imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom of Iolani Palace and was denied any visitors other than one lady in waiting.

Queen Liliuokalani spent her days reading, quilting, crochet-work, as well as composing music. She wrote approximately 165 songs. Only two of the seven songs she wrote in prison, “The Queen’s Prayer,” and “Ku’u Pua i Paoakalani” have been published.

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The Lyman Museum, photo by wornthrough.com

The Lyman Museum began as the Lyman Mission House, originally built for New England missionaries David and Sarah Lyman in 1839.  Nearly 100 eventful years later, in 1931, the Museum was established by their descendants.  Today, the restored Mission House is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and may be visited by guided tour.

Throughout the year, the Lyman Museum offers a wide range of educational programs from special lectures and talks to hands-on workshops on Hawaiian skills and crafts.  The Museum also hosts school and group tours throughout the year.

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