Hawaiian Royal Hats: Part 1

Every Wednesday in May, we will be joined by longtime reader and regular commenter Jake, who lives in Washington DC and can be found on Instagram or Twitter @bestdressedmenno, for a series on Hawaiian royal hats. Jake’s previous series on royal men’s hats and suggestions for hats from the wardrobes of Queen Elizabeth, Queen Maxima, Queen Margrethe and Queen Mathilde warranting repeat have provided both entertainment and education to all of us. Jake- I’m so pleased to welcome you back. 

To observe the anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i on 17 January 1893, I wanted to offer my fellow Royal Hats readers a look at the hats worn by the royals of Hawai‘i, a place many may not know was once a respected nation. While I could just show you photos of various royal hats, I believe not offering any sort of historical context (especially as almost all of these hats are from 100-200 years ago) would be disrespectful to a people and culture quite different from most of our own. Therefore, these posts will be more wordy than usual, offering up small history lessons in the process, but I hope you will still find them interesting. As much as possible, I try to use the native Hawaiian spellings of names and places. And while I did my best to ensure accuracy, I apologize in advance for any mistakes and hope you will correct me as well. So, without further ado, let’s discover these Hawaiian royal hats!

Kingdom of Hawai‘i

Some of you may be aware that in the 19th Century, Hawai‘i was an independent nation. The Kingdom of Hawai‘i began in 1795 under the rule of Kamehameha I (a.k.a. Kamehameha the Great). The House of Kamehameha ruled for the majority of the Kingdom’s existence before passing to the House of Kalākaua in 1874.

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After its unification, Hawai‘i worked to assert its independence after multiple incursions by foreign powers. In 1842, a delegation was sent to the United States and Europe to gain recognition by others as a sovereign nation. The Anglo-Franco Proclamation of 28 November 1843 officially recognized the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in Europe; the Proclamation was signed by Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and King Louis-Philippe of France (King Leopold I of Belgium urged Louis-Philippe to recognize Hawaiian independence). The U.S. did not sign onto this declaration and it wasn’t until 1849 the U.S. recognized the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. Hawai‘i was the first non-European indigenous nation to be recognized as an equal to the Western powers.

Many people find the genealogy of European royals to be quite intertwined and confusing, but keeping straight who is who in the Hawaiian Royal Family is sometimes even more difficult. The Polynesian practice of informal adoptions, known as hānai was quite common among Hawaiians of all classes, as was the use of multiple names (both formal and informal) and possibly changing names if a name was deemed harmful (i.e. seemed to bring bad luck). Surnames were not used until the 1860 Act to Regulate Names, which worked to codify how children should be named; despite this act, many Hawaiian royals still had multiple name changes in their lifetimes. Therefore, I try to use what is generally considered a person’s most popular name or combination of names when identifying them, whether they are Hawaiian or English names, or both.

With that brief historical introduction to get us acquainted with the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, let’s move into what this blog is all about: royal hats! Traditionally in Hawai‘i, hats have not been a common accessory, although the mahiole feather helmet were worn by the highest ranking men of the ali‘i (Hawaiian noble class); most other hats came from outside influences. As a monarchy that came to be seen as equal to European kingdoms and principalities, Hawaiian royals quickly integrated Western-style outfits and fashions into their wardrobes, which included hat styles common for the 19th Century.

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Embracing the West While Maintaining Tradition

King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamāmalu traveled to London in 1824; on the way they met with Emperor Pedro I of the newly formed Empire of Brazil and exchanged gifts. Once in London, they made quite an impression (being dark-skinned, of course), especially as Queen Kamāmalu was over 6 feet tall. While there, they were dressed according to European customs, and a turban worn by Kamāmalu apparently became quickly popular among London’s society ladies.

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Unfortunately the King and Queen contracted measles and died in July 1824 in London; they were both only in their 20s. Despite this great sadness, they were the first of multiple Hawaiian royals to visit the U.K. and this helped begin a long relationship with the British Royal Family.  Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, later visited Hawai‘i in 1869.

Western fashions continued to become more common among the Hawaiian royals, as seen on King Kamehameha IV in a military dress uniform, including ceremonial hat.

His wife, Queen Emma, is shown below wearing a traditional Victorian headdress and bonnet. Queen Emma bonded quickly with Queen Victoria during a visit to the U.K. in 1865, both being widowed at a younger age. Queen Victoria was also a godmother to Emma’s son Albert Kamehameha, who unfortunately died at age 4 in 1862.

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Unfortunately photos of Hawaiian royals remain fairly scarce, but here are some I hope you enjoy:

Crown Princess Victoria Kamāmalu, sister of King Kamehameha IV and granddaughter of King Kamehameha I, wears a star-trimmed kokoshnik-shaped hat in this 1865 photo.

David Kalākaua, who would later be chosen king, wearing a jaunty straw hat c. 1850 at age 14.

King Kalākaua holds a boater hat while meeting Robert Louis Stevenson in this c. 1889 photo.

Princes Jonah Kūhiō, David Kawānanakoa, and Edward Keli‘iahonui are seen here in cadet uniforms and caps.

Princess Po‘omaikelani, younger sister of Queen Kapi‘olani (King Kalākaua’s wife) in a small hat with an upturned brim typical of the late Victorian era (below left).High Chieftess Miriam Auhea Kekāuluohi Crowningburg, a second cousin of King Lunalilo, was photographed wearing a beautifully detailed Victorian straw percher hat with floral and ostrich feather trim and ribbons hanging off the back (below right)..

The  following video offers helpful explanation of the Hawaiian royal family tree.

Jake- what a fascinating start to this series and view at some wonderful Victorian hats. I look forward to Part 2 next week!

Images from Getty and social media as indicated; The Bishop Museum; Wikipedia Commons

14 thoughts on “Hawaiian Royal Hats: Part 1

  1. Thank you for sharing this! What a wonderful job you have done to research all of this history for us 🙂

  2. I’ve been on vacation, so I am just catching up on my reading! This is so interesting! I was able to visit Hawaii during my childhood and remember the big statue of King Kamehameha. I have only visited the island of Oahu and would love to go back and visit the other islands. Thank you, Jake, for taking the time to research and write this series! I found it interesting that you described one of the hats as an early percher style hat. I thought percher hats were a new phenomenon!

  3. So well-researched and written, Jake! Looking forward to the rest of the series. The royals adapted well to Western styles. Did you also find images of them in traditional dress?

    • Unfortunately photographs are kinda scarce and mostly show Western attire (or Western attire with some native attributes, like the cloak Kamehameha I is wearing above, or leis); even drawings and other artistic images show basically the same thing. For that time period it made sense as they were trying to demonstrate they were on equal footing with the Western powers; you can see the same thing happen with the Japanese royals as they began to interact with the West, quickly adopting Western fashions except for more traditional ceremonies/occasions.

      Alongside that, public performances of the hula was officially banned in Hawai’i in 1830 by Queen Regent/Kuhina Nui Kaʻahumanu under the influence of Christian missionaries who saw it as an evil pagan ritual. For almost half a century this remained the case (although it was done privately and/or covertly in public). This I think helps offer another explanation why traditional dress was not worn often, or at least not photographed.

  4. Well I knew nothing about the Hawaiian royals, so this was really interesting, and a few hats to boot. So tragic about the 1824 visit, I wonder if it was a disease that wasn;t present in Hawaii, making them evern more susceptible?

    • I would imagine it was largely because it Hawaiians had little-to-no resistance to many diseases (smallpox was especially a problem in Hawai’i during the 1850s and 1860s), but also the likelihood of London not being the most sanitary place on earth in the 1820s, and the climate being quite different. The overall population of Hawai’i had plummeted by half to 2/3 in the 1820s since the first arrival of Europeans in 1778. The good news is today the native Hawaiian population is on the rise after 200 years of decline.

  5. Thank you everyone for your kind words so far. I’ve unfortunately never been to Hawai’i, but Kingdom has long fascinated me (and I hope to visit one day). There was definitely quite a bit of research involved, but I enjoy history, so it wasn’t too much work haha. And unfortunately early deaths were quite common for the Hawaiians, even decades or more than a century after their first encounters with Europeans, but that will come up more in later posts. Hopefully you will like those as well, and they feature *spoiler* more hats! 😉

  6. Thank you, Jake. Finding and collecting these photos must have been challenging. The background and context were fascinating.

    So sad to read about the death of the monarchs due to measles. This happened all too often when cultures met.

    I look forward to next week’s instalment.

  7. Jake, thanks for such an interesting post. I can hardly wait to see what’s next. Tremendous amounts of research went into this, and I enjoy your writing style.

  8. Thank you so much Jake for this informative look on the Hawaiian Royal Family. I find it fascinating that they practiced adoptions and multiple name changes throughout a person’s lifetime. I really look forward to reading your next installment.
    On a side note, every Friday night for the past 10 years, I watch Hawaii Five-O and Magnum PI – both of which are filmed in Hawaii. The names you mention in your post are familiar street names and locations on the shows, along with the term “ohana,” which is their word for family (blood related, adopted or intentional). I always loved that term. So, thank you for this wonderful reminder and backstory on a very beautiful location and culture.

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