The Merrie Monarch
January 20, 1891 - David Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii died on this day. In his 17-year reign he was a strong supporter of the native arts and culture.
A champion of Hawaiian traditions, Kalakaua is credited with reviving surfing which had been banned by American Protestant missionaries. He also brought back hula dancing, along with music and songs that had been restricted for over 70 years. Thanks to his efforts, there was a rebirth of Hawaiian culture.
In 1874, Kalakaua made an important journey to the United States and negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. This lifted a crippling tariff on sugar, and as a result the Hawaiian economy entered a period of unprecedented prosperity. In exchange, the United States was granted the land that one day would become the Pearl Harbor naval base.
One of his more controversial acts was the construction of the lavish Iolani Palace. This would be the luxurious home he shared with his wife, Queen Kapiolani. They would host many memorable parties and events at the palace, and the king's fun-loving lifestyle was why he's remembered as "The Merrie Monarch."
The happy days ended in 1887 when a group of powerful American-Hawaiian citizens known as the Hawaiian League forcibly presented the king with a new "Bayonet Constitution" that dramatically curtailed the monarchy's powers and paved the way for the eventual annexation of Hawaii by the United States.
Kalakaua was 54 years old when he died. He had suffered a stroke during a visit to California. His last words were translated as, "Alas, I am a man who is seriously ill." His biographer took some creative license and presented the king's parting statement as, "Tell my people I tried."