After the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian government on January 17, 1893, the insurgency under the protection of U.S. troops began to force individuals in government to sign oaths of support for the provisional government. If they refused, they would lose their jobs.
This created much anxiety amongst the population and soon pit Hawaiian against Hawaiian. The majority, however, were heeding the call of Queen Lili‘uokalani to onipa‘a (hold fast) peacefully and await the conclusion of the investigation by President Cleveland who sent his Special Commissioner James Blount to the Islands. In a memorial submitted by the officers of the Hawaiian Patriotic League to President Grover Cleveland on December 27, 1893, they aptly explain:
“And while waiting for the result of [the investigation], with full confidence in the American honor, the Queen requested all her loyal subjects to remain absolutely quiet and passive, and to submit with patience to all the insults that have been since heaped upon both the Queen and the people by the usurping Government. The necessity of this attitude of absolute inactivity on the part of the Hawaiian people was further indorsed and emphasized by Commissioner Blount, so that, if the Hawaiians have held their peace in a manner that will vindicate their character as law-abiding citizens, yet it can not and must not be construed as evidence that they are apathetic or indifferent, or ready to acquiesce in the wrong and bow to the usurpers.”
After negotiating settlement with the Queen through executive mediation between November 16 and December 18, 1893, where an agreement of restoration was reached—called the Agreement of restoration, the Congress prevented President Cleveland from carrying out the executive agreements because it had its eyes on acquiring the Hawaiian Islands as a military outpost.
Cleveland’s failure to carry out the agreement allowed the provisional government to increase its power by hiring mercenaries from the United States who previously served in the U.S. armed forces. On July 4, 1894, the insurgency renamed themselves the Republic of Hawai‘i who would hold onto power at all costs until a new President could replace Cleveland. The insurgency’s goal from the beginning was to cede the Hawaiian Islands to the United States.The insurgency continued to force government officials to sign oaths of support to the so-called Republic.
The Hawaiian Kingdom’s Royal Hawaiian Band refused to take the oath to support the provisional government and were forced to relinquish their jobs on February 1, 1893. The former band members approached Ellen Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergrast and asked if she could compose a song of their loyalty to the Hawaiian Kingdom and their defiance to the insurgency. Mrs. Prendergrast composed “Mele Aloha ‘Aina,” which is translated to “Patriot’s Song.”
The song was sung by the former band members at the anniversary of the band’s resignation on February 1, 1894, and according to historian Albtertine Loomis, “One who heard the band boys sing it on the anniversary of their defiance said it had on the Hawaiians the effect of the ‘Marseillaise’ on the French—’exciting and exasperating.’ The hula ku‘i business (stamping, heel-twisting, thigh-slapping, dipping of knees, doubling of fists) almost drowned out the words, but the fierce loyalty was written in every shining face. Over and over they beat out the rhythm, thumping their drums and miming their scorn of the ‘paper of the enemy,’ of the ‘heap of government money.’ It was a pledge renewed. They had not thought it would be so long before President Cleveland kept his word, but they would wait.”
The Patriot’s Song has endured and it is a well-known song played today throughout the islands. The lyrics are still sung in the Hawaiian language, and for people today who do not know the language they are completely unaware as to the meaning of the song and its fierce loyalty to the Hawaiian Kingdom and Queen Lili‘uokalani. This is especially so because the melody has been drastically softened since the 1950’s, but the lyrics have remained nearly unchanged for over a century.
“Tell the story of the people who love their land.” Aloha ‘Aina.