Although Hawaii has been officially recognized as a state since 1959, the decisions made more than a century ago by the islands' royal leaders to become westernized are still debated passionately -- both verbally and theatrically.
"Kaiulani" and "The Conversation of Kaahumanu" are two plays produced by the Kuma Kahua theater company of Honolulu that examine the relationship between the royals and westerners in two different periods of Hawaiian history.
Kaiulani was the last royal leader of Hawaii, a princess born in 1875 to Princess Miriam Likelike and Scottish landscape architect Archibald Cleghorn. Educated in England and befriended by Robert Louis Stevenson, who once wrote for her, "Forth from her land to mine she goes,/ The Island maid, the Island rose," Kaiulani became the ruler of the American territory of Hawaii after revolution felled the original monarchy. She fought hard for American citizenship for her people and was very active in the Red Cross and Hawaiian Relief Society.
"She's revered," says Kumu Kahua managing director Dennis Carroll. "She was a very beautiful and dignified young lady, but she died very young," at the age of 23. "She is now really regarded as more Hawaiian than Caucasian. She is kind of a symbol for everything Hawaiians lost."
Kaahumanu, however, is not so highly regarded. As co-ruler of the Hawaiian Islands, with her brother Liholiho, in the 1820s, she was swift to abolish the system of kapu law, the ancient religious laws that dictated day-to-day Hawaiian life. She welcomed the Western missionaries, and as a result, Western disease spread through Polynesia. She also adopted the English language, Western laws and Christianity for her country. She was baptized in 1825.
"She put aside her religious law because she felt it was no longer valid," says Carroll. "And when the new missionaries came she embraced them and steered Hawaii into a new contemporary way. It is still debated if she betrayed Hawaiians for the interest of her own career or not."
"Kaiulani" and "The Conversion of Kaahumanu" will be presented Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8 at Georgetown University's Hall of Nations, 1221 Prospect St. NW. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and children and available at the door. For information, call 560-8874.