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COURTESY OF THE DAUGHTERS OF HAWAII
Queen Emma's marriage to Alexander Liholiho is depicted in an illustration in the book, "Emma Beloved Queen of Hawaii."
Humanity of a queen
A biography details the life of Queen Emma, her joys and her struggles
Barbara Del Piano admirably brings to life this famous woman who still affects our lives today.
I'd heard of Queen Emma, of course. You can't live in Hawaii long without hearing of Queen Emma's Summer Palace and the Queen's Medical Center. I'd even caught tidbits about her vying with David Kalakaua before he was elected king and the uproar among her supporters when Hawaii's Legislature voted him in. But I'd never pictured her as a living, breathing human being until I read this book. The illustrations by award-winning Jackie Black helped, too.
"Emma Beloved Queen of Hawaii"
by Barbara Del Piano
illustrated by Jackie Black
(Daughters of Hawaii)
Del Piano takes us from Emma's hanai (informal adoption) as a newborn, through the pampering that an only child receives in a well-to-do household, to the homesickness of a 6-year-old sent to boarding school. With Emma we live through the indignity of having to make her own bed -- even mending her own clothes. We are relieved that the other students are friendly and that she quickly adjusts to her new life away from her home.
Del Piano does an excellent job of foreshadowing, describing Emma's first luau as some well-wishers speak platitudes but others predict much trouble and sorrow. It made me want to read on, to discover what those predictions were all about.
We watch Emma grow into a beautiful young woman and hold our breath as Alexander Liholiho proposes to her. So romantic! And we see Emma's wonderful wedding outfit, including a magnificent veil sent by Queen Victoria.
We view high-society life with its rounds of parties and beach excursions. We also come to realize the frailty of the royalty, and indeed the whole formerly isolated population, as many die from new diseases brought by the trading ships.
We sense Emma's frustration as Alexander becomes king and she has no time for herself.
Emma was raised in the home of Dr. T.C.B. Rooke and watched patients come to their home for treatment. Now, she and Alexander decide they must have a modern hospital in Honolulu. When the Legislature dilly-dallies on funding, the king himself approaches businessmen, ledger in hand, asking for pledges. The resulting Queen's Medical Center has stayed modern and is renowned for its treatments.
Del Piano helps us feel how much Emma, Alexander and the whole nation love their engaging little Prince Albert, and we are touched by everyone's despair at his early death. Not long after, Alexander also succumbs. We begin to understand those dire predictions made at Emma's first luau.
Emma is an example for widows. She was deeply in love with Alexander, and she wore "widow's weeds" (black) for the rest of her life. Trying to shake her sorrow, she visited Queen Victoria (also wearing widow's weeds) in England, and we see them chatting like old friends.
Yearning for adventure, she and a large group of acquaintances sailed to Kauai and hiked into Waialeale, traversing the treacherous Alakai Swamp. Gutsy lady!
After a while, she looked outside herself and realized she had a lot to offer her people. She was the prime mover behind the building of St. Andrew's Cathedral and St. Andrew's Priory School for Girls. She was also instrumental in establishing Iolani School, which was only for boys at its inception.
Next time I go to the Summer Palace, I'll look for the little red fireman's shirt given to Prince Albert on his fourth birthday. And when I wander the halls of St. Andrew's Cathedral, I'll have new appreciation for the displays about Queen Emma. Thank you, Barbara Del Piano!