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Hawaiian Kingdom Era Titles of Royalty

Cover Image: Masthead of Ka Hae Hawaii published on June 25, 1856.

Aloha Nūhou Monday!

The term “aliʻi,” is widely known, while “kaukau aliʻi,” referring to a chief of a lower rank is perhaps less well known. Even less known is that Hawaiians adopt European titles of royalty distinct from those that could be found in our traditional hierarchy.

Similar to European, and in particular, British stylings, the Hawaiian address for the aliʻi during the Kingdom Era varied depending on one’s proximity to the Crown. In order of proximity, with the first being the monarch themself, the titles are as follows: “Ka Lani (Ke Aliʻi) ka Mōʻī (wahine),” “Ka Mea Kiʻekiʻe,” and “Ka Mea Hanohano.” In English, the equivalent titles are “His/Her Majesty the King/Queen,” “His/Her Highness,” and “His/Her Excellency” or “the Honorable.”

Just as in the British system, only the ruling monarch and their consort (spouse) may be referred to as a Majesty/Mōʻī. Likewise, only direct members of the royal family/ruling dynasty may be referred to as a Highness/Mea Kiʻekiʻe. Mea Hanohano is a more general title for all manner of nobility and notoriety not belonging to the royal family. In the British system, the equivalent titles would be that of a duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron.

The Hawaiian Kingdom only saw two dynasties take the throne––the Kamehameha Dynasty and the Kalākaua Dynasty. Of those two, there is likely only a single aliʻi who has been referred to by all of these titles. This would be Queen Liliʻuokalani.

Image: “Ka Mare ana o ka Moi,” Ka Hae Hawaii, June 25, 1856, p. 66.

Image: Studio portrait of Liliʻuokalani. Photo by C. L. Weed. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 58918.

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The article above recounts the royal wedding of His Majesty King Alexander Liholiho and Her Majesty Queen Emma Rooke. Liliʻu, known at the time as Lydia Kamakaʻeha, was in attendance. Here she is referred to as a “Mea Hanohano.” This is because she is neither a queen nor royalty at this point, but she is nobility. We see in this article that others belonging to the royal family, such as Prince Lot and Princess Kamāmalu, are appropriately referred to here as “Mea Kiekie.”

Image: “Olelo Kuahaua,” Ka Elele Poakolu, February 16, 1881, p. 6.

This next article is a royal proclamation naming Liliʻu as princess regent during the absence of King Kalākaua. In it, she is referred to as “ka Mea Kiekie ke Aliiwahine LILIUOKALANI.” Translated literally, it means “Her Highness the Princess Liliʻuokalani.” At the time, her brother Kalākaua was king, and as such, she was a member of the royal family.


We, KALĀKAUA, by the Grace of God; of the Hawaiian Islands, King:

Agreeably to Article thrity-third of the Constitution of Our Kingdom, We have this day appointed, and do hereby proclaim and make known Our beloved Subject and Sister, Her Royal Highness the Princess LILIʻUOKALANI as Regent of Our Kingdom to administer Our Government in Our Name, during Our absence from Our Kingdom.

Done at ʻIolani Palace, in Honolulu, this 20th day of January, in the year of Our LORD, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eighty-one; and in the Seventh Year of Our Reign.


By the King:

W. L. Green,

Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Image: Studio portrait of Liliʻuokalani. Photo by Williams. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 205294

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Image: Letter from A. F. Judd regarding Liliʻu’s appointment as princess regent. Liliʻu is referred to here as “Her Royal Highness the Princess.” Judd Family Papers: MS Group 70, Box 48.11.13. Bishop Museum Archives, QM 222696

Image sharing on social media is welcome. For all other uses please contact 

Image: “Na Pihe Kumakena Hue’a ke Aloha Ka Makee Alii.,” Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, February 21, 1891, p. 6.

Following the death of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani’s accession to the throne, her citizenry gave every effort to offer their condolences, and to wish her a long and healthy reign. In addressing these letters, they referred to Liliʻu, aptly, as “Ke Alii ka Moiwahine Liliuokalani.” Literally, “Your Majesty the Queen Liliʻuokalani.”

To her Majesty, Queen Liliʻuokalani.

Whereas, It has pleased Almighty God to take the precious life of his Majesty, King Kalakaua I, on the 20th of January 1891, at the hour of 2:30 p. m.

Therefore, sorrow, sadness, and grief has overcome the entire nation. Therefore, we, the members of the joint Protestant churches of Kailua and Helani, through our committee.

We humbly offer our aloha, as we recall his loving assistance to these churches, by his undertaking the roofing with metal shingles the parent church, Mokuaikaua.

And it shall serve as a memorial to his loving deeds for us, which we will remember and never forget.

And we remember him joining us in our prayer gatherings on a number of Sabbaths when he was here in Kailua nei.

Resolved. We join you in your grieving, and sadness for the passing of your brother, his Highness, the King, who was greatly beloved.

It is our prayer that your heavy heart be lightened and that Almighty God protect you.

Committee: S. B. Kaalawamaka W. M. Kalaiwaa, J. K. Nahale, D. Kahao, J. A. Adams, S. W. Kawewehi, J. K. Kauhaihao.

This post is part of He Aupuni Palapala: Preserving and Digitizing the Hawaiian Language Newspapers, a partnership between Bishop Museum and Awaiaulu with assistance from Kamehameha Schools. Mahalo nui loa to Hawaii Tourism Authority for their support. Learn more about this project here.

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