Wikimedia Commons

King Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii, ascended the throne after the death of King Kamehameha V. When Kamehameha died in 1872, he did not name a successor, nor did he have an heir. Per the constitution, a special election would decide who would become the next king.

Two names surfaced as the heir not-so-apparents — David Kalakaua was a community leader and a well-known chieftain, and William Charles Lunalilo, a cousin of the deceased king and a high-ranking official.

The short-lived rule of King Lunalilo

Although Lunalilo had a bloodline claim to the throne because of his relation to Kamehameha V, he honored the process and was awarded the title through the election process. His rule was short-lived. He fell ill in 1874 and died the same year that he took the throne. Throne was once again vacant.

Just like King Kamehameha V, King Lunalilo had no successors. Kamehameha IV’s wife, Queen Dowager Emma, laid claim to the throne arguing that she was next in line. An election was held once again. Persistence pays: David Kalakaua became king.

David Kalakaua becomes king and his early rule

Just like the previous rulers, King Kalakaua’s time on the Hawaiian throne would be short lived. But during his rule, he was able to bring prosperity to Hawaii by gaining trade partnerships with several nations, including the United States.

He is also credited with bringing the hula dance into the mainstream. He would throw lavish celebrations showcasing Hawaiian arts, music, and dance. This led to his moniker as the “Merry Monarch.” He traveled frequently and in style, drawing ire from his critics.  His 1881 world tour, —which he justified as a trip to save the Hawaiian culture and people — was marred with a lot of controversy. It was even rumored that the king was trying to sell the islands.

Despite his accomplishments, public support waned. So it didn’t help when he also spent a lot on his coronation ceremony in 1883.

A huge blow to his legacy was that he granted a license to sell opium throughout the islands to a man named Aki in return for a handsome bribe. It would to be the beginning of the end. King Kalakaua was forced to abdicate the throne via a coup-de-tat sparked by the corruption controversies.