Stacy L. Kamehiro provides visual and historical analysis of Kalakaua's coronation and regalia, the King Kamehameha Statue, 'Iolani Palace, and the Hawaiian National Museum, drawing them together in a common historical political, and cultural frame. Each articulated Hawaiian national identities and navigated the turbulence of colonialism in distinctive ways and has endured as a key cultural symbol.
These cultural projects were part of the monarchy's concerted effort to promote a national culture in the face of colonial pressures, internal political divisions, and declining social conditions for Native Hawaiians, which, in combination, posed serious threats to the survival of the nation. The Kalakaua leadership promoted images that boosted international relations and appeased foreign agitators in the kingdom while addressing indigenous political cleavages. Kamehiro interprets the images, spaces, and institutions as articulations of the complex cultural entanglements and creative engagement with international communities that occur with prolonged colonial contact. Nineteenth-century Hawaiian sovereigns celebrated Native tradition, history, and modernity by intertwining indigenous conceptions of superior chiefly leadership with the apparati and symbols of Asian, American, and European rule. The resulting symbolic forms speak to cultural intersections and historical processes, claims about distinctiveness and commonality, and the power of objects, institutions, and public display to create meaning and enable action.