“The green mountains of our Islands are still smiling in their beauty and the lovely borders of Hawaii Kuauli (a poetical appelation given to Hawaii nei by the Hawaiians), of the land known to the foreigners as the ‘Paradise of the Pacific,” still remain for us to enjoy.” (Hawaiian Gazette, January 11, 1898)
“The Hawaiian Race is universally recognized as foremost among those of the Pacific archipelagoes, and there is much in its history to arouse interest. With an unwritten record extending back 1,030 years, this people appeals to every student and observer.”
“Gifted with an imaginative faculty well developed, a capacity to clothe thought in ornate language, and adorn recital with word picture, as well as a vocabulary that lends itself to poetic expression, the meles, or historical songs, are virile and have the swing of the trade wind.” (Nakuina)
“Our newly arrived citizens are probably unaware that there are but few ladies in Hawaii nei who have wrought so much by deed, pen and words for the benefit of her race as (Emma Kaʻilikapuolono Metcalf.)”
“Full of the most accurate information as to her people their history traditions, manners and customs, she is endowed with the happy facility of wielding a pen cleverly and to the point.”
“In the various public positions she has held through many years she invariably brought to bear a bright intellect and a tactful experience with strict fidelity to truth and integrity.” (Independent, March 8, 1897)
Emma “challenged haole efforts to claim the right to rule by asserting genealogical connections to Hawai‘i and Hawaiians. She insisted on the primacy of indigenous genealogies and the insufficiency of their Western counterparts.” (Skwiot)
Emma Kaʻilikapulono Metcalf was born on March 5, 1847, at Kauaʻaia in Honolulu’s Mānoa Valley to Theophilus Metcalf, Hawai‘i’s first photographer, a civil engineer and sugar planter and Chiefess Kailikapuolono of Kūkaniloko. (Preface, Nakuina)
(Metcalf Street in Mānoa is named for Theophilus Metcalf; he arrived in the Islands on May 19, 1842 and became a naturalized citizen on March 9, 1846. He owned the property that most of the University of Hawai‘i campus sits on today. (Hopkins))
Emma “springs from blood lines which touch Plymouth Rock, as well as midseas islands. High priests, statesmen and warriors join hands in their descendants with pilgrims, lawmakers and jurists.”
“Broadly and liberally educated under the immediate care of her father, a Harvard man, nephew of the late Chief Justice Metcalf of Massachusetts, (she) is fitted to present legends which bring out strongly characteristics of her people. (Preface, Nakuina)
Emma attended Sacred Hearts’ Academy, Oʻahu College (Punahou School) and the Mills’ Seminary for Young Ladies in Benicia, California.
She was also privately tutored by her father in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, English and Hawaiian. She was also brought up with a thorough knowledge of traditional Hawaiian practices and protocol. (HHS)
In 1867, Emma married Frederick William Kahapula Beckley (eldest child of William Charles Malulani Beckley and Kahinu.) Beckley was a plantation owner and eventually chamberlain to King Kalākaua (1875) and governor of Kauai (1880). They had seven children.
While she was attached to the court of Kamehameha IV, the king had Emma trained in laws about water rights. One of the many native Hawaiian intellectuals of the 19th century, she was an expert on a wide variety of topics including water rights and laws.
She served the government of Alexander Liholiho (King Kamehameha IV) in the courts as Commissioner of Private Ways and Water Rights for Honolulu.
In 1875, King Kalākaua named her as curator for the Hawaiian National Museum, making her one of the first, if not the first, female curator of a national museum anywhere in the world. (HHS)
Beckley died in 1881 at the age of 36. “Immediately after the death of my husband I went up to the palace and stayed two or three weeks and then went home to my mother at Kalihi.” (Nakuina; Supreme Court Records) In 1887, she married Rev. Moses Keaea Nakuina.
She wrote many articles on Hawaii, including “Ancient Hawaiian Water Rights and Some Customs Pertaining to Them.” She also wrote of Hawaiian folklore and published Hawaii: Its People and Their Legends in 1904. (Scanlon) Emma Nakuina died on April 27, 1929.
Emma Nakuina lived through six monarchs and five governments. She was not a queen, but not a commoner either. She was caught somewhere in the middle: a kaukau aliʻi.
As the first child of a high-born Hawaiian chiefess and an American Sugar Planter, Emma lived in close proximity to both the Hawaiian monarchy and to those who would later overthrow it.
Like her rank, the era she lived in was also caught somewhere in the middle, between Hawaiian tradition and Western modernization. It was a time when all Hawaiians were struggling to live pono in an environment full of unfamiliar influences and importations.
Throughout her life, Nakuina chose to serve out her chiefly duties by being a teacher, historian, museum curator, water commissioner and judge, and she did so in an era when women were discouraged from holding positions of authority.
She was caught in a tumultuous world of underhanded politics, shifting governments, and the reluctant need to transition from a ‘Hawaiian’ way of life to that of the ‘civilized world.’ (Hopkins, UH)
Here is a video showing Emma Nakuina (portrayed by Kahana Ho;) it was part of a Hawaiian Mission Houses ‘Cemetery Pupu Theatre’ event at O‘ahu Cemetery, where Nakuina is buried.
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