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Who was the First Reigning Monarch to Circumnavigate the World?

The Merrie Monarch King Kalākaua was known for his flamboyant and fun-loving ways. He was the last king of Hawaii before it became part of the US. But did you know he was a pioneer for something quite unexpected?

King Kalākaua was the last king of the Hawaiian kingdom and the first reigning monarch to circumnavigate the world. He traveled to different countries to promote his country, hoping that it wouldn’t disappear.

Who was King Kalākaua?

David Kalakaua was born on November 15, 1836, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the son of a high chief, growing up with a classical education in both English and Hawaiian. The generation of the young Kalakaua was known as part of the most literate generations of Hawaii due to the vision of King Kamehameha to create a literate country. (Source: Library of Congress)

Kalakaua grew up in a time when Christian missionaries were converting many native Hawaiians and were beginning to take up positions in the local government. When he came of age and through his lineage as a son of a high chief, Kalakaua became a candidate for the throne. He lost the 1873 election to Lunalilo, but unfortunately, the new king passed just a year after being inducted.

Kalakaua’s election by the legislature brought him to the throne. However, his election was quite controversial, but once he settled in, the new king proved his worth and capabilities in winning over the Hawaiians. Kalakaua was passionate about keeping and improving the national identity of Hawaii.

Kalakaua was responsible for Hawaii Ponoi, the country’s national anthem, and it was received well by the natives. He also toured all the islands under Hawaii and met with his subjects. Kalakaua also brought back the hula, the traditional sacred dance which referenced myths and legends in Hawaii, which was banned in 1820.

At the time, Hawaiian history was not preserved in writing but instead was passed down orally. Many Americans and Europeans settled in the islands and were beginning to influence many native Hawaiians. The new generation wasn’t interested in the traditional Hawaiian customs. And older Hawaiian generations believed that it was taboo to write about their myths and legends. (Source: WBUR)

But Kalakaua challenged that notion and had scholars work with natives who memorized the ancient verses, called the Kahunas, so that they could write them down. The most controversial challenge the king gave the scholars was to document the sacred chant performed only in ceremonies, the Kumulipo. The Kumulipo contained the creation story as well as the lineage of royalty. The Kahunas objected, but Kalakaua won them over. (Source: Library of Congress)

Kalākaua and Traveling the World

In his short reign as the last king of Hawaii, his extensive work in preserving Hawaiian traditions was successful. One of his acts to ensure this was to make as many people know about his country in the hopes that their legacy won’t be forgotten.

As the king, he set off on an international goodwill tour. He was the first monarch ever to circumnavigate the world. His 281 voyage took him to small villages in Europe and eventually met the Queen. Kalakaua also traveled to Japan and visited the imperial courts, and sat with the emperor. The monarch found himself in China and Egypt, then finally in the US.

In his brief stay in the US, he visited many significant spots in the country and even met Thomas Edison. Though Kalakaua was very passionate about keeping his people’s heritage and ancient ways, he was also very interested in technology. It was reported that Kalakaua’s palace had electric lights and running water before the White House did. (Source: WBUR)

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