"Tell my people I tried.” These are often said to be the last words of HONOLULU Magazine’s founder, King David Kalakaua. The quote has been so widely repeated, we fell prey to it ourselves in our November story about life in Honolulu, circa 1888. But when a reader disputed it, we dug into the historical record and discovered that these were not Kalakaua’s last words at all.
A short biography of Kalakaua, written in Hawaiian and published in time to sell on the day of the royal funeral, offers a slightly different but even more detailed account. Hawaiian language scholar Puakea Nogelmeier pointed us to this source, entitled Ka Mo‘olelo o ka Mo‘i Kalakaua I, and written by Joseph Poepoe, a friend of the Kalakaua family.
In this version, translated for us by Nogelmeier, the king smiles at Brown and says a few words to him, “as though giving his last and loving farewells … .” Then he says to Baker, “Aue, he kanaka au, eia i loko o ke kukonukonu o ka ma‘i!,” or “Alas, I am a man who is seriously ill.”