John Mākini Kapena

John Mākini Kapena (October 2, 1843 – October 23, 1887) was a politician, diplomat and newspaper editor who served many political roles in the Kingdom of Hawaii. He served as Governor of Maui from 1874 to 1876, Minister of Finance from 1876 to 1878 and again from 1883 to 1886, Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1878 to 1880, Postmaster General from 1881 to 1883 and Collector General of Customs from 1886 to 1887. From 1874 to 1875, he accompanied King Kalākaua on his state visit to the United States to negotiate the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. In 1882, he traveled to Tokyo as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Japan to negotiate Japanese immigration to Hawaii.

John Mākini Kapena
John Mākini Kapena, 1874.
Governor of Maui
In office
February 23, 1874  December 15, 1876
Preceded byPaul Nahaolelua
Succeeded byWilliam Luther Moehonua
Minister of Finance
In office
December 5, 1876  July 3, 1878
Preceded byJohn Smith Walker
Succeeded bySimon Kaloa Kaʻai
In office
February 13, 1883  June 30, 1886
Preceded bySimon Kaloa Kaʻai
Succeeded byPaul P. Kanoa
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
July 3, 1878  August 14, 1880
Preceded byHenry A. Peirce
Succeeded byCelso Caesar Moreno
Personal details
Born(1843-10-02)October 2, 1843
Lāhainā, Maui
DiedOctober 23, 1887(1887-10-23) (aged 44)
NationalityKingdom of Hawaiʻi
Spouse(s)Emma Aʻalailoa Malo
RelationsJonah Kapena (uncle)
David Malo (father-in-law)
ChildrenAlexandrina Leihulu Kapena
Alma materRoyal School
Oahu College

Early life and family

Born on October 2, 1843, at Lāhainā, on the island of Maui, Kapena was the son of Mākini and High Chiefess Nāʻawa, a relative of the Kalākaua family. He was adopted under the Hawaiian custom of hānai by his uncle Jonah Kapena, an influential statesman, judge and royal advisor since the reign of King Kamehameha III.[1][2][3]

Kapena was educated at the Royal School and later the Oahu College (now Punahou School).[1]

In 1863 he married Emma Aʻalailoa Malo (1846–1886), the only daughter of early Native Hawaiian historian and Christian minister David Malo and his third wife Rebecca Lepeka.[1][4] Emma was an accomplished musician and composer and served as an attendant of Princess Liliʻuokalani.[5][6] Emma died unexpectedly from heart disease on April 18, 1886, at the age of 39.[7]

They had one daughter, Alexandrina Leihulu Kapena (1868–1914). On November 5, 1887, Leihulu married Morris Kahai Keohokālole of Maui. She later divorced Keohokālole and married Henry N. Clark after he divorced his wife Emma Dreier.[8][9] Leihulu owned property on Hawaii and the mainland United States. She died on March 23, 1914 while living in San Francisco, California. She was the last lineal descendant of David Malo.[10] Leihulu died intestate and her estate was disputed between her widower and her two next of kin: Samuel I. Maikai and David U. K. Maikai (grandsons of John William Elliott Maikai). The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of her widower as her sole heir.[11][12]

In 1870, Kapena became the editor of the newspaper, Ke Au Okoa, which ran from 1865 until it merged with Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, and became Ka Nupepa Kuokoa Me Ke Au Okoa I Huiia in 1873.[1]

Political career

During the reign of Kamehameha V, he was commissioned on January 16, 1864, as first lieutenant of the 1st Company of the Yeomanry, a volunteer army regiment in the military of Hawaii.[13] When King Lunalilo ascended to the throne in 1873, Kapena was appointed to a number of political positions. He was appointed to the Board of Education on January 23.[14] He was made a colonel on the king's personal military staff on January 27, and judge of the first circuit court on the island of Oahu, serving in the latter position from April 1, 1873, to July 13, 1874.[13][15] In July 1873, King Lunalilo and his foreign minister Charles Reed Bishop considered a proposal to cede Pearl Harbor to the United States in exchange for a reciprocity treaty. Although he was in favor of the reciprocity treaty, Kapena gave a speech in front of 1500 Hawaiians at Kaumakapili Church opposing the cessation of Hawaiian territory.[16][17]

Lunalilo died without an heir in 1874. In the election that followed, Kapena supported his relative David Kalākaua's candidacy for the vacant throne against Queen Emma, the dowager queen of Kamehameha IV.[18][19] The choice of Kalākaua by the legislature, and the subsequent announcement, caused a riot at the courthouse. US and British troops were landed, and some of Emma's supporters were arrested.[20]

As part of his first round of political appointments, Kalākaua appointed Kapena as a member of the Privy Council of State and the Governor of Maui, succeeding Paul Nahaolelua who had resigned the governorship to become Minister of Finance. Kapena served as Governor of Maui until December 15, 1876 when he too resigned the governorship to become Minister of Finance. He was succeeded by William Luther Moehonua as governor.[15][21][22][23] On January 10, 1876, Kapena was appointed by the king to be an official member of the House of Nobles, the upper chamber of the legislature.[24] As a member of the House of Nobles, Kapena would go on to serve in each legislative sessions between 1876 and 1886.[25][15]

From November 17, 1874 to February 15, 1875, Kapena became a member of the Reciprocity Commission and traveled with Kalākaua on his state visit the United States to negotiate the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875.[26]

At different times during the Kalākaua's reign he held the important position on the king's executive cabinet. In 1876, Kapena was appointed to the king's cabinet as Minister of Finance serving alongside three Americans: Henry A. P. Carter, Minister of Foreign Affairs; John Mott-Smith, Minister of the Interior; and Alfred S. Hartwell, Attorney General. He served as the finance minister from December 5, 1876, until Kalākaua demanded the resignation of his entire cabinet in the middle of the night on July 1, 1878. It was widely suspected that Kalākaua's sudden replacement of his cabinet was influenced by American businessman Claus Spreckels, who refinanced the King's debts the night before, in order to secure water rights for his sugarcane plantation on Maui.[27][28] On July 3, Kapena was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs to new cabinet with Samuel Gardner Wilder, Minister of the Interior; Simon Kaloa Kaʻai, Minister of Finance; Edward Preston, Attorney General. Kapena became the first Native Hawaiian to hold the post of foreign minister and the only minister to survive the political shakeup.[27] He held this post from July 3, 1878, to August 14, 1880. During his tenure, the elders (na elemakule) of Tabiteuea in the Gilbert Islands requested annexation to Hawaii. However, Kapena and the king wrote back declining the request due to its political impractically.[15][29] When the king chose a new cabinet in 1880, Kapena was replaced in the position by the Italian adventurer Celso Caesar Moreno to the vehement opposition of the diplomatic corps and political leaders in Honolulu.[30] Kapena later returned to the another cabinet headed by Walter Murray Gibson when he was appointed Minister of Finance for a second term in February 1883 after Kaʻai was removed for "dereliction of ministerial duty".[31] He served as finance minister until June 30, 1886, although Minister of the Interiors Charles T. Gulick served as acting finance minister while he was attending the Louisville Exposition in 1885 as Special Commissioner.[15][32][33] He was succeeded by Paul P. Kanoa.[34]

He also served as the Postmaster-General from 1881 to 1883 and the Collector General of Customs from 1886 to 1887.[35][36] Other political posts and appointments he held during his political career included Marshall of the Household,[37] member of the Board of Education, Commissioner of Boundaries for Maui, Commissioner of Crown Lands, Commissioner to Codify and Revise Laws, and Registrar of Conveyances for Oahu[15] In 1872, he was appointed as the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Japan. Along with his secretary John Lota Kaulukoʻu, he traveled to Japan to negotiate the prospect of Japanese immigration to the Hawaiian Islands.[38] As part of the Education of Hawaiian Youths Abroad governmental program, Kapena also escorted three Hawaiian students to study in Asia. James Kapaa was placed in a school in Canton, China and James Hakuole and Isaac Harbottle placed in schools in Japan.[38][39]

Kapena was decorated with a number of Hawaiian and foreign orders and honors. He was made a Knight Companion of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, a Grand Officer of the Royal Order of the Crown of Hawaii, a Grand Officer of the Royal Order of Kalākaua. He was also accorded the foreign honors of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Rising Sun, Grand Officer of the Order of the Cross of Takovo of Serbia, Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown of Prussia, Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown of Japan and the Belgian Red Cross.[40]


In 1887, Kapena resigned his last political post as Collector General of Customs.[3] Kapena died at his residence at Peleula, Honolulu, on October 23, 1887, at the age of 44.[40][41][42]

Kapena's funeral at St. Andrew's Cathedral, the following day, was attended by the King, members of the royal family, ranking member of the government and Honolulu society, Viscount Torii and T. Fujita of the Japanese legation and the Lodge Le Progres de L'Oceanie and the Hawaiian Lodge No. 21, F. & A. M., which he was a member of. His service was conducted entirely in Hawaiian by Anglican Reverend Alexander Mackintosh with Reverend H. H. Gowen also in the chancel. His daughter Leihulu served as the chief mourner. After the service, a funeral procession brought the hearse carrying his casket to Kawaiahaʻo Church where he was buried with Masonic rites.[43][44] Kapena was buried next to his wife Emma Malo and his hānai father Jonah Kapena in the Kapena family plot. His grave marker reads "J. M. Kapena Died Oct 23 1887."[45] Other relatives interred there include Umiuimi, David Kalu and Kahoihoi Pahu.[46]


  1. Mookini 1974, pp. vii–viii.
  2. Osorio 2002, p. 24.
  3. Day 1984, p. 71.
  4. Malo & Emerson 1903, pp. 5–14.
  5. Liliuokalani 1898, p. 94.
  6. Taylor, Emma Ahuena (February 23, 1935). "Kalakaua's Coronation Plans Were Subject For Wide Criticism". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Honolulu. p. 5. Retrieved July 4, 2018 via
  7. "Died". Daily Honolulu Press. Honolulu. April 19, 1886. p. 2.; "Death of Mrs. Kapena". Daily Honolulu Press. Honolulu. April 19, 1886. p. 3.; "The Late Mrs. Kapena". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Honolulu. April 20, 1886. p. 3.; "The Late Mrs. Kapena's Funeral". The Daily Bulletin. Honolulu. April 21, 1886. p. 3.; "Funeral of the Late Mrs. Kapena". The Pacific commercial Advertiser. Honolulu. April 21, 1886. p. 2.
  8. McKinzie 1983, p. 44.
  9. "Island Locals". The Hawaiian Gazette. Honolulu. November 8, 1887. p. 5.
  10. "Honolulu Woman Dies In Mainland City". The Hawaiian Gazette. Honolulu. March 24, 1914. p. 3.; "Deaths". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Honolulu. April 8, 1914. p. 7.; "Honolulu Woman Dies In Mainland City". The Honolulu Advertiser. Honolulu. March 24, 1914. p. 6. Retrieved July 4, 2018 via
  11. Hawaii Supreme Court (1917). In The Matter Of The Estate Of Alexandria Leihulu Clark, Deceased. Hawaii Reports: Cases Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii. Honolulu: The New Freedom Press. pp. 451–456.
  12. "Henry N. Clark Is Dead Wife's Heir". The Honolulu Advertiser. Honolulu. August 12, 1916. p. 6. Retrieved July 4, 2018 via
  13. "Army Commissions office record" (PDF). state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  14. Kuykendall 1953, p. 109.
  15. "Kapena, John M. office record" (PDF). state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  16. Kanahele 1999, p. 271.
  17. Kanahele 2002, pp. 119-120.
  18. Kuykendall 1967, pp. 3–16.
  19. Dabagh, Lyons & Hitchcock 1974, pp. 78, 88.
  20. Kanahele 1999, pp. 315–319; Liliuokalani 1898, pp. 40–41, 45–49
  21. "Official Notices". The Hawaiian Gazette. Honolulu. March 4, 1874. p. 2.
  22. Kuykendall 1967, p. 12.
  23. Newbury 2001, p. 15; "Governor of Maui, Molokai and Lanai" (PDF). official archives. state of Hawaii. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2011. Retrieved September 1, 2009.
  24. Osorio 2002, p. 278; Kuykendall 1967, p. 195
  25. Hawaii & Lydecker 1918, pp. 136. 139, 143, 147, 152, 156.
  26. Kuykendall 1967, pp. 17–45.
  27. Kuykendall 1967, pp. 200–201.
  28. Adler 1965, p. 155.
  29. Kuykendall 1967, p. 313.
  30. Kuykendall 1967, pp. 213–223.
  31. Kuykendall 1967, p. 267.
  32. Kuykendall 1967, p. 268.
  33. Alexander 1891, p. 335.
  34. Kuykendall 1967, p. 292.
  35. "Customs, Collector General of – office record" (PDF). state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  36. "Postmaster General – office record" (PDF). state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  37. Zambucka 2002, p. 48.
  38. Kuykendall 1967, pp. 159–161.
  39. Quigg 1988, pp. 195–198.
  40. "John Makini Kapena – He Breathes His Last on Sunday Morning at Peleula". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Honolulu. October 24, 1887. p. 2.
  41. "Death of John M. Kapena". The Daily Bulletin. Honolulu. October 24, 1887. p. 3.
  42. "Death of Hon. J. M. Kapena". The Hawaiian Gazette. Honolulu. October 25, 1887. p. 8.
  43. "Funeral of John M. Kapena". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Honolulu. October 25, 1887. p. 3.
  44. "Funeral of Hon. J. M. Kapena". The Hawaiian Gazette. Honolulu. November 1, 1887. p. 5.
  45. Grave Marker for J. M. Kapena. Honolulu, HI: Kawaiahaʻo Church Cemetery.
  46. Disbro, William (November 6, 2001). "Kawaiahao Church Cemetery". US GenWeb Archives. Retrieved June 2, 2014.


Government offices
Preceded by
Paul Nahaolelua
Governor of Maui
Succeeded by
William Luther Moehonua
Preceded by
John Smith Walker
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Simon Kaloa Kaʻai
Preceded by
Henry A. Peirce
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Celso Caesar Moreno
Preceded by
Arthur P. Brickwood
Postmaster General
Succeeded by
Henry Martyn Whitney
Preceded by
Simon Kaloa Kaʻai
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Paul P. Kanoa
Preceded by
Curtis P. Iaukea
Collector General of Customs
Succeeded by
Archibald Scott Cleghorn
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