On January 17, 1893, Queen Liliuokalani was deposed and would be imprisoned on the second floor of the I’olani Place. The Hawaiian monarchy had been overthrown. Joseph Medeiros was 12 years old. His 13th birthday was on March 27 of that year.
It was at age 13 in this year of great change for Hawaii that he took up the solitary vigil that would become his life’s work. For more than 35 years, Jose de Medeiros, or Joseph Medeiros as he bacame known, stood near the Kauikeaouli Gate on Honolulu’s South King Street fronting I’olani Palace worshiping the gilded statue across the street, waiting for the return of Kamehameha. It was Kamehameha the Great, holder of much mana, who could restore the monarchy.
In the beginning, his parents tried to keep him home. “Momma, I have to go. Something in here,” he’d say, pointing to his heart, “makes me go. You can punish me, do anything to me, but I must go.”
Joe was never strong. He wanted to help his father, who was a stone mason, but the work was too difficult for him. And so this frail boy began to love the mighty Kamehameha and wish for his return so he could meet him.
King David Kalakaua was on the Hawaiian throne when Jose de Medeiros was born on March 27, 1880 on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores. Jose and his family arrived in Hawaii in March 27, 1882 on the bark Karl of Dalhousie; it was the same year that King Kalakaua completed the new ‘Iolani Palace. King Kamahemeha III first used the former site of an ancient temple as a palace beginning in 1845. Following the death of Kamehameha IV, the name was changed from Hale Ali’I which means Chief’s House to I’olani, Hawaiian for hawk. It was torn down in the 1870s due to extensive termite damage. The year Jose arrived in Honolulu, there would be a grand new palace.
In 1879, King Kalakaua commissioned Thomas Gould, a sculptor living in Italy, to cast a statue of King Kamehameha the Great. It was unveiled in front of Ali’iolani Hale in 1883. In 1883, no one could have foretold that Joe Madeiros would become a fixture in front of Kalakaua’s palace waiting for the gilded Kamehameha to come to life and step off the pedestal.
As Joe stood sentinel over the years, Hawaii moved further and further away from being the kingdom of his childhood. Upon Queen Lili’uokalani’s deposition, the Provisional Government of Hawaii, was proclaimed on January 17, 1892. The Provisional Government had taken control of Hawaii and took control of ‘Iolani Palace as well.
Both Queen Lili’uokalani and Princess Ka’iulani would lobby President Grover Cleveland to restore the monarchy, to no avail. The Republic of Hawaii began on July 4, 1894. ‘Iolani Palace was now in the hands of the Republic. With the adoption of the Newlands Resolution in the United States Congress, the Republic was annexed to the United States and became the Territory of Hawaii on July 7, 1898.
Eighteen-year-old Joseph Medeiros still stood at the Kauikeaouli Gate waiting in attendance on Kamehameha. Behind the King, the American flag now fluttered above Ali’iolani Hale’s clock tower. ‘Iolani Palace now housed the Territorial Government.
The city bustled and swirled about Joseph. In 1908, William Matson’s ship Lurline brought visitors from the mainland and Joseph Medeiros still made his daily trek from his home on Sereno Lane off Kuakini Street to his post in front of ‘Iolani Palace.
Automobiles replaced horses and carriages and Joe, wearing tattered clothes and treading on bare feet still paced back and forth in front of the Kauikeaouli Gate. At other times, he stood motionlessly gazing at Kamehameha, a thin figure in faded denim overalls and faded jacket. A battered, old hat covered his thick, dark brown hair as it turned white over the years. He was burned by the sun and often drenched by the rain. And he was a tourist attraction, photographed many, many times.
In late 1930, the denizens of downtown Honolulu began to notice that the Statue Worshiper was not there. As people continued to wonder, it was remembered that Joe lived with this sister, Mary Caminos, and a reporter from the Honolulu Star Bulletin went to their home to inquire after him.
The thin, frail limbs that had once been clad in faded overalls as he stood vigil were now paralyzed by two strokes. After the first stroke, Joe continued to return to his post; after the second stroke, he could not. He lingered for two years.
On July 2, 1932, Joseph Medeiros passed away at the age of 52. A most unusual life had ended. A color from the fabric of the Hawaiian quilt of life in Honolulu had disappeared.
© 2021 Jeanne Alice Moore
“Hawaii’s Last ‘Royalist’ Nearing Trails End; Statue Worshipper ill,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 24, 1930, p 1
“Joe Medeiros, Worshiper of Statue, Is Dead at 52,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, July 4, 1932, p 9
“ ‘Statue Worshiper’ Goes to Join King He Venerated,” Honolulu Advertiser, July 4, 1932. p.1, c 6
Matson Company, History, Matson’s Contributions to Hawaii (website)
The photo at the top of this blog is of Joseph Medeiros standing by the I’olani Palace gate. Title: King Kamehameha Statue; Description – “A pupuli man posing in front of the Iolani palace. Call Number is PP-46-11-009 Date – ca 1914; Courtesy Hawaii State Archives. Link: https://digitalarchives.hawaii.gov/item/ark:70111/0gvx
The photo at the bottom of the blog on the side of the statue is also Jose de Medeiros (Joseph Medeiros). Title – Kamehameha Statue; Description – Opera house is in the back; Call Number – PP-46-11-016; Date – ca 1899. Courtesy Hawaii State Arachives. Link: https://digitalarchives.hawaii.gov/item/ark:70111/0gvJ