Helen Edyth “Didi” Mālie Lee Kwai, A Woman of Substance
3/6/1941 – 8/15/2004
Our friend and fellow patriot, Helen Edyth “Didi” Mālie Lee Kwai, as some of you may know, wrote the script for the drama (a re-enactment) called “Ka Lei Maile Ali`i: The Queen’s Women.” Didi volunteered to write the play during a discussion that took place on the way to Pālehua, the area above Makakilo where Judith Flanders, a descendant of Mrs. Kuʻaihelani Campbell, lived back in 2001. A number of friends were gathering at Flander’s house to talk about her great-grandmother, Mrs. Campbell, and the role she played in supporting the Queen and assisting with the gathering of signatures for the Great Petition protesting annexation of Hawai‘i to the United States. The drama was based on the article in the San Francisco Call dated Sept. 22, 1897 titled, “STRANGLING HANDS UPON A NATION’S THROAT: Many Thousands of Native Hawaiians Sign a Protest to the United States Government Against Annexation,” written by Miriam Michelson.
Didi wrote the original script, with some small editing along the way, but essentially kept the script true to Ms. Michelson’s newspaper article. As a director, Didi insisted that she did not want actors to play the various roles. She believed that the spirit of the play was in ancestral resistance captured in the words that Miriam Michelson wrote—the words that eventually made their way to print for the world to see. Didi knew that the spirit of resistance in the words uttered by Hawaiians in the Hilo Salvation Army Hall in 1897, witnessed by Miss Michelson, were applicable to this time, to the present day struggle to resist American domination. In response to threats to the nation and to the Queen’s actions and integrity, Hawaiians of that time left a legacy of action for Hawaiians today to follow. The message then was Kū‘ē and protect our civil rights! The action today is Educate!
“No one will fix a signature
To the paper of the enemy
With its sin of annexation
And sale of native civil rights”
[from Kaulana Na Pua by Ellen Wright Prendergast]
The drama (or what we refer to as ‘the play’) was first performed at the Kana‘ina Building on the grounds of ‘Iolani Palace on Sept. 2, 2001 to celebrate Queen Lili‘uokalani’s birthday. The crowd was large—standing room only. The interest was so great that the play was done twice that same night. Comments by those who attended reflected the feeling that the women in the play, primarily Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. Emma Nawahī, were present in spirit. And the Queen was present. And those kupuna who spoke from the audience during the drama—they were also present. The whole Lāhui was present. It was a night of great emotion and thankfulness for Didi’s courage and commitment to pulling it all together.
After the drama was written, Ka Lei Maile Ali‘i Hawaiian Civic Club was created as a vehicle for educating other Hawaiians, many of them members of Hawaiian civic clubs, about our history, about the Queen’s actions during those trying times at the turn of the century, about the women and men of the Hui Aloha ʻĀina who loved the nation and our moʻi wahine. Didi was a founding member of Ka Lei Maile Aliʻi Hawaiian Civic Club. She gave the club a gift that will last forever, for as long as we choose to honor those who came before us, and who pointed out the direction we must follow if we are to honor them. Didi, in her efforts, creativity and commitment, did the same thing. She is, today, pointing us in the same direction. We honor her today and always for her steadfastness in trying times.
Since 2003, the play has been performed at different times and places throughout Hawaiʻi, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ukiah, and Washington DC. On O‘ahu, performances have been given at the Church of the Crossroads, at the Papakōlea Community Center, at the Kana‘ina Building on the palace grounds annually for the Queen’s birthday celebration, at Nation of Hawai‘i in Waimanalo, at QLCC office in Wai‘anae and Punalu‘u, at Alu Like downtown, at Kaumakapili Church, at UH Mānoa law school, at Waimānalo Beach Park, at the QLCC office in Waimānalo, at the Queen’s statue in downtown Honolulu, in university and high school classrooms, and at family reunions. To date (as of January 2017), the re-enactment has been performed 128 times, and each performance has been different because of the continuously changing cast and new and changing venue that provide new challenges every time. But each time, the ‘ano of our kupuna shines through. They join us in the telling of their story.