As was the case in many parts of the world, initial Hawaiian contact with the West led to the centralization of governing institutions. The ability of certain kings and chiefs to establish relationships with the West and count on Western military and economic support tipped the local balances of power. Moreover, the colonial powers often preferred to deal with one local ruler instead of trying to understand the complications of local governance. In 1795, King Kamehameha the Great took advantage of English weapons, tactics, and assistance to raise an army of 10000 and conquer Molakai, Maui, and and Oahu, establishing the Kingdom of Hawaii. By 1810, the rest of the islands had accepted his rule, uniting Hawaii under one authority for the first time in recorded history. Kamehameha the Great was also reputed to have carried a 1000# stone between two villages without dropping it, and to have overturned the 5000# Naha stone, a feat roughly equivalent to withdrawing Excalibur from the rock. Frankly, the former seems somewhat more impressive than the latter.
The Kingdom of Hawaii survived an annexation attempt by Great Britain in 1843, and was recognized by France and Britain as an independent state late in the same year. During the second half of the nineteenth century, increasing numbers of Americans began moving to Hawaii and taking over local agriculture. In 1872 the House of Kamehameha died without issue, leading to the brief reign of William Lunalilo and the eventual election of David Kalakuau, head of a noble family from Kauai. King Kalakuau visited President Ulysses S. Grant in 1874, leading to a treaty that further opened Hawaii to American investment. A rebellion in 1887 created the Bayonet Constitution, which disenfranchised most native Hawaiians in favor of wealthy European and American landowners. Queen Liliuokalani succeeded Kalakaua in 1891, and began an effort to revise the constitution and restore power to the monarchy. This led to another rebellion, which drove Liliuokalani from the throne. An attempt by President Grover Cleveland to put Liliuokalani back on the throne in 1894 foundered on her objections to an amnesty and on American bureaucratic politics. After some disarray, the Republic of Hawaii, led by Sanford P. Dole, was established, and Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898.
Liliokalani died without issue in 1917, at which point things get complicated for Hawaiian monarchists. As detailed by Raf Noboa in comments last week, the claim to the throne passed to David Kawananakoa, son of Princess Kuhio, fifth in line to the throne as per David Kalakua’s wishes. The heirs of House Kawananakoa have remained active in island politics. David Kawananakoa played a role at the 1900 Democratic National Convention, although the family soon became tightly tied with the Republican Party of Hawaii. The current heir to the throne is Quentin Kawananakoa, who served in the Hawaiian State House of Representatives between 1994 and 1998, and recently lost the Republican Senate primary by 200 votes.
Prospects for a return to the throne seem grim. In spite of the persistence of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, it is difficult to envisage a set of circumstances in which Hawaii would regain its independence from the United States. Indeed, the connection of the Kawananakoa family to the Republican Party has made it distasteful among some native Hawaiian circles, leading to a preference for other subsidiary lines of the Kamehameha dynasty or even (gasp!) a republic. The most plausible path for a return to the throne probably lies in a the establishment of a form of native Hawaiian sovereignty similar to tribal sovereignty in the rest of the United States.
Trivia: The last reigning King of what royal family is the only European monarch to be buried on American soil?