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The Makings of Hawai?i's Princess Kaw?nanakoa

Colorado State University

There’s an ongoing court battle involving the health and future of the woman some call Hawai’i’s last princess. Apart from the legal case itself, it’s a story of royalty….and how that lineage continues to this day. HPR’s Ku?uwehi Hiraishi gives us a look at the history that brought about Hawai?i’s princess.

91-year-old Abigail Kawan?nakoa is referred to by many as princess. This is an honorary title given to descendants of Hawai?i's last ruling royal family, which she gets through her grandfather David Kaw?nanakoa. 

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Here’s Kalani Akana, historian for Hale O N? Ali?i O Hawai?i a royal society established to preserve ancient Hawaiian wisdom.

“The royal line comes from David Kaw?nanakoa whose actually an heir to the throne in the Constitution as designated by King Kal?kaua,” says Akana.

King David Kal?kaua ruled Hawai?i from 1874 to 1891. He and his wife Queen Kapi?olani could not bear children, so they adopted Kapi?olani’s sister Kekaulike’s sons, including David who would be the only one to have children.

Credit Wikimedia Commons
(L-R) Princes Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, David Laamea Kahalepouli Kinoiki Kawananakoa, and Edward Abnel Keliiahonui were adopted by their aunty and uncle Queen Kapiolani and King David Kalakaua.

“Kal?kaua and Kapi?olani adopted the three boys, Kaw?nanakoa the oldest, K?hi?, and Edward Keli?iahonui,” says Akana, “They h?nai (adopted) them in the Hawaiian style but also designated them as heirs to the throne.”

Kaw?nanakoa’s tie to this constitutional designation is the main reason she and the family are considered “the” Hawaiian royal family. The princess also traces her royal lineage to the last ruling chief of Kaua?i.

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Hawai?i industrialist James Campbell is Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa's great-grandfather. She inherited royal lineage from her maternal grandfather and wealth from her maternal grandmother, Abigail Wahiikaahuula Campbell.

“We look to her as our princess because of her genealogical ties not only to Kal?kaua through Kekaulike but all the way down to Kaumuali?i,” says Akana, “She is the oldest surviving descendant of King Kaumuali?i of Kaua?i.”

Royal lineage, a constitutional designation, what else could a princess need? Money. Princess Abigail’s grandfather David married into money when he took as his wife the eldest daughter of wealthy industrialist and one of Hawai?i?s largest landowners James Campbell. As one of more than 170 heirs to the Campbell Estate, the Princess’ trust is worth an estimated $215 million.

But for Akana, Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kaw?nanakoa is more than her money and her status, she is a symbol of Hawaiian tradition.

“We look to our ali?i. These are all the people we look to for being our traditional leaders, traditional sources of our mana, traditional keepers of our history,” says Akana, “In truth, they hold no title, right? Because there’s no constitution in the state of Hawai?i that would recognize that, but we recognize that, we recognize that and that’s all that matters to us.”

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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