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Kawānanakoa to join parents at Mauna ʻAla, the burial place of Hawaiian royalty

Mauna ʻAla dlnr
Courtesy Department of Land and Natural Resources
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An aerial photo of Mauna ʻAla, the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaiʻi.

This month's burial of Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa has taken a decade of preparation. It started with her request in 2013 to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for permission to join her adoptive parents buried at the royal cemetery, Mauna ʻAla.

kawananakoa.jpg Abigail Kawānanakoa
Courtesy Friends of ʻIolani Palace
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Abigail Kawānanakoa, the so-called last Hawaiian princess whose lineage included the royal family that once ruled the islands and an Irish businessman who became one of Hawaiʻi’s largest landowners, died on Dec. 11, 2023. She was 96.

She died on Dec. 11 at age 96.

Not everyone in the Hawaiian community agreed it was appropriate for her to be interred there. Some people consider her a princess, some do not. Kawānanakoa held no formal title but was a living reminder of Hawaiʻi’s monarchy.

The board deferred to the late Kahu William Maioho whose family was charged with taking care of the aliʻi. He believed it was appropriate to honor her wish to be buried with her family. His son Bill Maioho Jr. is the current caretaker.

On a visit to Mauna ʻAla, The Conversation bumped into Robbie Alm, the court-appointed conservator for the late Kawānanakoa.

Alm is preparing the details of her memorial service at the royal mausoleum and the plans for her lying-in-state at ʻIolani Palace.

He spoke to The Conversation about the recent landscaping improvements at Mauna ʻAla that Kawānanakoa paid for in the state-run cemetery.

"She's also a member, her foundation of Mālama Mauna ʻAla, the group of elite trusts that have taken responsibility along with the state for the grounds and buildings here. And one of the things we talked about was landscaping," Alm said. "I shared with her my sense that the landscaping was not in great shape, it was on the list of things Mālama Mauna ʻAla wanted to get to. So at one point, she just said, take care of it, make it right. I'm going to go up there and I'd really like it to be right."

"That was a gift from her to those she's joining, and her sense of making it right before she came. And so we were able to tell her before she passed that all of that had been done, let her kind of see what it looked like and that it had been done to her standards," he added.

She will lie in state at ʻIolani Palace on Sunday, Jan. 22 with a special ceremony at Mauna ʻAla for an invitation-only gathering. Construction on her tomb started after the ʻOnipaʻa ceremony on Tuesday.

Alm said the tomb was designed by Kawānanakoa and builder Robert Mandich. As part of her agreement with the state, Kawānanakoa's foundation is responsible for the upkeep of the tomb in perpetuity.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Jan. 13, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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