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 Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi gives us a look at the history that brought about Hawaiʻi’s princess.
91-year-old Abigail Kawanānakoa is referred to by many as princess. This is an honorary title given to descendants of Hawaiʻi's last ruling royal family, which she gets through her grandfather David Kawānanakoa.
Here’s Kalani Akana, historian for Hale O Nā Aliʻi O Hawaiʻi a royal society established to preserve ancient Hawaiian wisdom.
“The royal line comes from David Kawānanakoa whose actually an heir to the throne in the Constitution as designated by King Kalākaua,” says Akana.
King David Kalākaua ruled Hawaiʻi from 1874 to 1891. He and his wife Queen Kapiʻolani could not bear children, so they adopted Kapiʻolani’s sister Kekaulike’s sons, including David who would be the only one to have children.
“Kalākaua and Kapiʻolani adopted the three boys, Kawānanakoa the oldest, Kūhiō, and Edward Keliʻiahonui,” says Akana, “They hānai (adopted) them in the Hawaiian style but also designated them as heirs to the throne.”
Kawānanakoa’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 Kauaʻi.
“We look to her as our princess because of her genealogical ties not only to Kalākaua through Kekaulike but all the way down to Kaumualiʻi,” says Akana, “She is the oldest surviving descendant of King Kaumualiʻi of Kauaʻi.”
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 Hawaiʻiʻs 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 Kawānanakoa is more than her money and her status, she is a symbol of Hawaiian tradition.
“We look to our aliʻi. 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 Hawaiʻi that would recognize that, but we recognize that, we recognize that and that’s all that matters to us.”