Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, 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 Hawaii's largest landowners, died on Sunday. She was 96. Her death was announced Monday morning outside Iolani Palace, America's only royal residence, a museum where the Hawaiian monarchy once dwelled. As it rained, Paula Akana, executive director of the palace, and Hailama Farden, of Hale o Na Ali'i o Hawai'i, a royal Hawaiian society, both walked down the palace steps and driveway to read the announcement in Hawaiian, per the AP. A news release later said Kawananakoa died peacefully in her Honolulu home with her wife, Veronica Gail Kawananakoa, at her side.
"Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawaii and its people, and I will miss her with all of my heart," her 69-year-old wife said in a statement. Kawananakoa held no formal title but was a living reminder of Hawaii's monarchy and a symbol of Hawaiian national identity that endured after the kingdom was overthrown by American businessmen in 1893. "She was always called princess among Hawaiians because Hawaiians have acknowledged that lineage," Kimo Alama Keaulana, an assistant professor of Hawaiian language and studies at Honolulu Community College, said in a 2018 interview. "Hawaiians hold dear to genealogy. And so genealogically speaking, she is of high royal blood." He called her "the last of our ali'i," using the Hawaiian word for "royalty," noting, "She epitomizes what Hawaiian royalty is—in all its dignity and intelligence and art."
James Campbell, her great-grandfather, was an Irish businessman who made his fortune as a sugar plantation owner and one of Hawaii's largest landowners. He had married Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine Bright. Their daughter, Abigail Wahiika'ahu'ula Campbell, married Prince David Kawananakoa, who was named an heir to the throne. Their daughter Lydia Kamaka'eha Liliu'okulani Kawananakoa Morris had Abigail with her husband, William Jeremiah Ellerbrock. After the prince died, his widow adopted their grandchild, the young Abigail, which strengthened her claim to a princess title. Critics have said because there are other remaining descendants of the royal family who don't claim any titles, Kawananakoa was held up as the last Hawaiian princess simply because of her wealth and honorific title.
Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte said many Hawaiians aren't interested in whether she was a princess, that her impact on Indigenous culture was minimal, and that many Hawaiians couldn't relate to her. "We call it the high maka maka," he said, using a Hawaiian pidgin term that can mean upper class. Kawananakoa herself acknowledged in an interview with Honolulu Magazine in 2021 that had the monarchy survived, her cousin Edward Kawananakoa would have been in line to be the ruler, not her. "Of course, I would be the power behind the throne, there's no question about that," she joked. She was engaged briefly to a man, but most of her long-term relationships were with women. She married Veronica Gail Worth, her partner of 20 years, in 2017. Funeral arrangements were pending. Much more on Kawananakoa's life here.
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