Kawānanakoa, the ‘last Hawaiian princess’, dies at 96

HONOLULU (AP) — Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa, the supposedly last Hawaiian princess whose line included the royal family that once ruled the islands and an Irish businessman who became one of the largest landowners in Hawaii, died Sunday. She was 96 years old.

His death was announced Monday morning outside Iolani Palace, the only US royal residence where the Hawaiian monarchy resided but now serves primarily as a museum. As it rained, Paula Akana, Executive Director of ʻIolani Palace, and Hailama Farden, of Hale O Nā Aliʻi O Hawaiʻi, a Royal Hawaiian Society, both descended the palace steps and the driveway to read the announcement in Hawaiian.

A news release later said she died peacefully at her Honolulu home with his wife, Veronica Gail Kawānanakoa, by her side.

“Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawai’i and its people,” his wife of 69 years said in a statement, “and I will miss her with all my heart.”

Kawānanakoa held no official titles, but was a living reminder of the Hawaiian monarchy and a symbol of Hawaiian national identity that endured after the kingdom was overthrown by American businessmen in 1893.

“She was always called a princess among Hawaiians because Hawaiians recognized that lineage,” Kimo Alama Keaulana, assistant professor of Hawaiian language and studies at Honolulu Community College, said in a 2018 interview. attached to genealogy. And so genealogically speaking, she is of high royal blood.

He called her “the last of our alii”, using the Hawaiian word for royalty: “She embodies what Hawaiian royalty is – in all her dignity, intelligence and artistry.”

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 heir to the throne.

Their daughter Lydia Kamaka’eha Liliu’okulani Kawananakoa Morris had Abigail with her husband William Jeremiah Ellerbrock.

After the prince’s death, his widow adopted their grandson, young Abigail, which strengthened his claim to a princess title. She acknowledged in a 2021 interview with Honolulu Magazine that if the monarchy had survived, her cousin Edward Kawānanakoa would be in line to be the ruler, not her.

“Of course I would be the power behind the throne, there’s no doubt about that,” she joked.

Known to family and close friends as “Kekau”, she received more Campbell money than anyone and amassed a trust valued at around $215 million.

She has funded various causes over the years, including scholarships for Native Hawaiian students, opposing the Honolulu rail transit project, supporting protests against a giant telescope, donating items belonging to the King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani for public display, including a 14-carat diamond from the king. pinky ring and palace hold ʻIolani.

Critics have said that because there remain other descendants of the royal family who do not claim any title, Kawānanakoa was singled out as the last Hawaiian princess simply because of her wealth and honorary title.

Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte said many Hawaiians did not want to know if she was a princess and her impact on native culture was minimal.

“We didn’t quite understand what her role was and how she could help us,” Ritte said.

Many Hawaiians couldn’t relate to her, he said. “We call it high maka-maks,” he said, using a Hawaii Pidgin term that can mean upper class.

Born in Honolulu, Kawānanakoa was educated at Punahou, a prestigious preparatory school. She also attended an American school in Shanghai and graduated from the all-female Notre Dame High School in Belmont, California, where she was a boarder.

She was briefly engaged to a man, but most of her long-term relationships were with women.

“She was always curious about what people would do for money,” said Jim Wright, who had been her personal attorney since 1998 until she fired him in 2017 during a bitter court battle over control of his trust.

He recalled a time when the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu asked for a donation of $100,000 to mark the canonization of Saint Marianne. She told him she would only give the money to the church if she could get a picture of Pope Benedict accepting her check, Wright said.

When the bishop agreed, Kawānanakoa was disappointed. “She was really hoping they would tell her to walk away,” Wright said.

Meanwhile, she found the Dalai Lama’s refusal to accept her monetary gifts pleasurable in 2012, Wright said: “She was so happy that someone actually had some integrity.”

One of his passions was breeding racehorses.

She was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2018, with the American Quarter Horse Association noting that she was “the industry’s all-time top breeder leading an operation that has earned more than 10 millions of dollars”.

One of his horses, A Classic Dash, won $1 million in 1993 at the All-American Futurity in New Mexico.

Besides attracting attention with her racehorses, Kawānanakoa gained notoriety when she sat on a throne in ʻIolani Palace for a Life magazine photo shoot in 1998. She damaged some of her fragile wires .

The uproar led to her ousting as president of the Friends of Iolani Palace, a post she held for more than 25 years.

The battle for control of his trust began when a judge approved his attorney Wright as trustee after he suffered a stroke. She claimed she was not intoxicated, fired Wright as her attorney, and married Veronica Gail Worth, her partner of 20 years.

In 2018, Kawānanakoa attempted to alter his trust to ensure his wife would receive $40 million and all of her personal assets, according to court records.

In 2020, a judge ruled that Kawānanakoa was unable to manage her property and affairs because she was intoxicated.

For hearings in the case, his wife drove them to a handicapped stall near the back entrance of a downtown Honolulu courthouse in a black Rolls Royce.

“My wife? Oh, my wife,” she said in a video interview her publicist released in 2019 to address allegations raised in the court case, including the way her wife treated her. it wasn’t for Gail, I wouldn’t be as normal as you see me now,” she said in the video showing her styled hair, makeup face and red manicure.

It was “heartbreaking,” she said, not being able to fulfill her obligation to the Hawaiian people amid legal wrangling over her trust.

“My heritage dictates that I have to take care of the people of Hawaii,” she told a court hearing.

Funeral arrangements were pending.


This version corrects the spelling of Kawānanakoa in the title.

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