Who was Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa, and was she Hawaiian royalty?

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Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa, who was considered the last Hawaiian princess, died last month at the age of 96.

Kawānanakoa was one of the last members of the royal house of Kawānanakoa, who once ruled the islands. Although she didn’t have an official title, she was a living reminder of Hawaii’s monarchy.

In December, her wife, Veronica Gail Kawānanakoa, issued a press release to announce her death.

“Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawai‘i and its people,” the 69-year-old said in a statement, via Associated Press. “And I will miss her with all of my heart.”

The casket bearing the heiress went on public display at Ê»Iolani Palace, in downtown Honolulu. Kawānanakoa was the palace’s largest single benefactor and even paid its electricity bills for many years, according to her publicists.

From her family history to her unofficial title, here’s who Kawānanakoa was and what’s going to happen in the wake of her death.

Who was Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa?

Kawānanakoa became a symbol of the Hawaiian nation’s identity after the kingdom was overthrown by American businessmen in 1893, including her great-grandfather, James Campbell. He notably made his fortune as a sugar plantation owner and was one of Hawaii’s largest landowners.

Campbell’s daughter, Abigail Campbell Kawānanakoa, went on to marry Prince David Kawānanakoa, who was named an heir to the throne.

The Prince and his wife went on to have a daughter, Lydia Liliuokalani Kawānanakoa, who is Kawānanakoa’s biological mother. After the Prince died, Kawānanakoa was adopted by her grandmother, which strengthened her claim to a princess title.

She inherited almost $215 million from the family trust, per Associated Press, and donated a sum of that to help restore the ‘Iolani Palace, which now serves as a museum for the public.

Kawānanakoa also funded various causes, including scholarships for Native Hawaiian students, opposition to Honolulu’s rail transit project and protests against a giant telescope.

She married her longtime partner Veronica in 2017. One year later, she made headlines for changing her trust fund to ensure that her wife would receive $40 million and all her personal property, according to court records. A judge ruled in 2020 that she wasn’t fit to manage her affairs, as her property was being “inappropriately wasted and dissipated”.

Was she a royal?

Although she was the Prince’s widow’s adopted daughter, she did not have a title, so she’s technically not considered royal.

During an interview with Honolulu Magazine in 2021, she said that her monarch’s line of succession would have made her cousin Edward Kawānanakoa ruler and not her since he was the eldest child of King Kalākaua’s oldest sibling.

“So it would have gone directly to Edward. Of course I would be the power behind the throne, there’s no question about that,” she joked.

What happens now that Kawānanakoa has passed?

Since Kawānanakoa was not an official royal and her family’s monarchy had not survived, nothing has changed in regards to Hawaii’s leadership.

Hawaii’s governor Josh Green shared a tribute to her on Facebook after her death. In the post, he expressed his gratitude for all she’s done to help Hawaii’s community and referred to her as “Princess Abigail Kawānanakoa”.

“Abigail bore the weight of her position with dignity and humility, enriched the lives of everyone she touched, and like so many AliÊ»i who came before her, she has left a legacy dedicated to her people in perpetuity,” he wrote at the time.

He also ordered that “the United States flag and the Hawaii state flag be flown at half-staff until sunset” on 18 December 2022.

Along with the public viewing of her casket on Sunday, a private funeral service is scheduled for Monday at Mauna ʻAla, also known as Royal Mausoleum State Monument.