Public viewing at palace for ‘last Hawaiian princess’

HONOLULU — The casket bearing the 96-year-old heiress long considered the last Hawaiian princess went on public display Sunday in the downtown Honolulu palace that benefited from her wealth.

Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa’s casket, handcrafted from a 165-year-old koa tree that fell during a 2021 storm on the Big Island, arrived at ‘Iolani Palace in a hearse. It was greeted by a traditional Hawaiian wailing and a chanting of her lineage before being carried by members of a law enforcement honor guard up the palace’s front stairs and into the throne room.


Family spokesperson Caroline Witherspoon called the procession “extremely emotional,” saying, “The wailing — it was just beautiful. It just caused a visceral reaction for me. I started to cry.”

The palace is America’s only royal residence, where the Hawaiian monarchy dwelled but now serves mostly as a museum. Kawananakoa was the palace’s largest single benefactor, according to her publicists, and even paid its electricity bills for many years.

Members of the public were allowed to line up to view her casket and weren’t required to wear the shoe coverings that palace visitors normally have to wear as a preservation precaution. A carpet for mourners to walk on was temporarily installed for the viewing.

Kawananakoa died at her home in Nuuanu, near downtown Honolulu on Dec. 11. She died “peacefully” with her wife, Veronica Gail Kawananakoa, 70, at her side, according to a news release.

“Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawaii and its people,” her wife said in the release, “and I will miss her with all of my heart.”

Kawananakoa held no formal title but was considered a princess because her lineage included the royal family that once ruled the Hawaiian islands. She was a reminder of Hawaii’s monarchy and a symbol of its national identity that endured after the kingdom was overthrown by American businessmen in 1893.

Kawananakoa inherited her wealth from her great-grandfather, Irish businessman James Campbell, 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 then went on to give birth to Abigail.

After the prince died, his widow adopted their grandchild, Abigail, which strengthened her claim to a princess title.

In addition to the palace’s upkeep, Kawananakoa funded various causes over the years, including scholarships for Native Hawaiian students, opposition to Honolulu’s rail transit project and protests against a giant telescope. She also donated items owned by King Kalakaua and Queen Kapi‘olani for public display, including a 14-carat diamond from the king’s pinky ring.

A private funeral service is scheduled for today at Mauna ‘Ala, also known as Royal Mausoleum State Monument, which is the burial place of Hawaiian royalty.

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