HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Kawānanakoa family announced that Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa had passed away on Sunday, Dec. 11 at the age of 96.
Her death was revealed to the public on Monday at the Iolani Palace, America’s only royal residence where the Hawaiian monarchy dwelled but now serves mostly as a museum. Kawānanakoa died peacefully in her Nu’uanu home where her wife Veronica Gail Kawānanakoa was by her side.
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“Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawai‘i and its people,” said Veronica, “and I will miss her with all of my heart.”
Princess Abigail was the only child of Princess Lydia Kamaka‘eha Liliu‘okulani Kawānanakoa Morris and William Jeremiah Ellerbrock.
She was born on April 23, 1926, in Honolulu and by the age of five, the princess was legally adopted by her maternal grandmother, Princess Abigail Wahiika‘ahu‘ula Campbell Kawānanakoa. Her grandmother raised her in the regal atmosphere of Hawaiian nobility.
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 boarding student.
Princess Abigail was a patron of the Native Hawaiian language, culture and arts. She 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, 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.”
James Campbell, the princess’s 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 Kawānanakoa, who was named an heir to the throne.
Their daughter Lydia Kamaka‘eha Liliu‘okulani Kawānanakoa 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. She acknowledged in an interview with Honolulu Magazine in 2021 that had the monarchy 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 question about that,” she joked.
Known to family and close friends as “Kekau,” she received more Campbell money than anyone else and amassed a trust valued at about $215 million.
She funded various causes over the years, including scholarships for Native Hawaiian students, opposing Honolulu’s rail transit project, supporting protests against a giant telescope, donating items owned by King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani for public display, including a 14-carat diamond from the king’s pinky ring, and maintaining ʻIolani Palace.
Critics have said because there are other remaining descendants of the royal family who don’t claim any titles, Kawānanakoa was held up as the last Hawaiian princess simply because of her wealth and honorific title.
In honor of the princess, the United States and Hawaiʻi state flags will be flown at half-staff at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol and at all state offices and agencies as well as the Hawaiʻi National Guard.
Services for the princess are in the process of being coordinated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.