Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa, Hawaii’s “last princess,” has died. She was aged 96.
According to a statement released by America’s only royal residence – Iolani Palace, the historic home of the royal family – the heiress died peacefully at home in Honolulu on Sunday with her wife beside her.
The cause of death has not been announced.
Simply known to her friends as Kekau, the philanthropist was one of the last living links to the royal family and was renowned for her support of traditional Hawaiian culture.
“Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawaii and its people,” her wife Veronica Gail Kawānanakoa said. “I will miss her with all of my heart.”
Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii was among those to pay tribute to Abigail, saying he and his wife were “deeply saddened” by the loss.
“Abigail bore the weight of her position with dignity and humility, enriched the lives of everyone she touched, and like so many Aliʻi who came before her, she has left a legacy dedicated to her people in perpetuity.”
He ordered that flags be flown at half mast for the rest of Sunday in her honour.
Abigail’s great wealth estimated at $215m and was held in trust, came from her sugar plantation owner great-grandfather, James Campbell – an Irish businessman.
Campbell’s daughter married Prince David Kawānanakoa – third in line to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii when American businessmen staged a coup and overthrew the royal family in 1893.
President Grover Cleveland of the United States described the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy as an “embarrassment.”
When the prince died in 1908, his widow adopted their grandchild through the traditional Hawaiian custom of “hānai,” strengthening Abigail’s claim to the informal title of princess.
Even though some genealogists say Princess Kawānanakoa had the strongest royal ties to Hawaii, a separate branch of the former royal family claims that Princess Owana Ka’ohelelani is the rightful head of the modern-day dynasty.
Abigail herself admitted in a 2021 interview with Honolulu Magazine that had the monarchy survived, her cousin Edward Kawānanakoa would have been in line to rule ahead of her, going by the rules of succession.
“Of course I would be the power behind the throne, there’s no question about that,” she joked.
Her acts of philanthropy included funding scholarships for indigenous Hawaiians and contributing to the upkeep of Iolani Palace – now a museum.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Abigail used the Abigail KK Kawananakoa Foundation she set up in 2001 to put aside $100m of her wealth to support native Hawaiian causes upon her death.
Her friends say she had a sense of mischief and was known to test religious leaders by offering them large sums of money mostly in exchange for outrageous demands.
Her personal lawyer since 1998 – Jim Wright – recalled how she once agreed to a request for a $100,000 donation from the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu.
She agreed to make the payment – but only if she could get a photo of Pope Benedict XVI accepting her cheque.