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Viewing of Kawananakoa’s casket draws crowd to Iolani Palace

Allison Schaefers
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A queue of people waited Sunday outside Iolani Palace to pay their respects to Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, Campbell Estate heiress.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

A queue of people waited Sunday outside Iolani Palace to pay their respects to Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, Campbell Estate heiress.

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A public memorial was held Sunday at Iolani Palace for Campbell Estate heiress Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, who died Dec. 11. Above, law enforcement honor guards carried Kawananakoa’s koa casket up the palace stairs to the throne room.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

A public memorial was held Sunday at Iolani Palace for Campbell Estate heiress Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, who died Dec. 11. Above, law enforcement honor guards carried Kawananakoa’s koa casket up the palace stairs to the throne room.

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Standing nearby was wife Veronica Gail Kawananakoa.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

Standing nearby was wife Veronica Gail Kawananakoa.

COURTESY PHOTO
                                Abigail Kawananakoa
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COURTESY PHOTO

Abigail Kawananakoa

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I saluted during the procession along the driveway to Iolani Palace.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

Members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I saluted during the procession along the driveway to Iolani Palace.

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A queue of people waited Sunday outside Iolani Palace to pay their respects to Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, Campbell Estate heiress.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A public memorial was held Sunday at Iolani Palace for Campbell Estate heiress Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, who died Dec. 11. Above, law enforcement honor guards carried Kawananakoa’s koa casket up the palace stairs to the throne room.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Standing nearby was wife Veronica Gail Kawananakoa.
COURTESY PHOTO
                                Abigail Kawananakoa
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I saluted during the procession along the driveway to Iolani Palace.

Related Photo Gallery

Public memorial held for late heiress Abigail Kawananakoa at ‘Iolani Palace

Lines of people thronged the sidewalk in front of Iolani Palace on Sunday for a chance to pay their respects to Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, the first member of a Native Hawaiian royal family to lie in state for a public viewing at Iolani Palace in more than a century.

Kawananakoa, who died Dec. 11 at the age of 96, held no formal title but was considered a princess because she was a member of the Royal House of Kawananakoa, which had close family ties to Hawaii’s last two reigning monarchs, King Kalakaua and Queen Lili‘uokulani.

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. She is the first royal to lie in state at the palace since 1922, when Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole was honored.

Paula Akana, executive director at The Friends of Iolani Palace, said Kawananakoa previously had been offered the state Capitol for a public viewing but requested the palace, which her mother, Liliuokalani Kawananakoa Morris, formed The Friends of Iolani Palace to support.

Akana said Kawananakoa “provided a lot of leadership over the years, but she also really put her money where her mouth is. She gave us over $2 million of her own funds for many projects, including our utilities. It’s our honor to have her. It’s our way of saying thank you for everything that she did over the years.”

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 with a traditional Hawaiian wailing from Hai­lama Farden, the Iku Naha­lani (premier) of Hale o na Ali‘i o Hawai‘i, one of four Hawaiian Royal Societies carrying out duties during the public viewing.

Hawaii performer Manu Boyd chanted Kawananakoa’s lineage before her casket was carried by members of a law enforcement honor guard up the palace’s front stairs and into the throne room for a public viewing held from 2 to 8 p.m.

After the procession, Farden was moved to tears as he described composing the wailing, which he said is sometimes a eulogy, sometimes a poem but always a lament, where a loved one is mourned.

“We talk about her contributions, as well the elements of nature mourning her loss,” he said. “Our princess understood that her people were her responsibility, and any opportunity that she had, she lent her support. Her significance was beyond measure.”

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. She received more Campbell money than anyone else and amassed a trust valued at about $215 million.

In 2017 a court battle began over control of her trust after she suffered a stroke. In 2018, Kawananakoa attempted to amend her trust to ensure that her wife would receive $40 million and all her personal property, according to court records. Three years later a judge ruled that Kawananakoa was unable to manage her property and business affairs because she was impaired.

Kawananakoa’s 70-year-old wife, Veronica Gail Kawananakoa, poignantly stood behind her closed casket during the public viewing in the lavishly decorated throne room, where King Kalakaua held formal audiences, diplomatic receptions and state balls, and Queen Lili‘uokalani was tried for trying to reestablish the Hawaiian monarchy.

Ironically, Kawananakoa sat on an Iolani Palace throne for a Life magazine photo shoot in 1998, leading to an uproar that caused her to resign from her role as president of the The Friends of Iolani Palace.

Even so, Kawananakoa continued to support the palace’s upkeep. She had many other interests, including horse racing, and funded many other causes over the years, including scholarships for Native Hawaiian students, opposition to Honolulu’s rail transit project and protests against a giant telescope.

Sandy Xay was among a large contingent from Wat Lao Sithammaram that brought flowered topiaries to Kawananakoa in recognition of her support.

“For us she’s really special. She helped a lot of temples,” Xay said. “She blessed our temple. It wouldn’t be here without her. We pray for her.”

By 5 p.m. some 1,300 people already had come to the viewing, including Pua Castaneda, her daughter Reina Castaneda and her grandson Zacestyn Le, a Kamehameha Schools student.

Pua Castaneda said, “It was a must to come today. I didn’t want to miss this. In my time, nothing like this has happened. It’s a very great honor for the public to be included.”

Maori monarch Tuheitia Paki flew into Hawaii on Sunday to pay tribute to Kawananakoa. She also was visited by the diplomatic core and by Gov. Josh Green and first lady Jaime Green.

On Friday, Green ordered the U.S. and state flags to fly at half-staff at the state Capitol and all state offices from sundown Saturday through sundown today.

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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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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