The coffin bearing the 96-year-old heiress long considered the last Hawaiian princess went on public display Sunday at the courthouse in downtown Honolulu who benefited from her wealth. Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa’s coffin, handcrafted from a 165-year-old koa tree that fell in a 2021 storm on the Big Island, arrived at ʻIolani Palace in a hearse. He was greeted with a traditional Hawaiian wail and lineage chant before being carried by members of a law enforcement honor guard down the palace stairs and into the throne room.
Family spokeswoman Caroline Witherspoon called the procession “extremely moving”, saying: “The laments – it was just beautiful. It just caused a visceral reaction for me. I started crying.”
The palace is America’s only royal residence, where the Hawaiian monarchy once resided, but now serves primarily as a museum. Kawānanakoa was the palace’s greatest benefactor, according to his publicists, and even paid his electricity bills for many years.
Members of the public were allowed to queue to view his coffin and were not required to wear the shoe covers that visitors to the palace are normally required to wear as a precaution. A carpet for mourners to walk on has been temporarily installed for viewing. The viewing was scheduled to end at 8 p.m. local time.
Kawānanakoa died at her home in Nuuanu, near downtown Honolulu, on December 11. She died “peacefully” with his wife, Veronica Gail Kawānanakoa, 70, by her side, according to a press release. “Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawaii and its people,” his wife said in the statement, “and I will miss her with all my heart.”
Kawānanakoa held no official titles 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.
In 1895, an unsuccessful attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore Queen Liliʻuokalani to power resulted in her arrest. She was tried before a military tribunal in her own throne room. After being sentenced, she was imprisoned in an upstairs room in the palace for nearly eight months.
Kawānanakoa inherited his wealth from his great-grandfather, Irish businessman James Campbell, who made his fortune as the owner of a sugar cane plantation and one of the largest landowners in Hawaii.
He had married Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine Bright. Their daughter, Abigail Wahiika’ahu’ula Campbell, married Prince David Kawānanakoa, who was named heir to the throne. Their daughter then gave birth to Abigail.
After the prince’s death, his widow adopted their granddaughter, Abigail, which strengthened her claim to a princess title.
She received more Campbell money than anyone else and amassed a trust valued at around $215 million.
In 2017, a court battle began for control of his confidence after he suffered a stroke. In 2018, Kawānanakoa attempted to alter his trust to ensure his wife would receive $40 million and all of her personal assets, according to court records.
Three years later, a judge ruled that Kawānanakoa was unable to manage her property and affairs because she was intoxicated.
Kawānanakoa gained notoriety when she sat on a throne in ʻIolani Palace for a Life magazine photoshoot in 1998. She damaged some of her fragile threads.
The uproar led to her ousting as president of the Friends of Iolani Palace, a post she held for more than 25 years.
In addition to upkeep of the palace, Kawānanakoa has funded various causes over the years, including scholarships for Native Hawaiian students, opposition to the Honolulu rail transit project, and protests against a giant telescope. She also donated items belonging to King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani for public display, including a 14-carat diamond from the king’s pinky ring.
On Friday, Gov. Josh Green ordered U.S. and Hawaiian state flags to be flown at half-mast at the state Capitol and state offices until sunset Monday for his funeral.
A private funeral service is scheduled for Monday at Mauna ʻAla, also known as the Royal Mausoleum State Monument, which is the final resting place of Hawaiian royalty.
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