`Ano`ai kakou… Before the Kingdom of Hawaii was illegally overthrown in 1893 it was a thriving, internationally recognized nation with a royal family that was beloved by the people. While many of the institutions of the Kingdom of Hawaii may be gone, the royal family continues to live on and flourish to this day.
It is with great admiration and respect that I dedicate this column to honoring Her Royal Highness Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa who celebrated her 90th birthday on April 26th.
The great grandniece of King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapi‘olani, Princess Kawananakoa was born in Honolulu and was adopted by her grandmother, Princess Abigail Kawananakoa, who was the widow of Prince David. She grew up learning from the keepers of our traditions – many of whom had served the monarchy.
Princess Kawananakoa is best known as a philanthropist who has helped sustain authentic Hawaiian history, music, hula, literature, and language. As president of the Friends of ‘Iolani Palace for nearly 30 years, she was the moving force behind the palace’s monumental and historic restoration project. The palace operates as a “living restoration” that tells the story of Hawaii’s monarchy. Visitors leave understanding how advanced a society Hawaiians had created before the overthrow.
Princess Kawananakoa has supported many projects throughout the state, from the first Hawaiian language immersion schools to the historic renovation of the Hawaiian Hall at Bishop Museum which named the kahili room in her honor. She nurtured the Merrie Monarch from its earliest days and continues to be a faithful and generous sponsor of halau.
In 1978, she established the Abigail K. Kawananakoa Foundation to continue her commitment to the preservation of Hawaiian culture and a wide range of charities throughout the world, and she later formed Na Lei Ali‘i Kawananakoa, which serves and represents the interests of Native Hawaiians and has preserved many Hawaiian artifacts.
Known globally for her love of horses and her support of animal rights, Princess Kawananakoa endowed a university chair for research on equine orthopedics at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University from which more than 160 Hawai‘i students have graduated. She has been a pioneer in the use of advanced veterinary science with her horses. These successes have led to her becoming an advocate for translating breakthroughs in veterinary medicine into techniques and therapies that would assist humans.
In 2009, the University of Hawaii conferred an Honorary Doctorate and in 2016, Colorado State University did as well, both recognizing her extraordinary commitment and contributions to civic life.
As holder of the largest share of the Estate of James Campbell, she has encouraged its support of important community programs throughout Ewa. Her dedication of land to create the UH West Oahu campus is another important contribution our Princess has made to education.
Age has not slowed her efforts to help the Hawaiian people and to preserve and protect in perpetuity the legacy passed down to the present generation. She has used her persuasive voice to seek proper stewardship of our natural resources including Mauna Kea and Haleakala.
A matter of common knowledge, but never revealed, is her personal assistance to literally thousands of individual Hawaiians and Hawaii groups in times of distress. Much of what we take for granted as part of the “Hawaiian Renaissance” only exists because of her devotion to seeing that our true heritage is not lost. Aloha Ke Akua.