Abigail Kawananakoa wants to know where her great-grand-uncle’s bed is. His royal bed. The bed that David Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii, slept in.
When the royal family of Hawaii was deposed in 1894, King Kalakaua’s 19th century ebony and gilt bed was sold off, along with many of the palace’s other contents.
Today, Princess Abigail is the oldest living descendent of Hawaii’s royalty, and she is honoring her ancestors by attempting to recover their royal artifacts, including King Kalakaua’s bed.
The Legacy of the King
King Kalakaua took the throne in February of 1874, almost 80 years after the Hawaiian islands were first unified. During his reign, he revived hula dancing and surfing and popularized the ukulele, cementing all three as embodiments of Hawaiian culture. Based on his travels throughout Europe, he also rebuilt the royal residence, known as the Iolani Palace, in a grand Italianate style.
A Queen Without a Throne
After King Kalakaua died on January 20, 1891, his sister Lili’uokalani became the last royal ruler of Hawaii. When the state’s economic leaders got word in 1894 that Queen Lili’uokalani was planning to push through a new constitution that would strengthen Hawaii’s independence, several Americans led a coup that deposed Queen Lili’uokalani and helped the United States establish the Republic of Hawaii.
A year later, Queen Lili’uokalani was arrested for plotting to aid counter-revolutionaries. She was sentenced to eight months of house arrest in the Iolani Palace. The United States annexed Hawaii in 1898 and made Hawaii its 50th state in 1959.
Royal Treasures Pillaged
After Queen Lili’uokalani was deposed, the new government ransacked the Iolani Palace and auctioned off porcelain plates, silverware, King Kalakaua’s bed, and whatever else it couldn’t use. The royal possessions remained scattered around the world until Princess Abigail’s mother founded the Friends of Iolani Palace to restore the former royal residence. Princess Abigail, now 90, is still leading the effort to to retrieve her ancestors’ former belongings.
Thanks to those efforts, Palace objects have been returned from 36 states and four foreign countries, including porcelain plates returned from Australia, a table found in the Governor’s mansion in Iowa, to a chair in a local thrift store.
Princess Abigail has contributed to the culture of her Hawaiian ancestors in other ways. Princess Abigail is also the great-granddaughter of James Campbell, a 19th century industrialist who grew rich processing Hawaiian sugar and became one of the largest landowners in the territory of Hawaii. (In 1902, Campbell’s daughter married the nephew of King Kalakaua’s wife. Campbell’s daughter and the Queen’s nephew became Princess Abigail’s maternal grandparents.)
When the trust that Campbell established finally dissolved in 2007, Princess Abigail was one of the biggest beneficiaries, and she used some of her millions to establish the Abigail K. Kawananakoa Foundation to support the preservation of Hawaiian culture.
If you want to learn more about Princess Abigail’s family, you can review Ancestry.com’s collection of records related to Queen Lili’uokalani and her struggle to maintain the independence of her people.
Discover Your Own Family Treasures
But unlike Princess Abigail, you don’t need a sugar baron’s money to honor your ancestors. And your ancestors don’t have to be Hawaiian royalty for you to honor them. Ancestry can help you honor your forebears by helping you learn about their lives and their contributions to the world around them.
If you’re interested in learning what your ancestors owned, you can uses Ancestry to research probate inventories — lists of an individual’s assets at his death, and some of the richest sources of geneaological records available. Start your search today.