Public farewells 'last Hawaiian princess'

The casket bearing the 96-year-old heiress long considered the last Hawaiian princess is on public display in the downtown Honolulu palace that benefited from her wealth.

Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike 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 on Sunday in a hearse.

It was greeted by a traditional Hawaiian wailing and a chanting of her lineage before being carried by members of a law enforcement honour guard up the palace's front stairs and into the throne room.

Family spokeswoman Caroline Witherspoon called the procession "extremely emotional".

"The wailing - it was just beautiful. It just caused a visceral reaction for me. I started to cry," she said.

The palace is America's only royal residence, where the Hawaiian monarchy dwelled but which now serves mostly as a museum.

Kawananakoa was the palace's largest single benefactor, according to her publicists, and even paid its electricity bills for many years.

Members of the public were allowed to line up to view her casket and weren't required to wear the shoe coverings palace visitors normally have to wear as a preservation precaution.

A carpet for mourners to walk on was installed for the viewing, scheduled to end at 8pm local time.

Kawananakoa died at her home in Nuuanu, near downtown Honolulu, on December 11.

She passed away "peacefully" with her wife, Veronica Gail Kawananakoa, 70, at her side, according to a news release.

"Abigail will be remembered for her love of Hawaii and its people and I will miss her with all of my heart," her wife said in the release.

Kawananakoa held no formal title 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 US businessmen in 1893.

In 1895, an unsuccessful attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore Queen Lili`uokalani to power resulted in her arrest.

She was put on trial before a military tribunal in her own throne room.

After she was convicted, she was imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom of the palace for almost eight months.

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 $US215 million ($A308 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 her wife would receive $US40 million ($A57 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 gained notoriety when she sat on an `Iolani Palace throne for a Life magazine photo shoot in 1998 and damaged some of its fragile threads.

The uproar led to her ouster as president of Friends of `Iolani Palace, a position she held for more than 25 years.

In addition to the palace's upkeep, Kawananakoa funded various causes including scholarships for Native Hawaiian students, opposition to Honolulu's rail transit project and protests against a giant telescope.

She also donated items owned by King Kalakaua and Queen Kapi`olani for public display, including a 14-carat diamond from the king's pinky ring.

On Friday, Governor Josh Green ordered US and Hawaii state flags to be flown at half-staff at the state Capitol and state offices until sundown Monday for her funeral services.

A private funeral service is scheduled for Monday at Mauna `Ala, also known as the Royal Mausoleum State Monument, which is the burial place of Hawaiian royalty.