He mea Lokomaikaʻi a ka Lehulehu: Benefactor of the Multitude – Ruth Keʻelikōlani

#75 in the Moʻolelo series

Ruth Keʻelikōlani was born in 1826 at Pohukaina, Oʻahu. She was the daughter of the high chief Pauahi (this is Pauahi I, not Bernie Pauahi) and Kekuanaoʻa, according to Kalena Silva. Her full name was Luka (Ruth) Ke‘elikōlani Keanolani Kanāhoahoa. Rubellite Kawena Johnson notes that Ruth, like Kamehameha before her, was poʻolua. According to Johnson, while “Kekuanaoʻa recognized Keʻelikōlani as his daughter by his first wife Pauahi,” her father may have been Kahalaia, a grandson of Kamehameha I. Also, while Johnson notes that “Lot Kapuāiwa recognized her as the daughter of Kahalaia,” he also did not name her as heir to the throne upon his deathbed, because it was not known for sure whether she was a Kamehameha descendant, and he was adamant that the throne go to a Kamehameha descendant (which may be why he called himself “Lot Kamehameha”).

She was married to William Pitt Leleiohoku, who tragically passed away still in his twenties. She remarried, this time to Isaac Young Davis, the handsome grandson of Isaac Davis, but later divorced.*

Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani

The Center for Biographical Research at UH Mānoa summarizes her bold life:

Ruth Ke‘elikōlani was a formidable presence in nineteenth-century Hawai‘i who refused to speak English, practice Christianity, or leave the Hawaiian Islands. Though her life was darkened by the deaths of her children and her beloved first husband, she was a popular and strong force who resisted the kingdom’s drift toward annexation. Her personal appeals to the goddess Pele were said to have stopped a lava flow that threatened to destroy Hilo. 


Ruth’s mana were in evidence on Hawaiʻi Island (she was governor of the island), when Hilo was threatened by lava. Hawaiʻi Alive relates the scene as described in Hawaiian language newspapers:

The Hawaiian-language newspaper Ko Hawai‘i Pae Aina published a letter with the heading “Ka Pele ai Honua ma Hilo” (Pele, devourer of land at Hilo) that describes the immediate danger, “Hapalua Mile ka Mamao mai ke Koana aku” (the distance from town being only one half mile). Ke‘elikōlani offered traditional oli (chants) and ho‘okupu (tribute) to Pele and later reportedly camped at the foot of the flow. The flow stopped just short of town.


Seeing Kalākaua, who she considered her inferior, build ʻIolani Palace, Princess Ruth decided she would not be outdone and built the grand Keoua Hale – three stories to the palace’s two. It contained a grand ballroom with a monogrammed seal in the center of the domed ceiling. (This seal is in the Kamehameha Heritage Center). Keoua Hale was on what is today the site of Central Middle School.As governor of Hawaiʻi Island she lived at Huliheʻe Palace. Despite these grand dwellings, Ruth spent much of her time in a grand hale pili. Ruth died in 1883 at the age of 57 and bequeathed her immense landholdings and Keoua Hale to Bernice Pauahi, which now make up the bulk of the Bishop Estate. Kahauanu Lake wrote a mele for Princess Ruth, “Keʻelikōlani Nui:”

He amo o nā mōʻī

E hiʻipoi ʻia

He mea Lokomaikaʻi

A ka Lehulehu

A descendant of kings



Of the multitudes

“Keʻelikōlani Nui” by Kahauanu Lake

*If my sources are correct, she had a child with Davis long after being divorced

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