#138 in the Moʻolelo series
Keōpūolani was the daughter of Kīwalaʻō, who was the son of Kalaniopuʻu and one-time king of Hawaiʻi Island. Her mother was Kekuʻiapoiwa Liliha, Kamehameha’s half-sister. She was born at the time of Cook’s arrival, making her twenty years Kamehameha’s junior. She was sought after by Kamehameha, (who thought of her as a daughter of sorts – the daughter of one of his own generation), only, it seems, for her high rank. He used to call his children by her his “grandchildren,” and prostrated himself in their presence.
The early missionary Charles Stewart, who wrote of Keōpūolani’s kindness, had this to say about the very early convert to Christianity:*
Keopuolani is indefatigable in her efforts of learn to read in her own tongue. It is but a few months that she has been interested in the object of the Mission; and being aged, she has great apprehensions that she may not live till, as she expresses it, she ʻhas learned enough of the good word (of God) and of the right way to go to heaven.’ Her influence is so great, that in this respect, as in every other, her example is very important.
In fact, she died later that year. She was only about 45. Stewart had traveled to Lāhaina with Keopuolani, and later in 1834, the first newspaper, Ka Lama, recounted the event, noting her, Hoapili’s (her then husband) and Princess Nahienaena’s learning of the alphabet:
I ka makahiki o ka Haku, 1823 ka pae ana mai o Keopuolani, me na Misionari ma Lahaina nei. Ia manawa aole kula, aole halekula, aole i makemake na kanaka i ka palapala. Ao no nae o Ke opuolani i ka Piapa, a me Nahienaena, a me Hoapili a me kekahi poe alii, a me kekahi poe kanak[a] o lakou. Hookahi paha haneri ka poe i ao. Aole mahuahua ka poe i ao ia makahiki.Ka Lama Hawaii, Feb. 28, 1834, in Hoʻoilina journal. Accessed at Ulukau.org.
Keōpūolani was of course the mother of Liholiho, Kauikeaouli and Princess Nahienaena (after whom the elementary school in Lāhaina is named. She remains buried at Waiola Church in Lāhaina, never having been moved to Mauna Ala in Nuʻuanu. One mele about her is entitled “Keōpūolani Kauhiakama.”
*Early converts included the Hilo Chiefess Kapiʻolani, daughter of Kamehameha’s rival Keawemaʻuhili. Kaʻahumanu didnʻt convert until 1826.