Princess Nahienaena

#141 in the Moʻolelo series

Nahienaena* was one of the three aliʻi who could be called the “Royal three,” along with her brothers Liholiho and Kauikeaouli. As the three children of Kamehameha by Keōpūolani, they were the highest ranking chiefs of Hawaiʻi, and of the three, Nahienaena is the least-known. As mentioned in my recent post on Keōpūolani, Kamehameha prostrated himself before “the Royal three” as they outranked him because of their mother’s high birth.

Nahienaena in her paū cloak, said to be one of the largest in existence (housed at Bishop Museum, source: wikimedia commons)

Under William Richards’s paternalistic guidance, Nahienaena turned to Christianity. As it is written in Ka Mooolelo Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian history text (and after which our little Facebook group is named!), Nahienaena tried to turn her brother Kauikeaouli away from his riotous ways and toward “pono” in the Christian context:

 Ia wa, hooikaika hou mai ke Akua i ka pono ma ka waha o Nahienaena, kupaa o Nahienaena ma ka pono ia wa. Kii aku oia a me Kaahumanu a me kekahi poe alii e hoohuli mai ia Kauikeaouli ma ka pono, a ae mai no ia.

Ka Mooolelo Hawaii, 1838, Hawaiian Historical Society Reprint Series, 2005, 113.

Keeping to the old traditions at a time of change, Nahienaena had a devoted relationship with Kauikeaouli which was the bane of William Richards’s existence. He was a father-figure to both, and they could not easily reconcile their love for each other with his teachings. This relationship was depicted in the film Hawaii, based on James Michener’s historical novel, in the characters Mālama and Kelolo (this name is another matter!), who are told that they will “burn in the blazes of everlasting hell” for their incestuousness. The two characters’ children, Keoki and Noelani Kanakoa have a child together that dies – this is also based on Kauikeaouli and Nahienaena. Marjorie Sinclair’s book on the Princess carries the subtle subtitled “a life ensnared.”

In reality, Nahienaena is one of those aliʻi whose cause of death is considered by many to be other than the official cause. This split between Hawaiian culture and missionary teachings seemed to literally tear her apart. According to my former department head and colleague Holoua Stender (who was a kumu hula and later became Headmaster of Kamehameha Hawaiʻi), Kauikeaouli drank every night next to her body for weeks after her death.

*The name is spelled different ways: Nāhiʻenaʻena and Nahiʻenaʻena, as well as I have it above without diacriticals.

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