Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani

Hawaiian Kingdom Princess

Ruth Luka Keanolani Kauanahoahoa Keʻelikōlani

Hawaiian Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani was a formal member of the House of Kamehameha, the founding dynasty of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Governor of Hawai’i Island and for a period, the largest and wealthiest landowner in the Hawaiian islands.

She was born in June 1826 at Pohukaina near the ʻIolani Palace. Her mother Kalani Pauahi died during her childbirth so Ke‘elikōlani was hānai adopted by Queen Kaʻahumanu.

As the Hawaiian Kingdom became Christianized and urbanized, Princess Ke‘elikōlani was a fierce advocate of ancient Hawaiian traditions, and customs. Although raised around the Christian religion and her hānai mother Queen Kaʻahumanu converting to christianity she honored the practice of chanting and hula dancing.

She choose to live as a noble woman of antiquity. While her royal estates were filled with elegant palaces and mansions built for her family, she chose to live in a large traditional stone-raised grass house. While she understood English and spoke it well, she used the Hawaiian language exclusively, requiring English-speakers to use a translator.

Princess Ke‘elikōlani was best known for saving the town of Hilo from destructive lava flows during the 1880-1881 Mauna Loa eruption. As the flows got closer to town, Princess Ruth arrived in Hilo from Honolulu and observed the eruption from her encampment above town. Princess Regent Liliʻuokalani and her entourage arrived in Hilo a week later and both princesses met with local officials to figure out how to save the town.

Tactics discussed included building barriers to divert the lava flow and blasting lava conduits with dynamite. Instead of desecrating Pele, Princess Ke‘elikōlani offered Pele bright red scarves, a bottle of brandy and a lock of her hair. She chanted to Pele and asked her to stop the flow, and go home. The princess slept near the flows that night. The next morning Pele heeded the princess and the lava flows stopped sparing Hilo town.

Princess Ke‘elikōlani died in 1883 as one of the primary heirs to the Kamehameha family. Her inherited lands would become the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate, funding the Kamehameha Schools.

Related Article: Ke’elikōlani School

More on Ke‘elikōlani