Reportedly, Liliha was the daughter of Kalaniulumoku II (or Koakanu) and Loeau, who were themselves full blooded brother and sister (children of Kalaniulumoku I and his own mother the venerable kapu chiefess Kalanikuiokikilo.)
This makes Liliha a niaupio child, a chiefess of the highest possible princely rank in the system of Hawaiian chiefs. She was hanai (adopted) daughter of Ulumāheihei (Hoapili.) (Kekoolani)
Ulumāheihei’s father, High Chief Kameʻeiamoku, was one of the “royal twins” who helped Kamehameha I come to power – the twins are on the Islands’ coat of arms – Kameʻeiamoku is on the right (bearing a kahili,) his brother, Kamanawa is on the left, holding a spear.
Liliha was reared in the traditional cultural system of the day. As a young woman, Liliha witnessed Ka‘ahumanu’s successful assault on the ancient kapu system. She was the wife of Kahalaia, but was soon preempted by his uncle, Boki, the governor of O‘ahu.
Liliha was known as a woman who took her pleasures seriously. She apparently had several husbands in her life and was also quite fond of strong spirits. These characteristics made her a natural opponent of the Protestant missionaries and Ka‘ahumanu. (Kurkjian)
Boki was appointed governor of O‘ahu and confirmed in his post by Kamehameha II. Boki agreed to the breaking of the kapu in 1819 and accepted the Protestant missionaries arriving in 1820, although he had been baptized as a Catholic aboard the French vessel of Louis de Freycinet, along with Boki’s brother, Kalanimōku, the previous year.
Boki, Liliha, and Mataio Kekūanāo‘a were principal members of the entourage that accompanied Liholiho (King Kamehameha II) and Kamāmalu his Queen) on an 1824 diplomatic tour of the United Kingdom, visiting King George IV.
Liholiho and Kamāmalu contracted measles. George IV took great care of the king and sent his own physician to take charge of the case, but first Queen Kamāmalu died, July 8, 1824, and five days later Liholiho, died in London at the age of twenty-six. Their bodies were sent home on a British warship, Blonde. (Kamakau)
King George IV encouraged Boki and Liliha “to take good care of the missionaries for they were sent to teach the nation the word of God and to enlighten them”. (Damon) However, they had serious disagreements with the missionaries and Ka‘ahumanu, their strong supporter.
Kaʻahumanu pronounced certain laws banning things such as: murder, robbery, cheating, and stealing; adultery and prostitution and the manufacture of liquor.
Ka‘ahumanu and the council in May, 1827, charged Boki and Liliha with misconduct, intemperance, fornication and adultery, and had them fined. In return, Boki and Liliha objected to the laws and made no effort to enforce them. (Kelley)
At times the peace of the country was threatened by this division, as when Governor Boki of O‘ahu in 1829 seemed on the point of attempting to overthrow Ka‘ahumanu. (Kuykendall)
Boki incurred large debts and, in 1829, attempted to cover them by assembling a group of followers and set out for a newly discovered island with sandalwood in the New Hebrides.
Boki fitted out two ships, the Kamehameha and the Becket; before sailing Boki announced that Liliha was to be his successor as governor of O‘ahu. Unfortunately, Boki and two hundred and fifty of his men apparently died at sea.
Just prior to Boki’s sailing in search of sandalwood, the lands of Kapunahou and Kukuluaeʻo were transferred to Hiram Bingham for the purpose of establishing a school, later to be known as Oʻahu College (now, Punahou School.)
These lands had first been given to Kame‘eiamoku, a faithful chief serving under Kamehameha, following Kamehameha’s conquest of Oʻahu in 1795. At Kameʻeiamoku’s death in 1802, the land transferred to his son Hoapili, who resided there from 1804 to 1811. Hoapili passed the property to his daughter Liliha.
Sworn testimony before the Land Commission in 1849, and that body’s ultimate decision, noted that the “land was given by Governor Boki about the year 1829 to Hiram Bingham for the use of the Sandwich Islands Mission.”
The decision was made over the objection from Liliha; however, Hoapili confirmed the gift. It was considered to be a gift from Kaʻahumanu, Kuhina Nui or Queen Regent at that time.
Due to Liliha’s excesses, Kaʻahumanu had taken the king away from Liliha because she was afraid of her influence over him because of her indulging in drinking and other worldly pleasures.
Rumors of war were spread; they plotted to disembowel Kaʻahumanu and cut off her head. Liliha was implicated in the threats. In October, 1830, there was a meeting of the council of chiefs.
The main things decided by the council included: removal of Liliha from the governorship of O‘ahu; all land and other property belonging to the king left by Boki in Liliha’s care to be taken away from her and the removal of the king from Liliha’s care.
“At a public meeting on the first of April, 1831, the young king declared the control of Oahu to be in the hands of Kaahumanu. She appointed her brother, J. Adams (Kuakini,) to the governorship. He declared his purpose to restrain crimes and immoralities …”
“… such as had been specified in the edict of 1829, but had not been well enforced, including Sabbath-breaking, gambling, and the traffic in ardent spirits.” (Bingham)
Following the death of Ka‘ahumanu, Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) was considering the appointment of Liliha to replace Ka‘ahumanu as Kuhina Nui (instead of Kīna‘u.)
“A faction representing the worst element in the islands endeavored to persuade him to depose Kinau and proclaim Liliha Premier in her stead. The King, however, although apparently alienated and in sympathy with the reactionary spirit that threatened to carry everything before it, was not insensible to the steadfast virtues of Kinau.” (Krout)
At a gathering of chiefs and others, the king asked Hoapili, “Why did you come here?” Hoapili replied, “We came because we had heard rumors that you were going to appoint Liliha premier of the kingdom.”
“You must first kill me before making my daughter premier lest I be blamed as her parent. Here (Kīna‘u) is the daughter of the house of Kamehameha. Let her serve you. My daughter is but a tenant here. … Do me this favor to place the duties of the kingdom upon her who is here ready to serve you.” (Kamakau)
“The chiefs were present; the revocation was upon his (the King’s) lips, when he unexpectedly turned to Kīna‘u and solemnly confirmed her in office. The effect was electric; all perceived the days of misrule were numbered. When expostulated with for not carrying out his intention, he gave the significant reply: ‘Very strong is the Kingdom of God.’”
“Kīna‘u succeeded Ka‘ahumanu as Premier, with the title of Kaahumanu II. Her character also had been transformed by her conversion to Christianity, being mild and just where she had been tyrannical and passionate.”
“She did her utmost to restrain the King in his tendency to extravagance, and endeavored to shield him from the temptations which beset him through bad associates.” (Krout)
Liliha died on August 24, 1839 in Honolulu and was buried on the sacred island called Moku‘ula on Maui. Later she was reburied in the Waiola Church cemetery. Although treated as a rebel by Kaʻahumanu, she was generally loved by the people. A street is named for her in Honolulu.