The only daughter of Kamehameha the Great and Keōpūolani, Nāhiʻenaʻena was born in 1815; her brothers were Liholiho (Kamehameha II – born circa 1797) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III – born 1813.)
Her mother refused to follow the custom of the period and hānai her baby daughter to the rearing of another chief. Keōpūolani wanted to keep the last of her children at her side.
This decision tells us much about the mother’s force of character and meant that Nāhiʻenaʻena was in the very center of the stage during the crucial period in 1819: the illness and death of Kamehameha I, the assumption of the throne by Liholiho as Kamehameha II and the abolition of the kapu (initiated by her mother and Kaʻahumanu.) The princess was four years old when these great changes occurred. (Sinclair)
Toward the end of 1820, the decision was made to move the king’s official residence from Kailua-Kona to Honolulu. In early-1821, Liholiho, with his family, including Keōpūolani, Kauikeaouli and Nāhiʻenaʻena, and the important chiefs, established the seat of government on Oʻahu.
In the spring of 1823, Keōpūolani established a residence away from Honolulu in a grove at the foot of Diamond Head; there she hoped to find a quiet place to restore her health and to hear the new gospel without interruption.
“She, at this time, expressed her earnest desire that her two children, the prince and princess, then able to read and write, might be well educated, and particularly that Nahienaena might be trained up in the habits of Christian and civilized females, like the wives of the missionaries. She wished, too, that the missionaries would pray for Liholiho.” (Bingham)
“The missionaries and their wives earnestly desired to withdraw her (Nāhiʻenaʻena) from the scenes of heathen corruption, and throw around her daily the protecting shield of Christian families. But this could be accomplished only in part, as in that state of the nation she could not well be detached from the native community. She is said to be very amiable and kind, and is universally beloved and respected by her people.” (Bingham)
At the end of May in 1823, Keōpūolani, Nāhiʻenaʻena and Hoapili (Keōpūolani’s husband) moved to Maui and took up residence in Lāhainā. Missionaries Charles Stewart and William Richards were assigned to establish a church and teach “letters and religion”.
The princess and her mother spent warm peaceful days in the study of letters and religion, interrupted occasionally when people came to celebrate their affection for the chiefesses by dancing and singing. Usually a great crowd assembled to watch.
Later that year, Keōpūolani became very ill and died. After Keōpūolani’s death, Nāhiʻenaʻena was placed in the care of Hoapili, her mother’s husband and governor of Maui, and of the two missionary teachers, Stewart and Richards, to whom she was already devoted.
In accordance with Hawaiian custom, Hoapili soon remarried. Nāhiʻenaʻena’s mother had been the first chief to be baptized a Protestant; her stepfather became the first chief to be married in a Christian ceremony. Richards conducted the service which united Hoapili to Kalākua, one of Kamehameha’s former queens.
In 1825, Nāhiʻenaʻena’s brother – King Kamehameha II – traveled to England. To celebrate his return, a yellow feather pāʻū was made for Nāhiʻenaʻena.
A pāʻū was a women’s garment that was typically a rectangular piece of kapa (tapa) wrapped several times around the waist and extended from beneath the bust (for royalty) or the waistline (for commoners) to the knee.
This special pāʻū was about 9-yards long, made of feathers, instead of kapa (it is the largest Hawaiian feather piece ever recorded.) Due to the unfortunate death of Liholiho and his wife Kamāmalu, the pāʻū was worn in grief, rather than celebration.
Hiram Bingham described the occasion, “The young princess had partly wrapped round her waist, above her black silk dress, a splendid yellow feather pau, or robe, nine yards in length and one in breadth, manufactured with skill and taste, at great expense, and designed for her anticipated reception of her brother Liholiho. In its fabrication, the small bright feathers were ingeniously fastened upon a fine netting, spun without wheels or spindles, and wrought by native hands, from the flaxen bark of their olona, and the whole being lined with crimson satin made a beautiful article of “costly array,” for a princess of eight years.”
The problem of a suitable marriage for Nāhiʻenaʻena had been in the minds of the chiefs from the time of her childhood. Before she was ten years old, a possible union between her and her brother was discussed. The purpose of such brother-sister marriages was to concentrate the royal blood so that the issue would have the highest possible rank. (Sinclair)
Queen Keōpūolani had been the issue of a brother-sister marriage, a naha mating of niʻaupiʻo chiefs; her parents had had the same mother but different fathers, both descended from the chiefly lines of Maui and Hawaiʻi. Liholiho had half-sisters among his five wives. They consulted the missionaries, who pointed out that such a marriage was forbidden in the eyes of God. (Sinclair)
There were repeated claims of incestuous behavior between Nāhiʻenaʻena and her brother, Kauikeaouli. On November 25, 1835, Nāhiʻenaʻena and Leleiōhoku (son of Kalanimōku) were married in Waine’e Church; the ceremony was performed by Richards.
She became pregnant the next year and on September 17 she had a son, who lived only a few hours. Nāhiʻenaʻena had been ill and continued to be gravely ill after the childbirth. She died shortly thereafter, December 30, 1836.
On February 14, 1837, Kauikeaouli, King Kamehameha III, was married to Kalama Kapakuhaili. Leleiōhoku married a second time to Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani; he had a son William Pitt Kīnaʻu from his second wife.