Kekāuluohi, daughter and firstborn (July 27, 1794) of Kaheiheimālie and Kalaʻimamahu (Kamehameha’s younger half-brother,) was reared by her maternal grandparents, Namahana and Keʻeaumoku, who “fondled her as if she were a feather lei from the precious mamo bird.” (Luomala)
“Her grandfather, Keʻeaumoku, was the most noted of all the warriors of Kamehameha I, and by his personal prowess placed that eminent man on the throne of Hawaii; first by slaying with his own hand his great antagonist Kiwalaʻo, and subsequently Keōua, the only remaining enemy on that island.” (Jarves; The Friend)
Kekāuluohi was “a favorite above all the other grandchildren,” and was also the favorite of the uncles and cousins of her aunt Kaʻahumanu, her mother’s older sister and one of Kamehameha’s wives.
Kekāuluohi was looked on as the family head, and her father’s own trusted kahu and the latter’s kin were her caretakers.
“(S)he was betrothed in her youth to Pomare, the King of Tahiti, but his death prevented the union by marriage of the Kingdoms of the Hawaiian and Society Islands. She is reported to have been remarkably handsome in her youth, and as having possessed a very tenacious memory, treasuring up the old genealogies of the islands.” (Jarves; The Friend)
Kekāuluohi became Kamehameha’s youngest wife, cowife (punalua) with her mother, her mother’s sister, and other high-ranking chiefesses. After Kamehameha’s death his son Liholiho (Kamehameha II) took her as one of his wives. Around 1821 Kamehameha II gave Kekāuluohi to his friend Charles Kanaʻina.
Kekāuluohi succeeded her half-sister Kīna‘u as Kuhina Nui. Initially, she was considered something of a “place-holder” for Kīna‘u’s infant daughter Victoria Kamāmalu, who would later assume the office. (Archives)
“…The authority hitherto possessed by my mother Kaʻahumanu II. Until her decease is now transferred to my other mother (Miriam Kekāuluohi) though Victoria Kamehamalu II is her superior, but still under my direction.”
“Furthermore; no documents nor notes, referable to government, after this date, which have not my own signature, and also that of Miriam Kekāuluohi at the bottom of said writing will be acknowledged as government papers.” (Proclamation: Ke Kukala Ana a Ke Ali‘i, June 8, 1839; Archives)
“The person who attracted, our attention most, was Kekāuluohi. … She was altogether one of the most remarkable-looking personages I have ever seen.” (Wilkes, 1849)
“She lives in a grass-hut near the water, and has several chiefs in attendance on her: she appears to be a good-natured and contented person, and has adopted some foreign customs in her way of living.” (Wilkes, 1849)
“This lady is upwards of six feet in height; her frame is exceedingly large and well covered with fat. She was dressed in yellow silk, with enormously large gigot sleeves, and wore on her head a tiara of beautiful yellow feathers interspersed with a few of a scarlet colour.” (Wilkes, 1849)
“Above the feathers appeared a large tortoise-shell comb, that confined her straight black hair. Her shoulders were covered with a richly embroidered shawl of scarlet crape. She sat in a large arm-chair, over which was thrown a robe made of the same kind of yellow feathers as decked her tiara.” (Wilkes, 1849)
Kekāuluohi was a co-signer with Kamehameha III of Hawai‘i’s first Constitution in 1840, which provided for an elected representative body, a first step toward the common people gaining political power. The constitution also codified for the first time, the responsibilities and authority of the Kuhina Nui.
Other important events during Kekāuluohi’s tenure were the threats to Hawaiian sovereignty by the French and English. Soon after assuming her office in 1839, the French threatened war if Kamehameha III did not provide special privileges to the Catholic missionaries, repeal liquor laws and grant generous concessions to French citizens in Hawai‘i.
Then, in 1843, the infamous Charlton land claim resulted in the temporary loss of Hawaiian sovereignty when Lord George Paulet intervened and took possession of the Hawaiian Islands on behalf of the King of England. Richard Charlton was the British Consul in Honolulu who, in 1840, claimed valuable land based on dubious documentation and authority.
As the pressures of international diplomacy and economic development increased on the Hawaiian kingdom, it was necessary to structure the government for better administrative control. As her life came to a close, Kekāuluohi appointed Gerrit P Judd as Minister of the Interior to administer on her behalf. (Archives)
Kekāuluohi became a member of the Protestant church of the missionaries. “In the afternoon the congregation assembled again, a little earlier than the usual hour, and the church took their seats in order round the table of the Lord.”
“Kekauluohi first presented herself before the church and congregation, and, at her request, her desire to consecrate herself to God, and to obey the Gospel, was made known, and she was propounded for admission after further trial.” (Bingham)
“(I)n 1834, Miriam Kekāuluohi having, with her husband, Kanaʻina, built an elegant two story house of rock coral, near the mission houses, at Honolulu, received and entertained, one evening, at a well-furnished table, thirty-three missionaries, including men and women, presiding herself with the dignity of a Christian matron.”
“Kekāuluohi, having tried the routine of civilized domestic life, about two years, in her well finished and furnished habitation, received, at a Christian tea-party, the king, and some twelve or fourteen chiefs .… After tea, the company being conducted to the large upper drawing-room, united, as was customary, in a hymn and prayer.” (Bingham)
By Kanaʻina she had a son Prince William Charles Lunalilo, born on January 31, 1835; he succeeded Kamehameha V as king.
Kekāuluohi and Kanaʻina were the adoptive parents (kahu hānai) not only of Kalama, who became the wife of Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III,) but of the royal couple’s second son. (Luomala)
Kekāuluohi died June 7, 1845. “She was a chiefess of the highest rank at the time of her death. Mr. Jarves in an obituary notice published in the Polynesian of June 21, 1845, writes thus:”
“She was the last adult member of that distinguished family which for the past sixty years has, as it were, shared the Hawaiian throne with the Kings themselves.” (Jarves; The Friend)
The Hawai‘i State Archives is located in the Kekāuluohi Building on the ʻIolani Palace Grounds just behind the Kanaʻina Building (Old Archives Building.)