His name (literally, the standing projections) is said to refer to ships’ masts seen in the harbor when Kekūanāoʻa was born. “As a young man he was a favorite and attendant of the declining years of Kamehameha I. With Liholiho he was a punahele, or intimate attendant and friend”. He married Pauahi, formerly a wife of Liholiho. They had a daughter, Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani. (Keʻelikōlani later passed her great land holdings to Bernice Pauahi Bishop; it was the land base that formed Kamehameha Schools / Bishop Estate.)
In 1827, Kīnaʻu, daughter of Kamehameha, became Kekūanāoʻa’s wife. They both publicly professed the Christian faith in 1830. Kīnaʻu and Kekūanāoʻa had five children: Prince David Kamehameha (who died as a child;) Prince Moses Kekūāiwa (who died in 1848;) Prince Lot Kapuāiwa (later Kamehameha V;) Prince Alexander Liholiho (later Kamehameha IV) and Princess Victoria Kamāmalu. As the last Kuhina Nui, Kekūanāoʻa essentially presided over the demise of the office. Kekūanāoʻa died November 24, 1868.