Her father was Prince Alii Kahalaia Luanu'u (died 1826), Royal Highness and Governor of island of Kauai, a grandson of king Kamehameha I, being the only son of the king's third son prince Alii Kahoanuku Kinau and his wife lady Alii Kahakuhaakoi Wahine-pio from Maui; and her mother was his divorced wife Princess Alii Kalani Pauahi (1804-1826), Royal Highness, daughter of lord Alii Pauli Kaoleioku (eldest illegimated but natural son of Kamehameha I) and his first wife Keoua-wahine. Keelikolani was born 17 June 1826, after her mother had on 28 November 1825 already married her next husband, prince Mataio Kekuanaoa (1791-1827). Keelikolani's unorthodox birth was a reason she was regarded somewhat outside the legitimate birth of Hawaiian nobility. Her claimed to be a Kamehameha cannot be questioned since her mother was a Kamehameha but her great-uncle Kamehameha III had establish in the constitution of Hawaii that for anyone to be illegible to be monarch he or she was be of a legitimate birth.
Considered the least understood of the ali'i (the Hawaiian high nobility), or of the royal family of Hawai'i, Ruth was one of the more pivotal and influential characters in Hawaiian history. She was the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great who created the united Kingdom of Hawai'i in 1810. She was probably the half-sister of King Kamehameha IV and King Kamehameha V and Princess Victoria Kamamalu. She was godmother to Princess Ka'iulani. After the death of Princess Likelike, Ruth made it a point to ensure Ka'iulani would be raised properly befitting her role as heir to the throne of Hawai'i after the reign of Queen Lili'uokalani. Unfortunately, events and Ka'iulani's untimely death prevented Ka'iulani from fully assuming that role. (See Republic of Hawaii).
Her first husband, from 1841, was Ali'i William Pitt Leleiohoku I (1821-48), Governor of Hawai'i, former husband of Princess Harriet Nahi'ena'ena, a son of Ali'i William Pitt Kalanimoku the Prime Minister of Kamehameha the Great and his wife, Ali'i Kiliwehi.
Her second husband, married 2nd June 1856 and divorced 1868, was Isaac Young Davis (1824-82), son of George Hueu Davis and his wife, Kahaanapilo Papa. Their marriage was not a happy one and the hanai of their son plus his death didn't help their situation.
She bore two sons, who both died underage:
Her adopted son, another Leleiohoku (1854-77), crown prince of Hawaii, died 1877, when 23 years old. On the death of her adopted son, she demanded that Kaläkaua and his family relinquish all rights to the estates she had bequeathed their brother, and that they be returned to her by deed. She had no wishes to give up any land to Kalakaua. Her relations with King Kaläkaua were distant, although she had close friendships with his sister, Liliuokalani, and their mother, Keohokalole.
Ruth was the most celebrated woman who proved this ideal to be wrong. Weighing 440 pounds and topping six feet, her very appearance made her a presence to be reckoned with. Her broad features were accentuated by a nose that had been flattened even more by surgery for an infection. To add on to her stature, listeners recall that Princess Ruth's voice as a "distant rumble of thunder." The U.S. minister to Hawaii dismissed the princess as a "woman of no intelligence or ability." However, his assumption probably came from a swift evaluation of her appearance and manners. In addition to her giant size, her disregard for Westerns in general was expressed through her rejection of English and the Christian faith. Her clear defense of the old ways were hard for the Westerners to understand who instead took this as a sign that she was backward and stupid.
The princess was nothing near stupid. As governess of the Big Island and heir to the Kamehamehas, she possessed more lands and wealth than all but a few people. She was a sharp, savvy businesswoman. For example, on one occasion she "sold" her claim to half the Crown lands in the kingdom to sugar mogul Max Spreckels for $10,000, knowing full well that the claim was void on a technicality and Spreckels would be unable to take possession. He sued Princess Ruth but was unsuccessful, and the media had a field day at his humiliation. Ruth's independence and assertive nature were encouraging signs that the character of her ancestors still lived. Yet she suffered many humiliations and cruelties on account of her appearance. One indication that she succumbed to the cruelty was the fact that she was particular aboud how she dressed and how her hair was done, right down to corset and Victorian ringlets, despite the fact she did not approximate the Western ideals.
Ruth was a staunch defender of ancient Hawaiian traditions and customs. While the kingdom became Christianized, Anglicized and urbanized, she continued living as an ali'i 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 knew how to speak it with ease and grace, she refused to do so. She used the Hawaiian language exclusively throughout her life, requiring English-speakers to use a translator when speaking with her. Trained in the Christian religion,she held fast to practices and beliefs that were considered pagan, including her patronage of chanters and hula dancers.
She also refused to accept Christianity and continued to worship the traditional gods and various aumakua, or ancestral spirits. When Mauna Loa erupted in 1880, threatening the city of Hilo with a lava flow, her intercession with the goddess Pele was widely credited by traditional Hawaiians with saving the city.
Ruth disliked modernization. When the ruling monarchs asked her to pose for official photographs, she often refused. Only a dozen photographs of Ruth are known to exist.
She died at Hulihee Palace, Kailua, Kona, Hawaii Island, 15 May 1883. Her body was ship back to Honolulu for a royal funeral and she was buried in the Kamehameha Crypt, Royal Mausoleum, Mauna 'Ala, Nu'uanu Valley, Oahu. When she died in 1883, her will bequeathed to Princess Pauahi her elaborate mansion, Keōua Hale on Emma Street in Honolulu, as well as approximately of Kamehameha lands, totaling nearly nine percent of the land in the Hawaiian Islands.
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