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Founder's Day reflections: Pauahi's royal heritage and legacy

Dec. 19, 2023

We often speak of the legacy of Ke Aliʻi Bernice Pauahi Pākī Bishop to emulate her foresight, kindness and care for her people.

But what kind of legacy was passed to Pauahi herself? 

On this Founder’s Day, reflecting on Pauahiʻs upbringing shows us the significance of passing down the values and traditions that have kept us strong. Her legacy underscores the importance of cherishing our ʻohana and education for the advancement of our lāhui.


Because Pauahi is a descendant of the royal Kamehameha line, she was surrounded by exceptional individuals who shaped her character and perspectives since birth.

Born on December 19, 1831, Pauahi’s parents were Abner Pākī and Laura Kōnia, high-ranking aliʻi of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. A few days later, she was adopted by Queen Regent Elizabeth Kīnaʻu and her husband Mataio Kekūanaoa, who immediately began molding her into a leader of the future.

Mataio Kekūanaoa, a prominent figure in the kingdom’s political scene, was the best friend and confidant to King Kamehameha II and served in many capacities of power and leadership. John Papa Ii, a historian and Kamehameha advisor, said of him: “All truly admired Kekūanāoʻa and loved him for the many good things he did and for his unlimited kindnesses.”

Historians also spoke favorably of Kīnaʻu as she is said to be very much like her father, Kamehameha I, in both physical features and personality. Renowned historian Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau wrote the following about Kīnaʻu: “She had the courage of a man. Had she been one, she would have been a second Kamehameha.”

The princess was also a faithful Christian, influenced by ancestors who were early converts to Christianity like Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia, Queen Ka‘ahumanu, Queen Ke‘ōpūolani, the kahuna nui Hewahewa and High Chiefess Kīna‘u.

These were the kind of role models that Pauahi strived to be like. Their benevolence and strength fueled Pauahi to become an advocate for Hawaiian culture and sovereignty herself.


Education at the Chiefs’ Children’s School molded Pauahi into a gifted pupil. She and other children learned English as a second language in addition to algebra, astronomy, chemistry, geography, history, literature and painting. Besides horseback riding and being in nature, she loved to interact with the younger students, singing and playing music.

Her teacher Mrs. Cooke wrote to her sister that Pauahi was a well-rounded student: “She is a most lovely girl—lovely in feature, form, and disposition… I wish you could know her, you would love her..."

During these years, Pauahi learned independence, self-determination and what it meant to be relied upon as a leader. The aliʻi children chosen to attend the Chiefs’ Children’s School were brought there to receive a different kind of education – the kind that would equip them to be leaders of a new world.

Her love for children persisted as she continued to teach and engage keiki in her adulthood. Despite having no children, she cemented her will a year before she passed to ensure that her people would continue to be cared for. She directed the trustees of her estate “to erect and maintain in the Hawaiian Islands two schools, each for boarding and day scholars, one for boys and one for girls, to be known as, and called the Kamehameha Schools."

Pauahi's upbringing sculpted her into the epitome of a true aliʻi. She passed on this legacy of service, generosity and wisdom to the many generations of Hawaiians who can pursue their dreams and excel because of her. Our organization stands as a testament to her everlasting impact.

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