Princess Nahienaena of Hawaii was born in 1815, the only child of Kamehameha I, the chief who conquered and united the entire Hawaiian island system and his chief wife, Keopuolani. At the same time as Kamehameha was establishing himself as Hawaiian king, another authority was vying for the souls of the Hawaiian people. The first American missionaries began to arrive on the islands- and Keopuolani converted. She sent Nahienaena to a Protestant missionary school and brought the young Princess up as a Christian.
In 1823, Keopuolani died, and the nine-year-old Nahienaena now became a pawn between the missionaries and the old Hawaiian tribal chiefs. The chiefs were traditionalists. They maintained their ancestral beliefs and traditions and had no truck with the new religion. It was part of Hawaiian culture that royalty married royalty. This tradition meant brother-sister marriages. Nahienaena may have been her father’s only daughter by his chief wife- but he had sons by his other wives, and so the chiefs wanted the Princess to form a union with her brother, Prince Kauikeaouli.
Nahienaena was very fond of Kauikeaouli. However, she found herself in the middle of a cultural tug of war. While the chiefs tried to persuade her to marry her brother, her Christian tutors railed against the match. In the end, the undoubtedly confused and conflicted Nahienaena gave in and married her brother in 1834.
Tradition and perhaps her heart may have won the battle. However, they did not win the war. Nahienaena’s conscience remained a problem. As soon as she and Kauikeaouli consummated the marriage, the Princess’s church expelled her. However, although her religion had closed its doors against her, Nehienaena’s conscience was not quiet. She quickly repudiated the match and married another chieftain’s son.
However, there was no going back. Nahienaena may have loved her new husband- but she still had feelings for her brother. Her church continued to shun her. Worse yet, Nahienaena discovered she was pregnant with Kauikeaouli’s child. The Hawaiian people, who had also converted to Christianity, turned their collective back on their Princess and Nehienaena was forced into isolation until her child was born. The infant, a daughter, did not live long after the birth. Although her church finally forgave her, Nahienaena died soon afterward.