Ruth Ke‘elikōlani

Camille Naluai

Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani (1826-1883)


Ruth Ke‘elikōlani is one of Hawai‘i’s most recognizable figures. Despite her well known face, most island residents know very little about this formidable Hawaiian woman. With the help of the Center for Biographical Research at the University of Hawai‘i, PBS will be airing a new biography featuring the life of Ruth Ke‘elikōlani.

The 27-minute biography highlights the high and low points of Ke‘elikōlani’s life. She is portrayed as a staunch advocate for Hawaiian cultural beliefs and way of life. Her support and understanding of traditional Hawaiian values kept her in high esteem among the maka‘āinana who, it is said, asked for her help to persuade the goddess Pele from destroying Hilo. That is just one of the many tantalizing bits of information mentioned during the film.

One of the film's scholars, Noenoe Silva, mentions during the program that Ke‘elikōlani’s small presence in the history books may be the doing of the English press who portrayed her in an unfavorable light. These depictions of Ke‘elikōlani were later reiterated by 20th century scholars.

The film’s creators say they spent a lot of time going through Hawaiian language newspapers, letters, and official documents. It is in these papers, say the creators, that a more accurate portrayal of the Hawaiian ali'i was found. These accounts reveal, for example, that Ke'elikōlani was an extremely competent and forward-looking administrator of her vast land holdings, lands that now constitute the greater part of the estate of her heir Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

Two versions of the program will be aired, one spoken in English and another in Hawaiian. A fitting decision made by the films creators since it is said that Ke‘elikōlani understood English well but refused to speak it.

If this first biography is an indicator, audiences are in for a stirring show. Ke‘elikōlani was a believer in her people and fought for the rights of Hawaiians and our traditional way of life. Unfortunately, copies of the film are not readily available. Plans are being made to distribute the program in the near future.

The English version of "Biography Hawai‘i: Ruth Ke‘elikōlani" airs June 12, 2004 at 8:00 p.m. followed by the Hawaiian version at 8:30 p.m. For future broadcast dates go to