When the sun rests right above Central Middle School at high noon and the echo of children’s laughter is heard around campus and in the hallways, one might forget this place wasn't always a school. Yet this is where Hawai‘i's aliʻi (monarchy) once lived.
The pillars of the school's main building showcase an architectural style from long ago, and its foundation still has remnants of the site’s royal past. Most commuters on their way to downtown Honolulu may not realize the significance of the area. A hint of its past can be seen walking along South Kukui Street, where the name Keʻelikōlani is prominently etched into the side of the school building.
Keʻelikōlani was the granddaughter of King Kamehameha I and a powerful ali‘i. She was well educated and had a firm grasp of the English language, however, she chose to only speak and write in Hawaiian.
“Ruth Luka Keanolani Kanāhoahoa Keʻelikōlani was the epitome of Hawaiian strength, generosity and resilience,” shared Dr. Kalehua Krug from the Hawaiʻi DOE’s Office of Hawaiian Education. “Her dedication to the native language and culture of Hawaiʻi was second to none and it continues to inspire the role of the Hawaiian language in today’s society. The Office of Hawaiian Education continues to draw strength from her principles and strives to persevere in her bravely established footprints.”
The legacy of Keʻelikōlani is perpetuated through the work of the Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate and Kamehameha Schools. At the time of her death, Keʻelikōlani was Hawaiʻi’s largest landowner. Before her passing, she had willed all of her land and possessions to her favorite cousin, making Bishop the largest landholder in Hawaiʻi and laying the foundation for what has become Kamehameha Schools.
Keʻelikōlani’s spirit and values are also being honored on a more intimate scale on the site of her grandest and last endeavor – Keoua Hale, where Central Middle School now stands. When Keoua Hale was completed in 1882, it was known for being one of the largest homes ever built in Hawaiʻi. After Keʻelikōlani passed away in 1883, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop inherited the mansion and moved in with her husband Charles Reed Bishop. Princess Pauahi passed away a year later.
Today, a mural of Keʻelikōlani with the word “Onipa’a” (*) graces one of the school’s walls. It represents a connection between modern Hawaiʻi and its culturally rich past.
“As a school, we have a unique opportunity to connect to the rich Hawaiian history our school is so tightly linked to through Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani,” said Principal Anne Marie Murphy. “As the largest landowner in the Hawaiian kingdom, she was a proud woman who was also humble, resilient and extremely loyal to her people and culture. These are qualities we want our students to learn, practice, and promote throughout their time at Central Middle School and through the rest of their lives forward.”
The school’s library features a designated area on Keʻelikōlani and Hawaiʻi’s history. It’s there that students and visitors will find historic photos, books, and mementos.
“I see the pride in the students’ faces when I share the rich history of Central Middle School with them,” noted Holly Gates, school librarian. “I created this space to foster school pride and to serve as an archive for future generations of students and the community. My goal is to ultimately shine a long overdue spotlight on the contributions and impact of Keʻelikōlani not only at Central Middle, but statewide.”