Emma was born on January 2, 1836 in Honolulu and was often called Emalani ("royal Emma"). Her father was High Chief George Na ʻ ea and her mother was High Chiefess Fanny Kekelaokalani Young. She was adopted under the Hawaiian tradition of hānai by her childless maternal aunt, chiefess Grace Kama ʻ iku ʻ i Young Rooke, and her husband, Dr. Thomas C. B. Rooke.
Emma's father Na ʻ ea was the son of High Chief Kamaunu and High Chiefess Kukaeleiki. Kukaeleiki was daughter of Kalauawa, a Kaua ʻ i noble, and she was a cousin of Queen Keōpūolani, the most sacred wife of Kamehameha I. Among Na ʻ ea's more notable ancestors were Kalanawa ʻ a, a high chief of O ʻ ahu, and High Chiefess Kuaenaokalani, who held the sacred kapu rank of Kekapupo ʻ oho ʻ olewaikala (so sacred that she could not be exposed to the sun except at dawn).:4 [imagelink]
Emma and her hānai
On her mother's side, Emma was the granddaughter of John Young, Kamehameha I's British-born military advisor known as High Chief Olohana, and Princess Ka ʻ ōana ʻ eha Kuamo ʻ o. Her maternal grandmother, Ka ʻ ōana ʻ eha, was generally called the niece of Kamehameha I. Chiefess Ka ʻ ōana ʻ eha's father is disputed; some say she was the daughter of Prince Keli ʻ imaika ʻ i, the only full brother of Kamehameha; others state Ka ʻ ōana ʻ eha's father was High Chief Kalaipaihala. This confusion is due to the fact that High Chiefess Kaliko ʻ okalani, the mother of Ka ʻ ōana ʻ eha, married both to Keli ʻ imaika ʻ i and to Kalaipaihala. Through High Chief Kalaipaihala, she could be descended from Kalani ʻ opu ʻ u, King of Hawaii before Kīwalaʻō and Kamehameha. King Kalākaua and Queen Lili ʻ uokalani criticized Queen Emma's claim of descent from Kamehameha's brother, supporting the latter theory of descent. Lili ʻ uokalani claimed that Keli ʻ imaika ʻ i had no children, and that Kiilaweau, Keli ʻ imaika ʻ i's first wife, was a man.:404 This was to strengthen their claim to the throne, since their great-grandfather was Kamehameha I's first cousin. But even through the second theory Queen Emma would still have been descendant of Kamehameha I's first cousin since Kalani ʻ opu ʻ u was the uncle of Kamehameha I.