Before the arrival of Cook in
1778, Hawai‘i had a highly stratified social structure with the power
held by ruling ali‘i (royalty). Within this "structure of dominance,"
religion constituted the relationship among Hawaiians:
Religion governed the
political and economic elements of the social totality, with all
aspects of human relationships and practices religiously constituted
and infused with sacred meaning. Religion determined the status of
groups and individuals, and religion was the basis for the
allocation, appropriation, and distribution of land and goods.
(Buck, 1993, p. 33)
Religion, as Buck (1993)
described, is a complex and ambiguous relationship between the concepts
of mana, kapu, and noa.
Mana is a complex concept defined as "process,
performance, power, abstract force, and effect or all these things."
Mana is the "positive manifestation of spirituality and power [which]
emanated from the gods and was channeled through the ali‘i" (Buck, 1993,
p. 33). Buck further stated that mana manifested itself in the
well-being of a community, in human knowledge and skills (canoe
building, harvesting), and in nature (crop fertility, weather, etc.).
Kapu and noa are ideological concepts that are binary
opposites. According to Durkheim (1912), kapu is associated with what is
divine (i.e., sacred and forbidden), and noa is associated with things
that are not divine (i.e., profane). Both people and things could be
considered either kapu or noa depending on whether they were tied to
things that were considered divine.
The kapu system in ancient Hawai‘i
established rules and regulations that not only provided for living in
harmony with the land but also dictated daily life. There were three
types of interaction: (a) among classes of people, (b) between people
and the gods, and (c) between people and nature.
The first type of interaction was
among different hierarchical groups of people. Ancient Hawai‘i was
socially stratified into groups with hierarchical class roles. There
were three major groups: the ali‘i, the maka‘āinana (commoners) and the
kauā (outcasts). The ali‘i were persons who "derived their high status
by virtue of the fact that they were direct descendants of the gods;
hence they were sacred relative to the maka‘āinana, who were in theory
also descendants of the gods but through junior branches" (Levin, 1968,
p. 408). Ali‘i possessed great amounts of mana because of their
relationship to the gods. The kahuna (priests and occupational experts)
were part of the ali‘i class and included traditional medical doctors
called kahuna lā‘au lapa‘au.
Even in the ali‘i class, there was
social stratification based on mana, or the relationship of each ali‘i
to the gods. There were four different ranks of ali‘i. From highest to
lowest, they were pi‘o, nī‘aupi‘o, naha, and wohi. The higher the rank,
the closer the relationship to the gods and the more strict the kapu.
For example, for pi‘o and nī‘aupi‘o, anyone in their presence or the
presence of their personal articles was required, upon penalty of death,
to prostrate themselves (Levin, 1968).
The makaainana were also descended
from the gods, although not directly like the ali‘i, and were the
workers of the subsistence economy. The maka‘āinana were the farmers,
fishermen, and craftsmen and were deeply embedded into the Hawaiian
subsistence economy. A clear relationship existed between these two
Between the ali‘i and
makaainana there existed a bond of mutual obligations and
duties. The makaainana were obligated to give goods and services
in the form of taxes in kind and labor. In return the ali‘i
confirmed their tenure rights to the land which they tilled and
on which they resided. More importantly, it was the duty of the
ali‘i to secure for the makaainana supernatural protection from
natural calamities and to petition the gods for abundant harvest
from the fields and the seas through temple rituals. (Levin,
1968, p. 408)
This relationship is of vital
importance with Western trade and influence and is discussed below.
Because of their closeness to the gods, the ali‘i (through their mana)
were responsible for the second type of interaction: the connection
between people and the gods.
The kauā were the class of
outcasts reserved for ritual killings or sacrifices. While the ali‘i and
the makaainana were groups descended from the gods, the kauā were
thought to be earlier migrants to Hawai‘i that were later conquered
(Levin, 1968) and were viewed as antithetical, or profane, to the
sacredness of the ali‘i (Kamakau, 1905/1968).
The kapu system was based on sets
of binary oppositions where male elements were held sacred and female
elements were profane. In the Kumulipo, or the Hawaiian creation chant,
the elements are set up as the binary opposition of Pö (darkness, which
is female) and Ao (light, which is male). From darkness and light, life
is created. According to Levin (1968), the male element Ao represented
life, light, sky, day, strength, and knowledge. The female element Pö
represented darkness, death, earth, night, weakness, and ignorance.
Thus the kapu system as a
system of classification pointed out those things which were
considered sacred having been derived from the positive male
aspect of nature and those things that were common and unsacred
being derived from the negative female aspect of nature. (Levin,
1968, p. 12)
According to Durkheim (1912),
sacred things are "set apart and forbidden" collectively by a group of
people, and the object or idea remains sacred as long as the group
continues. This notion greatly influenced not only the kapu system but
also the existence of food kapu. Certain foods represented aspects of
male gods (Levin, 1968). Although all food in a realistic sense is
mundane, certain foods become sacred when specific meaning is attached
to them. For example, pork was a symbol for the god Lono, coconut and
the ulua fish were symbolic of Kū, and niuhi (white shark) was symbolic
of Kāne. Because these and other foods symbolized the male gods, women
were not only prohibited from eating these foods but were also
prohibited from eating with men.
The third type of interaction the
kapu system dictated was the relationship between people and nature. It
did this by providing environmental rules and control that were
essential for a subsistence economy. Within the Hawaiian calendar, there
were two ceremonial cycles. One dictated rules for planting and the
other for harvesting (Levin, 1968). During kau (temperate dry season)
planting, building, and warfare occurred. During ho‘oilo (temperate wet
season) warfare was forbidden and the makahiki, or harvest festival,
As mentioned above, the ali‘i were
responsible for providing the maka‘āinana with supernatural protection
from forces that could destroy crops and food. If an ali‘i did not
perform religious duties accordingly, he could be replaced by another
ali‘i who could handle the religious responsibilities, thereby providing
more efficiently for the needs of the maka‘āinana (Malo, 1903/1968).
The three types of interaction in
ancient Hawai‘i follow Marx’s ideas of the dimensions in which
individuals become alienated (a) from others, (b) from their work, and
(c) from nature. Buck (1993) offered a Marxist structural analysis that
may be useful in determining the relationships between material and
economic production (kapu system) and how it was socially distributed
(through those with mana) and how ideological and religious practices
bring legitimacy to relationships based on power. Buck (1993) stated
that "although Marx fully recognized the power of human consciousness
and agency, he believed that ideas, beliefs and values do not exist
independent of the material conditions of life and human activities" (p.
20). The kapu system was the ideological system, governed by those with
mana, that dictated material and economic production and social
relationships. Agency was determined by the hierarchical station one