THE KAPU SYSTEMThe ali'i convinced the common people that they had inherited divine power (mana) and were divinely chosen by the gods to rule. The kapu system was structured around the concept of protecting the mana. Complex kapus (laws) had to be kept to keep the mana intact and maintain its balance in nature for the land to be fruitful. Every aspect of Hawaiian life was controlled by strict requirements to maintain the balance and harmony of the mana. While there were many laws that encouraged the wise use of resources, and so forth, the social/political aspects of the kapu system provided an open door for abuse. Although ali'i usually kept the kapus, they did this because the belief in mana and the kapus was what kept them in power. High ali'i were never put to death for breaking kapus, although commoners were sometimes sacrificed to correct the "imbalance in the mana" caused by an ali'i's sin.
The Hawaiian people endured much suffering and bondage under this new religious system. The ali'i and kahuna had total power in this system and the common people had no control or say about who came to power. It was very rare indeed for the common people to overthrow an ali'i, and only another ali'i could take his place. Although there were exemptions, the majority of the ali'i and kahunas used their power for personal gain and not for the good of the people. The kapu system was used to keep control and wealth within the select ali'i/kahuna group. Laws strictly controlled every aspect of life.
For instance, kapus dictated that men and women had to eat separately and were restricted to only certain foods. Common women faced death for eating bananas, coconuts and other foods. Common men also faced death for eating certain fish and other foods. If a commoner stepped on an ali'i's land (even if the boundary was not well marked), or if an ali'i's shadow fell on him, he was also put to death.
An ali'i could take commoners who committed any of these "sins" and use them for human sacrifice or even bait for shark hunting. There were ovens for burning humans at Punchbowl and Waikiki. Commoners were drowned at Kewalo Basin (Honolulu) for breaking kapus. Human heads, of those offered in sacrifice, were put on stakes that lined the Pakaka temple at the foot of Fort Street (Downtown Honolulu). At the heiau located at the foot of Diamond Head, men had their limbs broken with clubs, their eyes scooped out, and then were left bleeding and maimed for three days. They were later clubbed to death with blows to the shoulders rather than to the head, thus prolonging the suffering before death.
The common people owned no land under the new religious system, in fact, they had no rights and nothing they could call their own. An ali'i could take anything he wanted from a commoner: his food, his belongings, his favorite pig, his children, or even his wife. The ali'i could "tax" most of a commoner's food away and force him to work on his building projects. It is estimated that two-thirds of what the common people produced was taken by high ali'i, chiefs and kahunas. In fact, the common people were so maltreated that when the first anthropologists arrived, they thought that the Hawaiians were comprised of two different races - the huge ali'i and the scrawny common people!
Sometimes the kapus were bent to show "mercy", if one could call it that. A five year old girl who are a banana was treated "mercifully" by the kahunas; they didn't kill her but only scooped out one of her eyes. When the high ali'i, Kapi'olani, was a young girl, she ate a banana. Because she was a high ali'i, they did not put her to death. Instead, the kahuna took her favorite servant, a child, and strangled him on the altar of the heiau instead. Many years later, Kapi'olani asked the kahuna who had strangled her young friend why he had done this. The kahuna replied, "Those were dark days, though we priests knew better all the time.” The kahuna continued, "It was power we sought over the minds of the people, to influence and control them." Kapi'olani cried out, "Oh why did not the Christians come sooner and teach us better things!' She then hid her face in her hands and wept.
One of the most shocking revelations to this author has been that Pa'ao, and his Tahitian kahuna and ali'i, knew about 'Io! Considering this, the words of the Kapi'olani's kahuna spoke are even more grievous --- ". . . we priests knew better all the time. It was power we sought over the minds of the people, to influence and control them.”
Even after Western contact, the common people were forced to harvest sandalwood like slaves until their bodies became deformed from carrying the heavy logs. A famine arose when thousands of commoners, forced by the ali'i to harvest sandalwood, could not tend their farms.
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