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Rank in Hawaii

POSITION in old Hawaii, both social and political, depended in the first instance upon rank, and rank upon blood descent-hence the importance of genealogy as proof of high ancestry. Grades of rank were distinguished and divine honors paid to those chiefs alone who could show such an accumulation of inherited sacredness as to class with the gods among men. Since a child inherited from both parents, he might claim higher rank than either one. The stories of usurping chiefs show how a successful inferior might seek intermarriage with a chiefess of rank in order that his heir might be in a better position to succeed his parent as ruling chief. In any case, a virgin wife must be taken in order to be sure of her child's paternity, hence the careful guarding of a highborn girl's virginity until her first child was born. Laxness in enforcing taboo rights lowered rank. Political power also had its bearing upon rank, perhaps because a ruling chief was in a position to enforce the taboos. Nevertheless, a chief might be himself dispossessed of lands and followers and forced to live like a commoner and yet claim the right of rank for his posterity.[1]

The system by which closeness of blood relationship between parents of high birth was reckoned in determining the rank inherited by their offspring is described in four published sources.[2] David Malo's account must date before 1853. Judge Fornander died in 1887, and his notes on the subject

[1. Fornander, Polynesian Race, I, 113-14, II, 28-30; Kepelino, pp. 130-42, 143.

2. Malo, pp. 80-84; Kepelino, Appendix, pp. 195-98; Fornander, Collection ("Memoirs," No. 6), pp. 307-11; Rivers, I, 380-82.]

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may belong to Kalakaua's time. The Hon. E. K. Lilikalani was court genealogist during the last period of the monarchy, and his manuscript, prepared "for the information of Liliuokalani" and published in 1932 by the Bishop Museum as an Appendix to Kepelino, must fall within the queen's reign. He dictated its contents to me in substantially the same form in 1914. Rivers must have obtained his similar information from Poepoe at about the same time.

David Malo is our earliest and probably best authority of the four on the system of reckoning rank in Hawaii before the intrusion of Western culture, since he lived at a time when the taboos were still in practice. Malo came from Keauhou, North Kona, on the island of Hawaii, where he was associated with the high chief Kuakini, acquired Hawaiian learning under Auwae, the favorite genealogist of Kamehameha, and took an active part as master of ceremonies at court entertainments. About 1820 he came to Lahaina on the island of Maui. There he became the friend of the Rev. William Richards of the American mission. Abandoning the old faith, he studied for the ministry in the Lahainaluna mission school and occupied a parish on West Maui until his death in 1853. [3]

As Malo is our most reliable native source for ancient practice, so Fornander is the leading foreign authority. Son of a distinguished Swedish clergyman and himself a man of education, he was a resident of the Hawaiian Islands from 1842 until his death in 1887. Much of the time he was engaged in government service. He was married to a Hawaiian chiefess, spoke the language fluently, and was able to claim personal acquaintance with all classes "from the King to the poorest fisherman of the remotest hamlet." He thus won the respect and confidence of native and foreigner alike.[4]

[3. N. B. Emerson, "Biographical Sketch," in Malo, pp. 5-14-

4. W. D. Alexander, "A Brief Memoir of Abraham Fornander," in Stokes, Index to "The Polynesian Race," pp. v-vi.]

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Malo, Lilikalani, and Poepoe do not differ essentially in their grading of the ranking system. All would give highest rank to the child of own brother and sister, the grades descending according to distance in kinship blood between the two parents, provided these are themselves of high chief, that is, of niaupi'o rank. The union of brother and sister, says Malo, is a pi'o ("arching") union symbolized by the figure of a bow. That between children of younger or elder brothers and sisters (first cousins) is a ho'i ("return") union. Less desirable is the union between half-brother and sister, called a naha, probably correctly a nahá ("broken") union. The child in all three cases would be of the niaupi'o class but entitled to different degrees of veneration in the form of taboos. The child of a pi'o union was an akua, a god. So sacred is the child of such a union that he is spoken of as "a fire, a blaze, a raging heat, only at night is it possible for such children to speak with men," this lest the shadow of the god falling upon a house render it sacred, hence uninhabitable. A person even accidentally profaning thus the sacred taboo chief was in danger of death. A chief of divine rank therefore went abroad at night, and the most sacred chiefs were always carried about in a litter (manele) lest their very footsteps make the ground forbidden. Offspring of both pi'o and ho'i unions were entitled to the prostrating taboo, tapu-moe, but the child of a naka union had only the crouching taboo, tapu-a-noho.

Judge Fornander understands the system slightly differently. He would give the tapu-moe to all three of these unions. Under the highest or pi'o grade he would include children of a half- as well as own brother and sister. By a naha union he understands the child of parents of the same family but of different generations and instances the union of father and daughter or of a girl with her mother's brother. As example of the pi'o rank he cites the child of Keawe by his half-sister Kaulele. Ka-'I-'i-mamao, child of Keawe by a

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niaupi'o chiefess of different parents, has only the niaupi'o rank. A girl born to Keawe by his own daughter was reckoned of naha rank.

Judge Fornander does not mention marriages between first cousins; Malo makes no reference to marriages in different generations. Since the whole ranking system seems to consist in an effort to distinguish the prerogatives of chiefs from those of commoners, it would not be surprising if unions considered favorable among chiefs were exactly those not practiced or even held to be incestuous among commoners. Rivers was told that marriages between first cousins were not permitted by Hawaiians and that their tolerance by the mission at first stood in the way of Hawaiian acceptance of the new teaching.[5]

From these informants we gain only a partial view of family relationships and attitudes as they affected rank among chiefs in ancient days, only such as were preserved up to the time of the last days of the monarchy. Certain it is that there existed a developed system of rank based primarily upon blood descent but also dependent to some extent upon political power and marked by a severe etiquette designed to mark off the chief class from that of commoners through the claim of direct descent from ancestral gods. Hence the preservation of such a genealogical chant of beginnings as the Kumulipo was of the highest importance in establishing the rank of a ruling family.

[5. Rivers, I, 382; Cf. Firth, We the Tikopia, pp. 330-33.]

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