Friday, August 19, 2011

Marriage in Ancient Hawai'i

King Kamehameha's Favorite Wife, Queen Ka'ahumanu

Reading Mucius Scaevola's post, Marriage in Ancient Rome, over at his blog Glittering Opprobrium reminded me that I promised LadyLydia I'd get around to writing a post about ancient Hawaiian society and marriage customs.

Before talking about marriage in ancient Hawaii, it is important to understand that Ancient Hawaiian society had a very strict adherence to the ancient religion - the Kapu (taboo) system - that dictated their actions and behavior in every single aspect of their lives. While Judeo-Christian-based Western societies have generally placed the most importance on religious tenets applied to sex and sexuality - and more specifically on the female gender, the Hawaiians had a much looser conception of regulating sexual behavior and it was far more rigid and repressive when it came to food and eating.

For instance, homosexuality was completely acceptable, but in practice, most were bi-sexual. It was also common for both commoners and royalty to wife swap and play sexual games similar to spin the bottle, except random pairings resulted in far more activity than just kissing. They also had a religious ceremony called hi'uwai that was essentially an orgy at night time in the ocean during a certain time of year to maintain a form of anonymous discretion between participants. Children conceived from this ceremony were considered especially blessed. As you can see, Hawaiian society was quite libertine...which is why when haole (white folk) sailors first came here, it quickly became a favorite port of call. The first sailors got laid like tile by the native women.

But food was quite a different matter. Men and women could not eat together. Women were not allowed to handle any food that was meant to be eaten by men, and for the most part, men did all the cooking. Women could have their eye put out or even put to death for eating certain foods that were considered sacred to the male gods. Certain species of banana, certain fish and pork were all solely reserved for men.

As I commented over at Mucius's blog regarding gender relation customs and their ramifications for society:

When society makes women dependent on men, civilizations arise and liberty is the norm.

When society makes women independent of men, civilizations fall, and tyranny reigns.

Hawaiians did not enforce rigorous monogamy, but their women were still dependent on their men to farm, catch, prepare and cook food...while men were dependent on their women for making the Kapa or clothing made from pounding and drying the mulberry bark.

As I will cover later in this post, the strict adherence to religious tenets regarding food and gender were a key role in the overthrow of the old Kapu system of religion after Western contact.

Hawaiian society was a strict caste system, with four basic classifications: the Ali'i (Chiefs or Royalty) the Kahuna (Priest class), the Maka'ainana (Commoners) and the Kauwa (outcasts and slaves).

Marriage was basically broken down into two categories: lifelong monogamy for everyone except Royalty. Royalty had two-way polygamy - Men could have multiple wives, women could have multiple husbands. While this was the concept, it was not really the common practice for women to have multiple husbands at the same time, though they technically could. We would recognize the female polygamy as more similar to rotating polyandry today. If a Chiefess were unhappy with her husband, she would leave and take up with another Chief elsewhere. Sometimes she'd return to her former husband, sometimes not. Generally speaking though (there are historical exceptions of rival chiefs kidnapping women from each other), marriage and sexual relations were entirely at her discretion.

Hawaiian society was definitely a Matriarchy based kinship system...which is why up until the arrival of the haole, most people, nobility included, only had a single name.

Since Hawaiian society was based on oral tradition (no writing), Genealogy records were entirely based on oral recitations. For the commoners, each family kept their own genealogical knowledge, while the royalty had the Priests who memorized chants that recited the line of ancestry for particular Chiefs going back many, many generations.

Amongst the Chief class, there were various ranks, and this ranking was based entirely on the rank of the person's mother. The more sacred the genealogy of the mother, the higher ranking the royalty.

But that doesn't mean the highest ranking royalty was the ruler.

Hawaiian society had a regular tradition of warfare, in which rival Chiefs would conquer lands, exact tribute and establish Kingdoms. If a low ranking (by birth) Chief could muster the forces and conquer the armies of a higher ranking chief, he became ruler.

As the ruler, he could than marry a higher ranking Chiefess, and any children they had would than be higher ranking than himself.

In retrospect, as seen through the lens of the manosphere's common terminology, this is classic Matriarchy. The best women went to the strongest man, so she could have the most dominant genes to pass on to her children. But no matter how strong the man, Hawaiian society was still a Matriarchy, and women had the final say in matters of hearth, home and who they decided to have sex with.

A good example would be the story of King Kamehameha (that's his portrait I use as an avatar on this blog on the upper left hand side).

He was a Chief from the Big Island who was born of relatively low rank. At the time of his birth, he was the nephew of the Mo'i (King) of the Big Island. When his Uncle, the King died, he and his cousin, the King's son, eventually fought an island-wide war in which Kamehameha eventually succeeded in conquering the whole of the Big Island. From there, he eventually went on to conquer the entire Island chain and became the first King with all of the islands under a single Chief's rule.

And, as the King, he had many wives. Studying the history of his marriages gives good insight into the polygamous, Matriarchal system in Ancient Hawaii. While he had many wives, only two are really noted in history...his favorite wife, Ka'ahumanu, and his most sacred wife, highest ranking in her time by Genealogy, Keopuolani. Even though Ka'ahumanu was his favorite, it was the son born by Keopuolani who was the heir to the throne and eventually became King Kamehameha II.

Ka'ahumanu actually never bore any children, but if she had, her children would never have been in line for the throne, as Keopuolani had the higher Genealogical rank.

Ka'ahumanu was a fiesty, head strong and fiery woman...but she was an integral player in Kamehameha's conquest of the islands, for it was several of her Uncles who were prominent warriors who brought their armies under Kamehameha's direction when he began the conquest of the Big Island and later the entire island chain.

After he had conquered the Big Island, he asked his most prominent Priest and adviser if he had any potential concerns for rebellion in his newly established Kingdom. He was shocked that when his adviser told him that his only potential source for rebellion was from his favorite wife, Ka'ahumanu. The following recount comes from the book Kamehameha and his Warrior Kekuhaupi'o:

If your wife should be attracted to another ali'i and she should love this new man, then she would turn and give the kingdom to this new man. Her uncles would also turn and help their neice, and you, e Kalani, would be in trouble. (e Kalani is the equivalent to "Your Royal Highness" - literally translated, it means "Heavenly One.")

Heeding the advice of his adviser, Kamehameha decreed at his court that Ka'ahumanu was Kapu, or forbidden to all men, under the penalty of death.

Note that the King, the strongest man of the Kingdom, had no control over his wife herself. He couldn't tell her to do anything. He could only warn all the other men that if they dared have an affair with his wife, he'd have them killed.

It must also be noted that despite Ka'ahumanu being of lower rank than Keopuolani, she wielded far greater political power than the higher ranking wife of the King's harem. When Kamehameha died, his son by the high ranking Keopuolani was only a young teenager, not ready to take the reigns of power over the Kingdom. Ka'ahumanu became the regent and de facto ruler until Liholiho - Kamehameha II - was old enough to rule.

Even when Liholiho did become the King, many historians consider Ka'ahumanu the true power behind the throne...even though Keopuolani was in fact the highest ranking Queen upon Kamehameha's death, she ended up returning to Kaua'i where her family resided, as she was uninterested in politics, unlike Ka'ahumanu.

And, as I alluded to earlier with regards to the Ancient Hawaiian Kapu system regarding food and eating, it was Ka'ahumanu who was instrumental in overthrowing the old system when she was the Prime Minister during Kamehameha II's reign.

By the time Liholiho ascended to the throne, the Hawaiian society was in the process of a dramatic cultural upheaval. They noted that the haole broke many of the Kapu regarding men eating with women and women eating forbidden foods. They noted that the Gods did nothing when such Kapu were violated and they began to question the legitimacy of their religious doctrine and it's strict gender roles.

Ka'ahumanu served as the primary catalyst when she publicly sat down with Kamehameha II and his men and ate a meal with them. Almost immediately after she did so, the general populace rebelled and overthrew the Priestly caste and destroyed the temples and idols that had been the central power in Ancient Hawaiian society for generations.

This lead to a period of general anarchy and warfare as the Hawaiians no longer had to abide by the strict Kapu system that regulated all behavior. This chaos lead to the eventual introduction of Christianity when the Protestant missionaries arrived nearly a decade later to "save the souls of the heathen savages."

The historical example here appears to have parallels to our present day cultural troubles...similar also to those of ancient Roman society: when women become dissatisfied with their particular gender roles in society and they rebel against the old order, chaos and social upheaval are soon to follow.

Ok, before that last line gets anyone upset, I was being facetious.


Anonymous said...

Fow how long did the Hawai'ian live under the rule of women?
200 years, 300 years, 400 years, 500 years?

You're describing something that was common during the 18th and 19th centuries. But what about before?

Genealogies based on female line are commong among peoples who don't know their fathers. Some Gypsies have this custom because many Gypsy women are prostitutes.

In any case, genealogies based on female line is not the norm among most humans.

Keoni Galt said...

For how long did the Hawai'ian live under the rule of women?

I think there needs be a distinction made here...the Hawaiians as a group of people, were typically ruled by the strongest man, but even the strongest man could not control his wife in matters of marriage.

And my description basically described the last generation of Hawaiian matriarchy as it existed for hundreds of years prior to western contact.

Anonymous said...

Well that was really something. Thanks for posting, I'm gonna show this to some mainland natives. Loads of similarities.

Why do some natives go for libertarianism? More than anything else for me it's about SOVEREIGNTY.

MW said...

Fascinating article, thanks for posting! I'd like to look into this more, do you have a list of references? The incident of the people overthrowing the old religious order when they see no supernatural displays of power to enforce the old moral codes is profound.

It's interesting to compare the different responses of Polynesian groups to the arrival of Europeans ie. Hawaii versus New Zealand or Tonga.

I like your approach here, comparing modern conditions to those of past civilisations. Puts things into perspective when you take a long view. I'd be interested in further articles about ancient Hawaiian society.

Rob said...

This was a spectacular article, HL. You should sticky it somewhere.

herbal medicne said...

It must also be noted that despite Ka'ahumanu being of lower rank than Keopuolani, she wielded far greater political power than the higher ranking wife of the King's harem.

Anonymous said...

so how does one get in touch with you without doing this Google profile or some such stuff?

Anonymous said...

Keoni, do you have a contact email? thanks

Vahram G. Diehl said...

I would also like to speak with you. I am considering moving to Hawaii and starting multiple free market education services and would like to get to know other libertarians/anarchists in the area. I like your writing a lot.

hgh review said...

In ancient Hawaii, marriage between a man and a woman, called ho'ao pa'a, was a lasting relationship. A man did not leave his wife nor the wife her husband.

Anonymous said...

So quick story for no reason. I think I got like 10 different kinds of blood in me, part native, part latino, mostly white. So where do I come from? I can't get any more precise than "planet Earth".

So I went to Maui (for no particular reason) but I totally discovered that Hawaiians only come from one place: Hawaii. Sounds kinda simple right? But if you go there it's really profound: the land literally IS the people and the people ARE the land.

The people I found to be downright sweet but also the young men were FEARSOME. And also I realized I was trespassing. I realized I should go buying plane tickets to just anywhere, I should have asked for PERMISSION. Well now I have permission. Some folks in Hanna said "come back and let us see you some day". And I've never had anything quite like that happen. The people, the land, the water, the air, it's all so incredibly GIVING. And I told the people that Creator must love you most of all and they said why? and I said "he put you in paradise unlike anything else on this planet". And the white part of me realizes that we screwed up something so precious and valuable that we will never, ever be able to repay. That doesn't happen much because I think of myself as an indian and I think like an indian. On Maui I felt like a white person. Haoli? (chuckle). Yeah we got a couple words for 'em too. Wasi is one. But one of my faves is "wampiskatunkt" which roughly translates to "those jerks". Or the full phrase "muneishnuk wampiskatunkt" which is like "those sick jerks".

I'm one of the Mountain Joes from and we'd love so very much to hear from you. And if you come through Northern AZ you can stay with me at my cabin. It's a bit modest but it's comfortable and where I live is very pretty and the people are all friendly. Well mostly. ;)

Anonymous said...

Am I correct in assuming that many STDs were unknown in Hawaii? That would explain some of the sexual practices you describe, but I am only guessing based on Hawaii's isolation in its early history.

Keoni Galt said...

As you all can see from my latest post, I haven't checked in here for the past week due to being really busy and also having some malware crash my system.

Anon - Sovereignty? For sure. One thing I noticed is that leftists/socialists/progressives all try to co-opt native soveriegnty movements all over. Fuck that.

MW - There's a lot more topics I could for recommendations - check out that book I linked to in the article - Kamehameha and his warrior, Kekuhaupio. Fascinating book, I've read it 3 times already.

Rob - Thanks...great to see you still around. How's the fishing?! :)

Keoni Galt said...

Anons & Vahram - my email is hidden for a reason. I got too many kooks emailing me angry missives and such. If you really want to email me, you can do so through the Spearhead.

hgh review - Technically, you are correct. As I pointed out in the beginning, for most of Hawaiians, lifelong monogamy was the norm. The ali'i, however, regularly practiced polygamy.

Anon from Mountain Joes - thanks to the invite. I've camped in AZ before. Loved it.

Anon - Yes, Hawaiians had no STD's. Once the Westerners arrived, the STD's they brought devastated the populace. The basic libertine sexual mores of the Hawaiians lead to STD's spreading like wildfire once they arrived here.

LadyLydia said...

I guess I was thinking of some of the more modern customs of Hawaiian couples that had been married a long time. Maybe you could elaborate on that. By modern, I mean customs of the last 50 years that might have been held by your grandparents or great grandparents. How did they celebrate anniversaries and what kind of things did they do for one another in general, and what kind of things did they do to show their respect and honor, etc.

Anonymous said...

Any idea what happened to glitteringopprobrium?

Keoni Galt said...

I have no idea....bummer. Another good blog bites the dust.

Anonymous said...

Ryu on Mucius Scaevola:
I don’t know how much he wants other people to know. He is alright, and seems to have needed some time to re-prioritize some things. I am sure, however, that he will blog again. It is an illness, a compulsion and one does not give it up so easily. It would be like OneSTDV or Welmer giving it up. You know they’d be back in a week.

mahina said...

I love finding posts like this :)

Anonymous said...

This so called article, gives absolutely no reference to its claims of ancient moral or social practices of the Hawaiian people. Rubbish, Aloha.

Keoni Galt said...

This so called article, gives absolutely no reference to its claims of ancient moral or social practices of the Hawaiian people. Rubbish, Aloha.

This so-called "article" is a blog post on my personal blog. It is not a dissertation or a report that requires references or footnotes.

That being said, you must have missed the reference to the Desha book "Kekuhaupi'o." That is one thick book that contains many references to the aspects of Ancient Hawaiian culture that I referene here. This post was an off the cuff, extemporaneous posting that was written in a single sit down session of about an hour and a half. It is the distillation of the knowledge I gained from years of reading many different Hawaiian history books by the likes of Malo, Fornander, I'i, Pukui and other luminaries like King Kalakaua that wrote about Ancient Hawaiian society.

I also took several semester's worth of Hawaiian studies classes at the University of Hawaii.

If I am mistaken in anything I posted here, I'm happy to accept criticism, critique and correction.