Many Americans view the island of Hawaii as a tropical paradise and a once in a lifetime experience to visit. However, few Americans know how we came to acquire these islands, and what exactly happened to the kingdom that once reigned them. Along with the arrival of Captain Cook in January of 1778 came European imperialism, destruction, and missionaries that arrived with the goal of wiping out all native aspects of Hawaiian life. Hawaiians slowly began to lose touch with their native beliefs and traditions, including the foundation of their entire society – religion.
Inhabitants of the Hawaiian islands worshipped a polytheistic religion that was composed of several different types of Akuas (gods/goddesses). Many of their main gods were based in nature, and each god affected a certain part of the natural world. For example, the goddess Pele, the volcano goddess, is often considered to be the “…natural force that formed the Hawaiian chain of volcanic islands,” (King, 2002). Along with these natural gods came the idea of mana, or power. Every individual on the island had their own mana, but people with more mana than others were the leaders that rose to power. Mana was a sacred concept, so much so that the “shadows of the ali’i, or island leaders, must not be touched, as this was believed to steal their mana,” (HAWAII EDU TO CITE) and if they did, the act was punishable by death. The Hawaiian religion was a very tedious system of beliefs, but the people of Hawaii used it every single day.
Every aspect of Hawaiian life was in some way influenced by religion. A person’s normal daily habits almost always required a prayer of some sort in order to ensure that they would receive the result that they wanted. In Hawaiian life, particularly on the main island of Hawai’i, fishing was the skill they specialized in and it played a major role. Even after Hawaii’s main temples were destroyed, the fishing shrines, also known as a Ko’a, were still used to ensure you had a successful catch. At these shrines Hawaiians “offered up prayers at every point in the fishing process, from preparing olona fibers for fishing line to setting the hook in the fish’s mouth,” (HAWAIIHISTORY TO CITE). There are many different gods that have a role in the fishing process, such as Ku’ula, Kanemakua (a fisherman form of the god Kane), and Kinilau. While gods existed for every particular skill a person may have, the main gods were the foundation of all of Hawaii’s political structure.
The ancient Kingdom of Hawai’i was governed by a system of laws, rules, and regulations known as the kapu system. This system began to develop from the Hawaiian religion and the idea that their chiefs were equivalent to the gods they worshipped. A kapu, or taboo, was a forbidden act in Hawaiian society that was punishable, even for accidents, by death. These laws were held in high regards by the Hawaiian chiefs and kings, and they dictated their kingdom almost entirely off of them. A kapu existed for nearly every act a person does on a day-to-day basis, including “…a correct way to live, to worship, to eat, and even to have sex,” (HAWAII EDU TO CITE). Despite the idea that these laws are in action to appeal to the gods, according to David Malo, many kapus and taboos were incorporated into the system simply because a chief or king believed it would benefit their power (Creager, p. 36). As chiefs and kings would add more kapus to the system, it developed into the foundation of Hawaiian life. However, despite the belief that it has existed forever, it could not uphold forever.
In 1795, King Kamehameha I united the 8 main islands of Hawai’i into one kingdom. However, while inhabitants viewed this positively at first, it soon proved to be their downfall. In the novel “Moramona: The Mormons of Hawaii”, R. Lanier Britsch states “the unification of the islands under Kamehameha I as well as the destruction of the heiaus, pagan gods, and kapus worked for the benefit of Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Latter Day Saints alike,” (Creager, p. 35). The reason for this is simple; an entire kingdom united as one would also all fall together. This downfall began in 1819 soon after the death of King Kamehameha I. After his death, King Kamehameha II took over, and almost immediately desecrated the system his divine power was built upon. “The restriction against ‘free eating’, the ability of men and women to eat the same foods at the same table, was one of the most significant aspects of the kapu system,” (D. Rhodes & L. Greene, ) but with the pressure of his mother Ka’ahumanu, and his inability to lead, he broke the ancient kapu system when he sat at the women’s table during the feast to celebrate his return back to island to be king. Soon after this destruction, he ordered all temples and images regarding the Kapu system in Hawai’i to be destroyed. Not long after this, missionaries from New England set sail to the islands to convert native Hawaiians to Christianity, but they “were still concerned about whether or not they would be accepted by the Hawaiians and wondered how they would convince the natives to give up their pagan gods and kapu system,” (Creager, p. 37). Little did they know, they had been given the perfect opportunity to achieve their goal as the Hawaiians had no religion anymore.
Over the course of roughly 50 years, Hawaiian life changed into an entirely new culture, and it is solely due to arrival of Christian missionaries. Cook’s arrival in January of 1778

Post Author: admin