“Kailua Harbor, April 5, 1820. In the dawn of the day, as we passed near shore, several chiefs were spending their idle hours in gambling, we were favored with an interview with Hewahewa, the late High Priest. He received us kindly and on his introduction to Brother Bingham he expressed much satisfaction in meeting with a brother priest from America, still pleasantly claiming that distinction for himself.” (Loomis)
“He assures us that he will be our friend. Who could have expected that such would have been our first interview with the man whose influence we had been accustomed to dread more than any other in the islands; whom we had regarded and could now hardly help regarding as a deceiver of his fellow men. But he seemed much pleased in speaking of the destruction of the heiau and idols.”
“About five months ago the young king consulted him with respect to the expediency of breaking taboo and asked him to tell him frankly and plainly whether it would be good or bad, assuring him at the same time that he would be guided by his view. Hewahewa speedily replied, maikai it would be good, adding that he knew there is but one “Akoohah” (Akua) who is in heaven, and that their wooden gods could not save them nor do them any good.” (Loomis)
“Hewahewa, the high priest, had ceased to believe in the power of the ancient deities, and his highest chiefs, especially the state queen Kaahumanu, resolved to abolish the oppressive “kapu” system. The king, ʻIolani Liholiho, had been carefully trained in the traditions of his ancestors and it was not an easy matter to foresake the beliefs of his fathers. He was slow to yield to the sentiments of the chiefs.” (Honolulu Star-bulletin, February 1, 1915)
“The ancient system consisted in the many tabus, restrictions or prohibitions, by which the high chiefs contrived, to throw about their persons a kind of sacredness, and to instil into the minds of the people a superstitious awe and peculiar dread.”
“If the shadow of a common man fell on a chief, it was death; if he put on a kapa or a malo of a chief, it was death; if he went into the chief’s yard, it was death; if he wore the chief’s consecrated mat, it was death; if he went upon the house of the chief, it was death.”
“If a man stood on those occasions when he should prostrate himself, (such as) when the king’s bathing water… (was) carried along, it was death. If a man walked in the shade of the house of a chief with his head besmeared with clay, or with a wreath around it, or with his head wet… it was death.”
“There were many other offenses of the people which were made capital by the chiefs, who magnified and exalted themselves over their subjects.” (Dibble)
Shortly after the death of Kamehameha I in 1819, King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) declared an end to the kapu system. In a dramatic and highly symbolic event, Kamehameha II ate and drank with women, thereby breaking the important eating kapu.
“When the ruling aliʻi of the realm renounced the old religion in 1819, with the collaboration of no less a person than Hewahewa, the high priest of the whole kingdom, the foundation upon which the validity of the kahuna had for so long rested crumbled and fell away.” (Kanahele)
“By the time Liholiho made his fateful decision, many others, including the high priest Hewahewa, whose position in the religious hierarchy could be compared to that of a pope, evidently had concluded that the old gods were not competent to meet the challenges that were being hurled at them by the cannons, gadgets and ideas of the modern world.” (Kanahele)
“(Hewahewa) publicly renounced idolatry and with his own hand set fire to the heiau. The king no more observed their superstitious taboos. Thus the heads of the civil and religious departments of the nation agreed in demolishing that forbidding and tottering taboo system”. (Loomis)
“I knew the wooden images of deities, carved by our own hands, could not supply our wants, but worshiped them because it was a custom of our fathers. My thoughts has always been, there is only one great God, dwelling in the heavens.” Hewahewa also prophesied that a new God was coming and he went to Kawaihae to wait for the new God, at the very spot were the missionaries first landed.
This changed the course of the civilization and ended the kapu system, and effectively weakened the belief in the power of the gods and the inevitability of divine punishment for those who opposed them.
The end of the kapu system by Liholiho (Kamehameha II) happened before the arrival of the missionaries; it made way for the transformation to Christianity and westernization.
“The tradition of the ships with white wings may have been the progenitor of the Hawaiians’ symbol for Lono during the Makahiki. … With so many ships with white sails coming to Hawaii at that time, how would he know which ship would bring the knowledge of the true God of Peace?”
“He could not have known that, although the missionaries set sail on October 23rd, one day before the Makahiki began, they would take six months to arrive. Therefore, it was quite prophetic that, when he saw the missionaries’ ship off in the distance, he announced ‘The new God is coming.’ One must wonder how Hewahewa knew that this was the ship.” (Kikawa)
“Hewahewa knew the prophesy given by Kalaikuahulu a generation before. This prophesy said that a communication would be made from heaven (the residence of Ke Akua Maoli, the God of the Hawaiians) by the real God. This communication would be entirely different from anything they had known. The prophecy also said that the kapus of the country would be overthrown.”
“Hewahewa also knew the prophesy of the prophet Kapihe, who announced near the end of Kamehameha’s conquests, ‘The islands will be united, the kapu of the gods will be brought low, and those of the earth (the common people) will be raised up.’ Kamehameha had already unified the islands, therefore, when the kapus were overthrown, Hewahewa knew a communication from God was imminent.” (Kikawa)
After the overthrow of the kapu system, Hewahewa retired to Kawaihae, to wait confidently for the coming of a “new and greater God.” (Kikawa)
“Hewahewa departed for Kailua Bay (formally Kaiakeakua—Seaside of God) ahead of the missionaries to await their arrival with the King. After Hewahewa’s departure, the missionaries’ ship entered Kawaihae. Hewahewa’s household told the Hawaiians accompanying the missionaries the astounding news that the kapus had been overthrown! The missionaries ship was then directed to Kailua Bay were the King was in residence.”
At Kailua, Hewahewa gave an even more astounding prophecy, he pointed to a rock on the shore and said to the new king, ‘O king, here the true God will come.’ When the missionaries arrived at Kailua, they landed their skiff on that very rock! This rock is commonly known as the ‘Plymouth Rock of Hawaiʻi.
In 1820, Hewahewa, the highest religious expert of the kingdom, participated in the first discussions between missionaries and chiefs. He welcomed the new god as a hopeful solution to the current problems of Hawaiians and understood the Christian message largely in traditional terms. He envisioned a Hawaiian Christian community led by the land’s own religious experts. (Charlot)
“Hewahewa … expressed most unexpectedly his gratification on meeting us … On our being introduced to (Liholiho,) he, with a smile, gave us the customary ‘Aloha.’”
“As ambassadors of the King of Heaven … we made to him the offer of the Gospel of eternal life, and proposed to teach him and his people the written, life-giving Word of the God of Heaven. … and asked permission to settle in his country, for the purpose of teaching the nation Christianity, literature and the arts.” (Bingham)
Hewahewa later retired to Oʻahu and became one of the first members of the church established there. This church is located in Haleiwa and is called the Liliʻuokalani Protestant Church. (Kikawa) “He lived in the valley of Waimea, a faithful, consistent follower of the new light.” (The Friend, March 1, 1914)
The image shows Hewahewa and the destruction of the heiau. (Artwork done by Brook Kapukuniahi Parker.)