Pāʻao (ca 1300,) from Kahiki (Tahiti,) is reported to have introduced (or significantly expanded,) a religious and political code in old Hawaiʻi, collectively called the kapu system. This forbid many things and demanded many more, with many infractions being punishable by death.
Anything connected with the gods and their worship was considered sacred, such as idols, heiau and priests. Because chiefs were believed to be descendants of the gods, many kapu related to chiefs and their personal possessions.
Certain objects were also kapu, and to be avoided, either because they were sacred or because they were defiling. Seasons and places could also be declared kapu.
Certain religious kapu were permanent and unchangeable, relating to customary rites, observances, ceremonies, and methods of worship, and to the maintenance of the gods and their priests.
The social order of old Hawaiʻi was defined by these very strict societal rules, do’s and don’ts.
Prior to his death on May 8, 1819, Kamehameha decreed that that his son, Liholiho, would succeed him in power; he also decreed that his nephew, Kekuaokalani, have control of the war god Kūkaʻilimoku.
(Kamehameha had experienced a similar transfer of powers; following Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s death in 1782, the kingship was inherited by his son Kīwalaʻō; Kamehameha (Kīwalaʻō’s cousin) was given guardianship of the Hawaiian god of war, Kūkaʻilimoku.)
Following the death of Kamehameha I in 1819, King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) declared an end to the kapu system. “An extraordinary event marked the period of Liholiho’s rule, in the breaking down of the ancient tabus, the doing away with the power of the kahunas to declare tabus and to offer sacrifices, and the abolition of the tabu which forbade eating with women (ʻAi Noa, or free eating.)” (Kamakau)
“The custom of the tabu upon free eating was kept up because in old days it was believed that the ruler who did not proclaim the tabu had not long to rule….The tabu eating was a fixed law for chiefs and commoners, not because they would die by eating tabu things, but in order to keep a distinction between things permissible to all people and those dedicated to the gods”. (Kamakau)
Kekuaokalani, Liholiho’s cousin, opposed the abolition of the kapu system and assumed the responsibility of leading those who opposed its abolition. These included priests, some courtiers, and the traditional territorial chiefs of the middle rank.
Kekuaokalani demanded that Liholiho withdraw his edict on abolition of the kapu system. (If the kapu fell, the war god would lose its potency.) (Daws)
Kamehameha II refused. After attempts to settle peacefully, “Friendly means have failed; it is for you to act now,” and Keōpūolani then ordered Kalanimōku to prepare for war on Kekuaokalani. Arms and ammunition were given out that evening to everyone who was trained in warfare, and feather capes and helmets distributed. (Kamakau)
The two powerful cousins engaged at the final Hawaiian battle of Kuamoʻo.
In December 1819, just seven months after the death of Kamehameha I, the allies of his two opposing heirs met in battle on the jagged lava fields south of Keauhou Bay. Liholiho had more men, more weapons and more wealth to ensure his victory. He sent his prime minister, Kalanimōku, to defeat his stubborn cousin.
Kekuaokalani marched up the Kona Coast from Kaʻawaloa and met his enemies at Lekeleke, just south of Keauhou. The first encounter went in favor of Kekuaokalani. At Lekeleke, the king’s army suffered a temporary defeat.
Regrouping his warriors, Kalanimōku fought back and trapped the rebels farther south along the shore in the ahupuaʻa of Kuamoʻo. (Kona Historical Society)
Kekuaokalani showed conspicuous courage during the entire battle. He kept on advancing and even when shot in the leg he fought on bravely until afternoon, when he was surrounded and shot in the chest and died facing his enemies. (Kamakau)
His wife Manono fought and died at his side.
Liholiho ordered the bodies of his men to be buried beneath the terraced graves at Lekeleke; Kekuaokalani’s dead warriors were buried there, as well, and Liholiho pardoned all surviving rebels. It was estimated that hundreds of people were killed in this battle, the last fought in Kona.
The burial ground of the fallen warriors of the battle of Kuamoʻo is at Lekeleke at the southern terminus of the present day Aliʻi Drive.
The battle of Kuamoʻo effectively crushed any hope of reviving traditional Hawaiian religion and its accompanying kapu system. This changed the course of their civilization and ended the kapu system (and the ancient organized religion,) and made way for the transformation to Christianity and westernization.
Liholiho and the others did not know that at the time that the kapu was broken and battle was waged, the first of the Protestant missionaries were on the ocean on their way to the Islands.
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus; after 164-days at sea, on April 4, 1820, the Thaddeus arrived and anchored at Kailua-Kona.
These included two Ordained Preachers, Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; a Doctor, Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia; a Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.
With the missionaries were four Hawaiian students from the Foreign Mission School, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Prince Humehume (son of Kauaʻi’s King Kaumuali‘i.)
Within five years of the missionaries’ arrival, a dozen chiefs had sought Christian baptism and church membership, including the king’s regent Kaʻahumanu. The Hawaiian people followed their native leaders, accepting the missionaries as their new priestly class. The process culminated in Hawaiian King Kamehameha III’s adoption of Christianity and a Biblically-based constitution in 1840. (Schulz)
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863) (the “Missionary Period”,) about 180-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.
The image shows the Kuamoʻo Lekeleke Burial Memorial. More images are added to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.