Each Hawaiian was born into a class of people, and at the top were the rulers, a small but powerful class of chiefs, known as the aliʻi and in those days, the aliʻi was the government.
Of all the people, it was the king who held the greatest respect and the one whom no one questioned. But this class of royalty did not just consist of the king and his family, the aliʻi or the government system was more complicated and consisted of more than what most people think of when they hear of the Aliʻi. (Seleska)
The aliʻi were not all equal in rank, it is just a word that people are accustomed to using – they give the name aliʻi to all those from the very high to very low rank. In olden times, the kinds of aliʻi were classified according to their birth and the height at which each aliʻi stood. (Kamakau)
Special care was taken in regard to chiefs of high rank to secure from them noble offspring, by not allowing them to form a first union with a woman of lower rank than themselves, and especially not to have them form a first union with a common or plebeian woman (wahine noa.) (Malo)
To this end diligent search was first made by the genealogists into the pedigree of the woman, if it concerned a high born prince, or into the pedigree of the man, if it concerned a princess of high birth, to find a partner of unimpeachable pedigree …
… and only when such was found and the parentage and lines of ancestry clearly established, was the young man (or young woman) allowed to form his first union, in order that the offspring might be a great chief. (Malo)
The father was a high chief, an aliʻi nui, with no one low in rank on the side of either his father or mother; the kapu moe, the prostrating kapu, and his kapu. So also on the side of the mother. Their kapu were equal – one need not remove the oneʻs kapa in deference to the kapu of the other, and their regard of each other was equally warm. Their children were aliʻi niʻaupiʻo.
If two aliʻi niʻaupiʻo united to guard their kapu against loss to another and had great affection for each other, their children would be aliʻi piʻo. The kapu of these aliʻi were of the very highest, and they were called gods; they conversed with men only at night.
The kapu of the two fathers were equal – they were both niʻaupiʻo – and the mother was a niʻaupiʻo. She had children, a boy, kane, by one and a girl, wahine, by the other, who united to preserve the kapu. The children of these two were aliʻi naha, and they were sacred chiefs, aliʻi kapu.
The mother was an aliʻi niʻaupiʻo, and the father was from the family of the high chief; or the father was an aliʻi niʻaupiʻo, and the mother was from the family of the aliʻi nui. Their children were called aliʻi wohi.
The chiefs of Lihuʻe, Wahiawa, and Halemano on Oʻahu were called lo aliʻi. Because the chiefs at these places lived there continually and guarded their kapu, they were called lo aliʻi. They were like gods, unseen, resembling men.
The mother was an aliʻi niʻaupiʻo or an aliʻi piʻo, and the father was a kaukau aliʻi; their children were aliʻi papa.
The father was a niʻaupiʻo or an aliʻi piʻo, and the mother was from the family of the aliʻi nui; their children were called lokea aliʻi and sometimes aliʻi wohi.
The father was from a chiefly family and so was the mother; their ranks were equal; their children were laʻauli chiefs.
The father was a high chief, an aliʻi nui, and the mother was a chiefess of little rank, he wahi aliʻi iki; their children were kaukau aliʻi.
The father was a chief of little rank, and the mother was a noanoa, a woman of no rank; or the mother was a chiefess, and the father was a noanoa. Their children were called hana lepo popolo.
Because they were the ruling class, the aliʻi had special things that only they could use. As signs of royalty, they wore feather cloaks, lei and helmets. Nobody else could wear those symbols. (Wong) The image shows ‘Gathering of Chiefs’ by Brook Parker. (Lots of information here is from Kamakau.)