The kapu supported Hawai‘i’s social and political structure and directed every activity of Hawaiian life, from birth through death. The kapu system helped the ali‘i and kahuna keep their power over the people. The people believed that breaking the kapu would bring the anger of the gods on themselves and their community. They made every effort to follow the kapu set down by the ali‘i and kahuna. With the kapu, if you didn’t follow the rules, you could die. While the social order defined very strict societal rules, exoneration was possible if one could reach a puʻuhonua (place of refuge) and be cleansed, as well as cleared by a kahuna (priest). Shortly after the death of Kamehameha I in 1819, King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) declared an end to the kapu system.
This changed the course of the social, political and religious structure and ended the kapu system, effectively weakened belief in the power of the gods and the inevitability of divine punishment for those who opposed them. Some have suggested it was the missionaries that ended the kapu that disrupted the social/political system in the Islands; that is not true, they arrived in 1820. The Mission Prudential Committee in giving instructions to the pioneers of 1819 said: “Your mission is a mission of mercy, and your work is to be wholly a labor of love. Your views are not to be limited to a low, narrow scale, but you are to open your hearts wide, and set your marks high. You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of Christian civilization.” With Christianity, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”