Pā‘ao (ca 1300,) from Kahiki (Tahiti,) is reported to have introduced (or significantly expanded) a religious and political code in old Hawai‘i, collectively called the kapu system.
The kapu system was the common structure, the rule of order, and religious and political code. This social and political structure gave leaders absolute rule and authority. This forbid many things and demanded many more, with many infractions being punishable by death.
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.
This changed the course of the civilization 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. The end of the kapu system by Liholiho happened before the arrival of the missionaries; it made way for the transformation to Christianity and westernization.
While Liholiho’s brother Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) ruled as monarch (with shared authority with the Kuhina Nui,) he, too, took bold steps in changing the structure of governance. Kamehameha III initiated and implemented Hawaiʻi’s first constitution (1840) (one of five constitutions governing the Islands – and then, later, governance as part of the United States.)
Included were also published “penal laws,” which outlined classes of offenses and punishments for the same – with the death penalty being allowed for acts of murder.
“Many foreigners had predicted that whenever it became necessary to enforce the Penal Laws this enacted and promulgated, leniency would be shown towards chiefs of high rank.” (Bennet)
Then, there was enforcement and execution of the new laws on someone of rank, Kamanawa II (his father was High Chief Kepoʻokalani.)
Kamanawa, born during the days of the ancient customs with an unstructured approach to marriage, had found it difficult to live according to the increasingly Christian ways of his peers. When “one-to-one” marriage had been declared the law by royal order, his roving habits were not changed, and whenever he was attracted to a new love he followed his old ways. Kamokuiki (his wife,) adhering to the new faith, had little sympathy with his wanderings and finally went to the chiefs seeking a divorce. (Gutmanis)
As early as 1825, the chiefs in various districts had issued edicts of law that, following Christian teachings, included prohibitions against adultery and the biblical relief of divorce and the right to remarry given the injured party. And so it was with Kamokuiki whose divorce, dated August 16, 1840, stated: because Kamanawa has repeatedly committed adultery, his wife Kamokuiki has requested a separation. (Gutmanis)
There is no record of how Kamanawa received the decree, but six weeks later on September 26, 1840 Kamokuiki was dead. Murder being instantly suspected, an autopsy was performed and the stomach found to be “much inflamed while every thing else was in order.” (Gutmanis)
Kamanawa and his friend Lonopuakau, captain of the Hawaiian vessel Hooikaika, confessed that Kamanawa had administered the fatal dose and that the Captain had prepared the mixture of ʻakia, ʻauhuhu and ʻawa that caused Kamokuiki’s death.
“She survived but three hours, medical assistance being of no avail. As soon as she was dead, which was about midnight, the news immediately spread and a terrible wailing commenced, which was quickly born to the other side of the island. It was so loud, so prolonged and so sudden as to awake at once almost all the residents, and at that hour, as its sepulchral cadences rose and fell, and were lost in the distance, the effect was startling and mournful in the extreme.” (Hawaiian Gazette, October 12, 1894)
Justice was swift; on September 30, 1840, a jury of 12 chiefs was empaneled to try Kamanawa and Lonopuakau.
On “Wednesday morning a court was held at the Fort, for the trial of Kamanawa and Lono, captain of the schooner Hooikaika, for the murder of Kamokuiki, wife of the former. Governor Kekūanāoʻa was the presiding Judge, the King and high chiefs being present.” (The Polynesian, October 3, 1840)
“The court being organized, the trial commenced, when the following facts were developed: The first-mentioned person, it appears, had been divorced from his wife for some time past, but could not marry again while she was living: Having conceived a violent passion for another woman, he determined to rid himself of his wife, and applied to Lono, who was said to be skilled in preparing poisons. Lono also wishing to destroy his wife, the two agreed to poison both”. (The Polynesian, October 3, 1840)
The jury found the two guilty and sentenced to hang on October 20th.
On the October 24, The Polynesian carried a short item that succinctly summed up the execution of the sentencing: “The murderers Kamanawa and Lonopuakau expiated their crime on the scaffold on Tuesday last, at the Fort in the presence of a large concourse of people.”
The site of the execution was over the gate of Fort Kekuanohu (Fort Honolulu – that once stood at the bottom of Fort Street;) the gallows was erected above the gate, so it could be easily seen for some distance.
After the hanging, either one or both of the bodies were buried at the cross-roads, in accordance with the old English custom of burying executed criminals where they would be out of the way, and the burial places be forever unknown. It is believed that the cross roads selected were at the junction of King and Punchbowl or Queen and Punchbowl streets.
I should note – Kamanawa II was no ‘ordinary’ ranking chief.
He was the grandson of Kameʻeiamoku, one of the ‘royal twins’ (uncles of Kamehameha the Great and his counselors in the wars to unite the Islands.) He was named after his famous grand uncle, the other royal twin. (The twins are on Hawaiʻi’s Royal Coat of Arms; Kameʻeiamoku is on the right holding a kahili and Kamanawa on the left holding a spear.)
Oh, one more thing … Kamanawa II and Kamokuiki were parents of Caesar Kapaʻakea. In 1835, Caesar married the High Chiefess Analeʻa Keohokālole; they had several children.
Most notable were a son, who on February 13, 1874 became King Kalākaua, and a daughter, who on January 29, 1891 became Queen Liliʻuokalani (they were grandchildren of Kamanawa II, the first to be charged and hanged under Hawaiʻi’s first modern criminal laws.)
It is said that after Kalākaua came to the throne, he had the body of Kamanawa taken up and the bones removed to Mauna Ala in Nuʻuanu. This is positively stated by the natives. (Hawaiian Gazette, October 12, 1894) Kamokuiki was buried at Kawaiahaʻo Church.