Aliʻi in the Hawaiian language refers to the hereditary line of rulers, the noho aliʻi, of the Hawaiian Islands. Aliʻi has a similar meaning in the Samoan language and other Polynesian languages, and is a cognate of the Māori word "ariki".


In ancient Hawaiian society, the aliʻi were the hereditary nobles (social class or caste).[1][2] The aliʻi consisted of the higher and lesser chiefs of the various levels within the islands.[3][4] The noho aliʻi were the ruling chiefs.[5] The aliʻi were believed to be descended from the deities.[6] They governed with divine power called mana, which was derived from the spiritual energy of their ancestors.[4][7]

There were eleven classes of aliʻi, of both men and women. These included the kahuna (priestesses and priests, experts, craftsmen, and canoe makers) as part of four professions practiced by the nobility.[8] Each island had its own aliʻi nui, who governed their individual systems.[9] Aliʻi continued to rule the Hawaiian islands until 1893, when Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown by a coup d'état backed by the United States government.

Aliʻi nui were ruling chiefs (in Hawaiian, nui means grand, great, or supreme.[10]). The nui title could be passed on by right of birth.

Social designations of noho aliʻi (ruling line)

Samuel M. Kamakau writes extensively about the aliʻi nui and kaukau aliʻi lines and their importance to Hawaiian history.[11]

  • Aliʻi nui were supreme high chiefs of an island and no others were above them (during the Kingdom period this title would come to mean "Governor"). The four largest Hawaiian islands (Hawaiʻi proper, Maui, Kauaʻi, and Oʻahu) were usually ruled each by their own aliʻi nui. Molokaʻi also had a line of island rulers, but was later subjected to the superior power of nearby Maui and Oʻahu during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Mōʻī was a special title for the highest chief of the island of Maui. Later, the title was used for all rulers of the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiian monarchs.
  • Aliʻi nui kapu were sacred rulers with special taboos.
  • Aliʻi Piʻo were a rank of chiefs who were products of full blood sibling unions. Famous Piʻo chiefs were the royal twins, Kameeiamoku and Kamanawa.
  • Aliʻi Naha were a rank of chiefs who were products of half-blood sibling unions; famous Naha chiefs include Keopuolani.
  • Aliʻi Wohi were a rank of chiefs who were products of marriage of close relatives other than siblings; one famous Wohi chief was Kamehameha I. These chiefs possessed the kapu wohi, exempting them from kapu moe (prostration taboo).
  • Kaukau aliʻi were lesser chiefs who served the aliʻi nui.[12] It is a relative term and not a fixed level of aliʻi nobility. The expression is elastic in terms of how it is used. In general, it means a relative who is born from a lesser ranking parent.[13][14] A kaukau aliʻi son's own children, if born of a lesser ranking aliʻi mother, would descend to a lower rank. Eventually the line descends, leading to makaʻāinana (commoner).[15] Kaukaualiʻi gain rank through marriage with higher-ranking aliʻi.

One kaukau aliʻi line descended from Moana Kāne, son of Keakealanikane, became secondary aliʻi to the Kamehameha rulers of the kingdom and were responsible for various hana lawelawe (service tasks). Members of this line married into the Kamehamehas, including Charles Kanaʻina and Kekūanāoʻa.[12] Some bore Kāhili, royal standards made of feathers, and were attendants of the higher-ranking aliʻi.[12] During the monarchy some of these chiefs were elevated to positions within the primary political bodies of the Hawaiian legislature and the king's Privy Council. All Hawaiian monarchs after Kamehameha III were the children of Kaukaualiʻi fathers who married higher ranking wives.[12]:112[16]

Feudal social organization

  • Aliʻi ʻAimoku were subordinate district aliʻi, but controlled their petty fiefs. But these petty fiefs could sometimes encompass one-sixth of an island, since the islands were usually divided into six districts. These feudal lords were aliʻi nui of their district and were styled as "Aliʻi-o-Name of District".

Internecine warfare between heirs of rulers was common in ancient Hawaiʻi. Warfare between chiefs was also common.

Commoner or lesser Aliʻi served the higher-ranking Aliʻi, not for pay, but instead, due to their duty to allegiance to the nation.

The caste organization facilitated a feudal system that resembles other feudal societies, for example the feudal systems found in Europe circa 1000 AD, in feudal Japan, Ethiopia, and so on.

Higher aliʻi gave lesser aliʻi parcels of land, which those lesser aliʻi would in turn govern. The lesser aliʻi divided the land into plots to be farmed and cultivated by makaʻāinana families. Harvests were returned to the lesser aliʻi, each taking a portion before sending tribute to the supreme aliʻi.

Both the reigning dynasties of the united Hawaiian Kingdom (1810–1893) were of aliʻi class. As each relative of those dynasties was entitled to the title aliʻi, they have later, posthumously, been popularly labeled (mostly erroneously) princesses and princes. But only a limited number of royal relatives ever received the princely title from the monarch.

1843 Kamehameha named his country the Hawaiian Kingdom to distinguish it from the former "Sandwich Isles" proclaimed by Captain Cook in 1798. On November 28, 1843, at the Court of London, the British and French governments entered into a formal agreement to recognize Hawaiian independence.

See also


  1. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui; Samuel H. Elbert (1 January 1986). Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian. University of Hawaii Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8248-0703-0.
  2. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of aliʻi". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  3. ^ Sharon Henderson Callahan (20 May 2013). Religious Leadership: A Reference Handbook. SAGE Publications. p. 252. ISBN 978-1-4522-7612-0.
  4. ^ a b Brien Foerster. The Real History Of Hawaii: From Origins To The End Of The Monarchy. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-300-46126-5.
  5. ^ Juri Mykkänen (January 2003). Inventing Politics: A New Political Anthropology of the Hawaiian Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-8248-1486-1.
  6. ^ John F. McDermott; Wen-Shing Tseng; Thomas W. Maretzki (1 January 1980). People and Cultures of Hawaii: A Psychocultural Profile. University of Hawaii Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-8248-0706-1.
  7. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of mana". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  8. ^ Stephen Dando-Collins (1 April 2014). Taking Hawaii: How Thirteen Honolulu Businessmen Overthrew the Queen of Hawaii in 1893, With a Bluff. Open Road Media. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-4976-1429-1.
  9. ^ Barbara A. West (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. p. 270. ISBN 978-1-4381-1913-7.
  10. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of nui". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  11. ^ Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau (1 January 1992). Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Kamehameha Schools Press. p. iii. ISBN 978-0-87336-014-2.
  12. ^ a b c d Kanalu G. Terry Young (25 February 2014). Rethinking the Native Hawaiian Past. Taylor & Francis. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-317-77668-0.
  13. ^ Abraham Fornander; Thomas George Thrum (1920). Fornander collection of Hawaiian antiquities and folk-lore ... Bishop Museum Press. p. 311.
  14. ^ Davida Malo (1903). Hawaiian Antiquities: (Moolelo Hawaii). Hawaiian islands. pp. 82–.
  15. ^ Kauanui, J. Kēhaulani (17 October 2008). Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity. Duke University Press. pp. 44–. ISBN 0-8223-9149-X.
  16. ^ Osorio, Jon Kamakawiwoʻole (2002). Dismembering Lāhui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 80, 11, 147. ISBN 0-8248-2549-7.

Further reading

1840 Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom

The 1840 Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom titled Ke Kumukānāwai a me nā Kānāwai o ko Hawaiʻi Pae ʻĀina, Honolulu, 1840 was the first fully written constitution for the Hawaiian Kingdom. The need for a constitution was originally intended as a manner of laws set forth to control the Native Hawaiian population with a Western style and legal framework, giving less severe punishments, such as being exiled, than was the traditional custom until the 1840s. Christianity had failed to change many behaviors of the Hawaiian population, even with the support of the aliʻi families. Adultery and many other sexual relations became forbidden. Hawaiians were arrested and sentenced to severe punishments that were not well organised. The exiled had little food and could easily swim away from the islands and the prison at Honolulu Fort. The issue became worse as fewer pardons from the aliʻi were available, and the overall sentencing then became much more severe for the native population.

Alii nui of Hawaii

The following is a list of Aliʻi nui of Hawaiʻi.

Aliʻi nui refers to the supreme ruler (sometimes called the "King" or Moi) of the island. Aliʻi refers to the ruling class of Hawaiʻi prior to the formation of the united kingdom. Here, "Hawaiʻi" refers to the island of Hawaiʻi, also called "the Big Island".

Alii nui of Kauai

The Aliʻi nui of Kauaʻi was the sovereign king or queen of the islands of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau.

Alii nui of Maui

The Aliʻi nui of Maui was the supreme ruler of the island of Maui, one of the four main Hawaiian Islands. The title is the same as that of the Aliʻi nui of the other islands. The title or phrase Mōʻī is sometimes used for the title of the monarchs of Maui; however, it is not an ancient word in the Hawaiian language and has origins in the mid 19th century. The only monarchs to officially hold the title of Mōʻī are Kalākaua and his sister Liliuokalani.

Alii nui of Molokai

The Aliʻi nui were high chiefs of the four main Hawaiian Islands. The rulers of Molokai, like those of the other Hawaiian islands, claim descent from god Wākea.

Alii nui of Oahu

The aliʻi nui of Oahu was the sovereign and supreme ruler of one of the four main Hawaiian Islands. The monarchs of the Island of Oʻahu, like those of the other islands, claim descent from Wākea.

Nanaulu, a fourteenth generation descendant of Wakea was the ancestor of Kumuhonua, 1st known King of Oʻahu, brother of Moiheka, King of Kauai of the second dynasty. In 1783, Oahu was conquered by the King Kahekili II of Maui whose son Kalanikūpule was, in turn, conquered by King Kamehameha I in 1795 at the Battle of Nuʻuanu. Many times the kings of Oahu had hegemony over the island of Molokai and used it as summer getaway. It was Oʻahu who brought forth the first Mo'iwahine or Queen regnant of any of the Hawaiian Islands.

Ancient Hawaii

Ancient Hawaiʻi is the period of Hawaiian human history preceding the unification in 1810 of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi by Kamehameha the Great. Traditionally researchers estimated the first settlement of the Hawaiian islands by Polynesian long-distance navigators from French Polynesia, Tahiti, the Tuamotus and the Samoan Islands as having occurred sporadically between 300 and 800 CE. In 2010, a study was published based on radiocarbon dating of more reliable samples which suggests that the islands were settled much later, within a short timeframe, in about 1219 to 1266.The islands in Eastern Polynesia have been characterized by the continuities among their cultures, and the short migration period would be an explanation of this result. Diversified agroforestry and aquaculture provided sustenance for Native Hawaiian cuisine. Tropical materials were adopted for housing. Elaborate temples (called heiau) were constructed from the lava rocks available.

The rich natural resources supported a relatively dense population, organized by a ruling class and social system with religious leaders. Captain James Cook made the first known European contact with ancient Hawaiians in 1778. He was followed by many other Europeans and Americans.

E Ola Ke Alii Ke Akua

"E Ola Ke Aliʻi Ke Akua", translated as God Save the King, was one of Hawaii's four national anthems. It was composed in 1860 by Prince William Charles Lunalilo, who later became King Lunalilo. Prior to 1860, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi lacked its own national anthem and had used the British royal anthem God Save The King. A contest was sponsored in 1860 by Kamehameha IV, who wanted a song with Hawaiian lyrics set to the tune of the British anthem. The winning entry was written by the 25-year-old Lunalilo and was reputed to have been written in 20 minutes. Lunalilo was awarded 10 dollars which he later donated to the Queen's Hospital. His composition became Hawaiʻi's first national anthem. It remained Hawaiʻi's national anthem until 1866, when it was replaced by Queen Liliʻuokalani's composition He Mele Lāhui Hawaiʻi .

Huliheʻe Palace

The Huliheʻe Palace is located in historic Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi, on Ali'i Drive. The former vacation home of Hawaiian royalty, it was converted to a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaiʻi, showcasing furniture and artifacts. It is located at 75–5718 Aliʻi Drive, Kailua-Kona.


Kalaimanokahoʻowaha (also known as Kanaʻina) was an aliʻi high chief of the island of Hawai'i who lived during the period of Captain James Cook's visit and western naming of the Sandwich Islands. He was the chief said to have struck the first blow to Cook when he attempted to kidnap Kalaniʻōpuʻu, the king of the island. He was called Kanaʻina nui ( an aliʻi title) as a birthright from his father, Keaweʻopala, first born son of Alapainui. After his father was killed by Kalaniʻōpuʻu, he would serve the new king as a kaukau aliʻi, a service class of Hawaiian nobility that his mother, Moana Wahine had descended from. This aliʻi service line would continue throughout the Kingdom of Hawaii.


In Hawaiian mythology, Ka-moho-aliʻi is a shark god and a brother of Kāne Milohai, Pele, Kapo, Nāmaka and Hiʻiaka.

Ka-moho-aliʻi swam in the area around the islands of Maui and Kahoʻolawe. When a ship was lost at sea, Ka-moho-aliʻi shook his tail in front of the fleet and the kahuna would feed him "awa" (a name for kava, a narcotic drink), and Ka-moho-aliʻi would guide the men home. He is sometimes said to have guided the ships of the original inhabitants of Hawaii from the mainland to their island home in this way.

Ka-moho-aliʻi had the power to take on the form of any fish.


Kaumualiʻi (c. 1778–May 26, 1824) was the last independent aliʻi nui (supreme ruler of the island) of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau before becoming a vassal of Kamehameha I of the unified Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1810. He was the 23rd high chief of Kauaʻi, reigning from 1794–1810.

Although he was sometimes known as George Kaumualiʻi, he should not be confused with his son who is more commonly known by that name.

In Hanamaulu, the King Kaumualii Elementary School is named after Kauai's last reigning chief.


Keaweʻōpala is the first born son of Alapainui (the usurping Aliʻi nui of Hawaii Island) and his wife Keaka, who cared for Kamehameha the Great in his youth along with her sister Hākau. He would inherit his father's position after being named heir by Alapainui shortly before his death.His was a short rule of just 1 year beginning around 1754. He was overthrown by Kalaniʻōpuʻu.Keaweʻopala would father a child with Moana Wahine, named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha also known as Kanaʻina, who would be taken into the new king's court to serve as a royal attendant as a new aliʻi line of secondary chiefs serving the supreme ruler of the island and the kingdom. Kanaʻina would cohabitate with his half sister from his mother Moana Wahine, Hākau. Her father was Heulu. The couple would have a child named Hao, the grandson of Keaweʻopala. Hao's daughter was Luahine. Luahine's daughter was Kōnia, who was the mother of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the three times great granddaughter of Keaweʻopala.With Namoe he had a son Kanekoa. With Keoua he had a daughter Peleuli. With Kaukuhakuonana he had two sons Kanehiwa and Kuapuu. Kanehiwa married a cousin named Kaulunae and were the parents of Lipoa and Julia Moemalie. Kanekoa's grandson was Joseph Heleluhe, who was the private secretary of Queen Liliuokalani.


Keākealanikāne (1575 – 1635) (Hawaiian: Ke-ākea-lani Kāne "the male heavenly expanse") was an aliʻi nui of the island of Hawaiʻi (1605–1635). He was the sovereign of the Big Island. He is mentioned in chant Kumulipo.

During the reign of Keākealanikāne several of the more powerful of the district chiefs had assumed an attitude of comparative independence.


Keakealaniwahine (c. 1640-1695), was a High Chiefess and ruler Aliʻi Nui of Hawaiʻi island.


Kīwalaʻō (1760-1782) was the aliʻi nui of the Island of Hawaii in 1782 when he was defeated in battle and overthrown by Kamehameha I.

Legislature of the Hawaiian Kingdom

The Legislature of the Hawaiian Kingdom (Hawaiian: ʻAhaʻōlelo o ke Aupuni o Hawaiʻi) was the bicameral (later unicameral) legislature of the Hawaiian Kingdom. A royal legislature was first provided by the 1840 Constitution and the 1852 Constitution was the first to use the term Legislature of the Hawaiian Islands, and the first to subject the monarch to certain democratic principles. Prior to this the monarchs ruled under a Council of Chiefs (ʻAha Aliʻi).

Royal School (Hawaii)

The Royal School is a historic school founded in 1839 in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, as the Chiefs' Children's School. The school was renamed as the Royal School in 1846. After the boarding closed in 1850, it became a day school for children. It later became a public elementary school, and moved to its present campus in 1967.

The present Royal Elementary School continues to educate children from kindergarten to Grade 5 and has been named a Blue Ribbon School several times.

ʻIolani Palace

The ʻIolani Palace was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii beginning with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty (1845) and ending with Queen Liliʻuokalani (1893) under the Kalākaua Dynasty, founded by her brother, King David Kalākaua. It is located in the capitol district of downtown Honolulu in the U.S. state of Hawaiʻi. It is now a National Historic Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, the building was used as the capitol building for the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory, and State of Hawaiʻi until 1969. The palace was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1978. The ʻIolani Palace is the only royal palace on US soil.


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