He who violated a tabu was at once killed. Capital punishment seems to have been an effective restraint upon crime among these savages, contrary to the theories of some modern philosophers; probably it was effective for two reasons, because it was prompt and because it was certain. One wonders how long the tabu would have been respected, had a violator of it been lodged in jail for eighteen months, allowed to appeal his case through three courts, and at last been brained amidst the appeals for mercy of the most respectable people of his tribe, and had his funeral ceremonies performed by the high-priest, and closed with a eulogy upon his character, and insinuations against the sound judgment and uprightness of the chief who ordered the execution.
The first Kamehameha, who seems to have been a savage of considerable merit, and a firm believer in capital punishment, subdued the Islands to his own rule, but he did not aim to break the power of the chiefs over their people. He established a few general laws, and insisted on peace, order, and obedience to himself. By right of his conquest all lands were supposed to be owned by him; he gave to one chief and took away from another; he rewarded his favorites, but he did not alter the condition of the people.
But as traders came in, as commerce began, as money came into use, the feudal system began to be oppressive. Sandal-wood was long one of the most precious products of these islands—their Chinese name, indeed, is "Sandal-wood Islands." The chiefs, greedy for money, or for what the ships brought, forced their unhappy retainers into the mountains to gather this wood. Exposed to cold, badly fed, and obliged to bear painful burdens, they died in great numbers, so that it was a blessing to the Islanders when the wood became scarce. Again, supplies of food were sold by the chiefs to the ships, and this necessitated unusual labor from the people. One famous chief for years used his retainers to tow ships into the narrow harbor of Honolulu, sending them out on the reef, where, up to their middle in water, they shouldered the tow-line.
Thus when, in 1848; the king, at the instance of that excellent man and upright judge, Chief-justice Lee, gave the kuliana rights, he relieved the people of a sore oppression, and at a single blow destroyed feudalism. The kuliana is the individual holding. Under the kuliana law each native householder became entitled to the possession in fee of such land as he had occupied, or chose to occupy and cultivate. He had only to make application to a government officer, have the tract surveyed, and pay a small sum to get the title. It is creditable to the chiefs that, under the influence of the missionaries, they consented to this important change, fully knowing that it meant independence to the common people and an end of all feudal rights; but it must be added that a large part of their lands remained in their hands, making them, of course, still wealthy proprietors.
Thus the present system of land tenure on the Islands is much the same as our own; but the holdings of the common people are generally small, and the chiefs, or their successors in many cases foreigners, still maintain their right to the sea fisheries as against all who live outside the old boundaries of their own "lands."
The families of most of the great chiefs have become extinct. Their wealth became a curse to them when foreigners came in with foreign vices and foreign luxuries. They are said to have been remarkable as men and women of extraordinary stature and of uncommon perfection of form. I have been told of many chiefesses nearly or quite six feet in height, and many chiefs from six feet two inches to six feet six, and in one case six feet seven inches high. There is no reason to doubt the universal testimony that they were, as a class, taller and finer-looking than the common people; but the older missionaries and residents believe that this arose not from their being of a different race, but because they were absolutely relieved from hard work, were more abundantly and carefully fed, and used the lomi-lomi constantly. It is supposable, too, that in the wars which prevailed among the tribes the weaklings, if any such were among the chiefs, were pretty sure to be killed off; and thus a natural selection went on which weeded out the small and inefficient chiefs.
Their government appears to have been a "despotism tempered by assassination," for great as was the respect exacted by a chief, and implicit as was the obedience he commanded, if he pushed his tyranny too far, his people rose and slew him. Thus on Kauai, in the lower part of the Hanapepe Valley, a huge cliff is shown, concerning which the tradition runs that it was once the residence of the chief who ruled this valley. This person, with a Titanic and Rabelaisian humor, was accustomed to descend into the valley in the evening, seize a baby and carry it to his stronghold to serve him as a pillow. Having slept upon it he slew it next morning; and thus with a refinement of luxury he required a fresh baby every evening. When patience had ceased to be a virtue, according to our more modern formula, the people went up one night and knocked his brains out; and there was a change of dynasties.
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Notes About Book:
Source: Nordhoff, Charles. Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1875.
Online Publication: This book has been scanned, ocr'd and thoroughly vented for errors.
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