Hawaiians - Sociopolitical Organization

At the time of Western contact in 1778 the Hawaiian islands were politically divided into several competing chiefdoms. Hawaii was an independent kingdom from 1795 to 1893 and a United States territory from 1898 until statehood in 1959.

Social Organization. Precontact Hawai'i was a highly stratified society where the chiefs were socially and ritually set apart from the common people. Rank was bilaterally determined and chiefly women wielded considerable authority. The commoner category was internally egalitarian.

Political Organization. Each island was divided into Districts consisting of several ahupua'a land sections. Districts and ahupua'a were redistributed by successful chiefs to their followers after a conquest. The chief then appointed a local land agent to supervise production and maintenance of the irrigation system. The commoners materially supported the chiefs with tribute at ritually prescribed times. Rebellions and power struggles were common. In legendary histories cruel and stingy chiefs are deserted by their people and overthrown by their kinder younger brothers.

Social Control. The chiefs had absolute authority over commoners. They could confiscate their property or put them to death for violating ritual prohibitions. In practice, However, chiefs were constrained by their reliance on the underlying populace of producers. In Hawaiian communities today there is no sense of inborn rank and an egalitarian ethic prevails. Pretensions are leveled by the use of gossip and temporary ostracism.

Conflict. Warfare was endemic in the Hawaiian chieftainship in the century or two preceding Cook's arrival. After Kamehameha's conquest the Hawaiian warrior ethic declined to the extent that the monarchy could be overthrown in 1893 by a company of marines. Interpersonal conflicts among Hawaiians today typify the tensions present in any small-scale community, and they are for the most part resolved through the intervention of family and friends. Hawaiians are very reluctant to call in outside authorities to resolve local-level conflicts.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: