An Examination of the Causes Leading to the Abolition of the Kapu System in Hawaii

Bray, Brandon
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
One of the most well-known and crucial episodes in the course of Hawaiian history is the formal abolition of the kapu system by certain recognized individuals in Hawaiian society. In 1819, the native Hawaiian people, after years of contact with Europeans beginning with the "discovery" of the islands by Captain James Cook in 1778, abolished major aspects of their kapu (taboo) system, just a year before the missionaries arrived to convert large segments of the population into Christians. Many authors of different disciplines of study have attemped to write about the kapu system and have given their accounts and personal views of the reasons for its abolition. The purpose of this paper is to define the kapu system, its role in Hawaiian life, and to examine the possible causes leading to its renouncing by a segment of the Hawaiian population in the early nineteenth century. To fulfill this objective, I believed that it was importnat for me to first give a broad ethnographic background of the Hawaiian ancients, for the kapu system had virtually permeated every aspect of Hawaiian society, affecting the Hawaiians on the community and individual levels. Moreover, I have included a section that concerns foreign influence in Hawaii, for I believe that it was the foreigners, European and American, who directly and/or indirectly influenced the abolition movement by their culture and ideals. However, I believe that this was not a sudden process and that the final decision to overthrow the kapu was left to the Hawaiians, i.e., "it takes two".
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