“An extraordinary event marked the period of Liholiho’s rule, in the breaking down of the ancient tabus, the doing away with the power of the kahunas to declare tabus and to offer sacrifices, and the abolition of the tabu which forbade eating with women (ʻAi Noa, or free eating.)” (Kamakau)
“The custom of the tabu upon free eating was kept up because in old days it was believed that the ruler who did not proclaim the tabu had not long to rule….The tabu eating was a fixed law for chiefs and commoners, not because they would die by eating tabu things, but in order to keep a distinction between things permissible to all people and those dedicated to the gods”. (Kamakau)
Following 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 Hawaiian civilization and ended the kapu system (and the ancient organized religion), effectively weakened belief in the power of the gods and the inevitability of divine punishment for those who opposed them, and made for the transformation.
Forty years had passed since the death of Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay, during which time the kapu system was breaking down; social behavior was changing rapidly and western actions clearly were immune to the ancient Hawaiian kapu (tabus).
Kamehameha II sent word to the island districts, and to the other islands, that the numerous heiau and their images of the gods be destroyed.
Kekuaokalani (Liholiho’s cousin) and his wife Manono opposed the abolition of the kapu system and assumed the responsibility of leading those who opposed its abolition. These included priests, some courtiers and the traditional territorial chiefs of the middle rank.
Kekuaokalani demanded that Liholiho withdraw his edict on abolition of the kapu system. Kamehameha II refused.
Keōpūolani (Liholiho’s mother,) ali‘i kapu (sacred chief), confronted Kekuaokalani. She tried to negotiate with him so as to prevent a battle that could end with her son’s losing the kingdom.
The two powerful cousins engaged at the battle of Kuamo‘o. The royal army, led by Kalanimōkū, numbered by nearly fifteen-hundred warriors, some of them bearing firearms. Kekuaokalani had fewer men and even fewer weapons than the king’s better-armed forces.
“Kekuaokalani was killed on the field, and Manono, his brave and faithful wife, fighting by his side, fell dead upon the body of her husband with a musket-ball through her temples.” (Kalākaua)
The Journal of William Ellis (1823): Scene of Battle with Supporters of Idolatry - “After traveling about two miles over this barren waste, we reached where, in the autumn of 1819, the decisive battle was fought between the forces of Rihoriho (Liholiho), the present king, and his cousin, Kekuaokalani, in which the latter was slain, his followers completely overthrown, and the cruel system of idolatry, which he took up arms to support, effectually destroyed.” (Ellis)
“The natives pointed out to us the place where the king’s troops, led on by Karaimoku (Kalanimōkū), were first attacked by the idolatrous party. We saw several small heaps of stones, which our guide informed us were the graves of those who, during the conflict, had fallen there.” (Ellis)
“We were then shewn the spot on which the king’s troops formed a line from the seashore towards the mountains, and drove the opposing party before them to a rising ground, where a stone fence, about breast high, enabled the enemy to defend themselves for some time, but from which they were at length driven by a party of Karaimoku’s (Kalanimōkū) warriors.” (Ellis)
“The small tumuli increased in number as we passed along, until we came to a place called Tuamoo (Kuamo‘o)…” (Ellis)
“Thus died the last great defenders of the Hawaiian gods. They died as nobly as they had lived, and were buried together where they fell on the field of Kuamo‘o.” (Kalākaua)
“Small bodies of religious malcontents were subdued at Waimea and one or two other points, but the hopes and struggles of the priesthood virtually ended with the death of Kekuaokalani.” (Kalākaua)
The image shows the burial mounds at Lekeleke, the result of the Battle of Kuamo‘o. The site has been restored by Keauhou Resort. In addition, I have included other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.
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