Monday, April 21, 2014

Penal Colonies

Before 1778, crime and punishment were closely related to the social and political structure of society.  Crimes were judged by their relationship to religion and class.  Crimes against the kapu system were severely punished, often by death. For these crimes involved offenses against the gods or the great chiefs. Such offenses threatened the basis upon which society was organized.  (King)

John B Whitman who was in the Islands from 1813 to 1815 noted, “The word tarboo (kapu) is used to signify certain rites and ceremonies established by ancient custom, the origin of which is forbidden, either to touch, eat, drink, use, or wear ….”

“I have often witnessed with surprise, the strict attention paid to the observance of the tarboos of individuals, the variety of which, obliges them to be extremely careful, and to become well acquainted with those of the Chiefs, and their connections.”

Following the death of Kamehameha I in 1819, King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) declared an end to the kapu system.   “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”  (Kamakau)

In part needing to fill the void left by the abolition of the kapu, on March 8, 1822, two "Notices” (essentially the first printed laws) were published at Honolulu. The first related to disturbances caused by seamen having liberty on shore and provided that any of them “found riotous or disturbing the peace" should be imprisoned in the fort and detained there until thirty dollars was paid for the release of each offender.”  (Kuykendall)

The second "Notice" read: “His Majesty the King, desirous of preserving the peace and tranquility of his dominions, has ordered that any foreigner residing on his Islands, who shall be guilty of molesting strangers, or in any way disturbing the peace, shall on complaint be confined in the Fort, and thence sent from the Islands by the first conveyance.”  (Kuykendall)

The King, Kuhina Nui and Chiefs decided that exile and banishment from the Kingdom was a way to handle troublesome foreigners. It was not long before they realized that the same principles could be used to control their own people. They began to define new laws and new crimes.  (King)

Missionary William Richards wrote, "The common penalty threatened to those who should break the laws, was banishment to the island of Tahoorawe (Kahoʻolawe) ...."

Describing the imprisonment of the first prisoners sent to the Island, Richards noted, “The chiefs then unanimously expressed their approbation of the sentence that had been passed upon them by the chiefs at Oʻahu, and declared their determination to punish all who should be guilty of like crimes.”

“They then called the governor of Kahurawe (Kahoʻolawe,) to whom they committed the criminals, charging him to keep them safely; at the same time telling him, that if they escaped from the island, he would be called to account for it.”

“Many of the older residents recall the common rumor in their early days here of that barren island having been a convict station, but, like the writer, are at a loss to define either the time of its designation as such, or its date of termination.”  (Thrum)

“In its origin, doubtless the fact that not a few escaped convicts from Botany Bay, who had made their presence felt on these shores in early days had familiarized the king and chiefs with the subject of banishment, was an influence toward its recognition and adoption here as a penalty for crime. While the time and circumstance of its origin is clouded with uncertainty, it appears to have been a working factor at the time of the visit at these islands of Wilkes’ Exploring Expedition, in 1840-41.”  (Thrum)

The account therein given is the only one published by an early writer:  “Kahoʻolawe - is fourteen miles long by five miles wide. It is uninhabited except by a few fishermen, and is used as a place of exile; at this time there was one state prisoner confined on it. Lieut. Budd - set out in search of the town.”

“After wandering over the rugged face of this barren island for many miles he discovered, to his great joy, from the top of a ridge, a cluster of huts near the water, which they soon reached. They proved to be inhabited by Kenemoneha, the exile above spoken of, who for the crime of forgery had been condemned to spend five years in exile upon this island. This was effected in a singular manner, and the punishment of the offender will serve to show the mode in which the laws are carried into execution.”

“The village is a collection of eight huts and an unfurnished adobe church. The chief has three large canoes for his use.  The only article produced on the island is the sweet potato, and but a small quantity of these. All the inhabitants of the island are convicts, and receive their food from Maui; their present number is about fifteen. Besides this cluster of convicts’ huts there are one or two houses on the north end inhabited by old women. Some of the convicts are allowed to visit the other islands, but not to remain.”  (March, 1841)

“It used to be a penal settlement, and no doubt the convicts enjoyed there as much ease and freedom from both surveillance and labor as their hearts could wish. I have heard that the late Kinimaka had a fine time of it. He was a native of some little rank and had his own dependants who used to swim from the shores of Maui and take him what he wanted to make his banishment entirely agreeable.”

But Kahoʻolawe was not the only penal colony.

Kekāuluohi (Kuhina Nui as Kaʻahumanu III) (1839-1845) “made Kahoʻolawe and Lānaʻi penal settlements for law breakers to punish them for such crimes as rebellion, theft, divorce, breaking marriage vows, murder, and prostitution.”  (Kamakau)

Others substantiate it: “Enquiring among Hawaiians upon this subject we have an account from a venerable native writer of this city, formerly of Honuaʻula, Maui who testifies of his own knowledge not only of the existence of the penal settlement of Kahoolawe about the year 1840, but one also at Lae-o-Kaʻena, Lānaʻi; the former island being designated for the men, and the women being banished to the latter place.”

“The women were conveyed across to Lae-o-Kaʻena by the schooner Hoʻoikaika, afterwards the men were sent to Kahoʻolawe, among whom was the Maui chief Kinimaka, who was designated as superintendent of the exiles. The work he assigned to them was the erection of houses of stone and dirt (adobe) at a place called Kaulana, a small bay, where with some residents they numbered 80 or more. After its designation as a convict station the former settlers left and returned to Honuaʻula, whence most of them had come.”

However, some of the men stole some canoes and “went over to Lae-o-Kaʻena, Lanai, and brought all the women to Kahoʻolawe to share their solitude .. (where) they lived peaceably together until in 1843 … (when they put an end to the law)  and sent the exiles to their respective localities to work upon the roads.”

“It is possible, however, that in the “Act of Grace” of Kamehameha III, in commemoration of the restoration of the flag by Admiral Thomas July 31st of that year, whereby “all prisoners of every description” committed for offenses during the period of cession “from Hawaiʻi to Niʻihau be immediately discharged,” royal clemency was extended to include prisoners of earlier conviction, since which time the laws on banishment appear to have been a dead letter long before, dropped from the statutes, apparently without special repeal.”  (Thrum)

The image shows Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi and Maui (GoogleEarth.)

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