Sunday, January 4, 2015

Nine Traditions That Emphasized Chiefly Rank

In 1920, Martha Beckwith became the first person to hold a chair in Folklore at any college or university in the country. The Folklore Foundation, established at Vassar, was an unprecedented institution and became a center of research in the almost entirely new field of folk culture.  (Vassar)

“Position in old Hawaiʻi, both social and political, depended in the first instance upon rank, and rank upon blood descent-hence the importance of genealogy as proof of high ancestry.”

“Grades of rank were distinguished and divine honors paid to those chiefs alone who could show such an accumulation of inherited sacredness as to class with the gods among men. Since a child inherited from both parents, he might claim higher rank than either one.”  (Beckwith)

There were nine traditions that emphasized chiefly rank:

  1. a family genealogy tracing back to the gods through one of the two sons of Ki‘i, Ulu and Nanaʻulu, and by as many branches (lala) as family relationship could be stretched to cover
  2. a name chant, composed at birth or given in afterlife, glorifying the family history not only of persons concerned but also of places made sacred by particular events or association
  3. signs in the heavens by which ʻaumakua of the day recognized their offspring on earth
  4. a special place set aside as sacred to the birth of high-ranking chiefs (i.e. Kūkaniloko)
  5. the sacred cord (aha) stretched at the entrance of a chief's dwelling, under which all of lower rank must pass but which fell "of itself" before the approach of anyone of equal or higher position
  6. wealth, especially in lands, labor and specialized objects such as foods, ornaments, colors belonging to ranking chiefs alone
  7. the power of the kapu, which gave the ranking chief immense personal privilege, although the ruling chief might have actually more power over lands and wealth (before certain captive chiefesses of Maui of incredible sanctity, according to Kamakau, Kamehameha himself was of lower rank)
  8. the right to officiate in the heiau as both chief and priest 
  9. at death, the final deification of the bones and their laying away in a sacred and secret place difficult of access (one of the most important such place in ancient times being the ʻĪao valley on the island of Maui)

Rank depended primarily upon blood; but of great importance was the conduct of life by which one could, by carelessness in preserving the kapu and in making proper marriages, lose caste and prerogatives under the severe discipline of the Aha-ali‘i (Council of Chiefs,) or could, through a royal marriage, raise the rank of one’s descendants upon the family line.

The image, ‘Aha Ula’ by Brook Parker, represents the chiefly rank.  Information here is primarily from Beckwith, Mookini and Yardley.

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