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Ali?i in the Hawaiian language refers to the hereditary line of rulers, the noho ali?i, of the Hawaiian Islands. Ali?i has a similar meaning in the Samoan language and other Polynesian languages, and in M?ori is pronounced "ariki."
In ancient Hawaiian society, the ali?i were the hereditary nobles (social class or caste). The ali?i consisted of the higher and lesser chiefs of the various levels within the islands. The noho ali?i were the ruling chiefs. The ali?i were believed to be descended from the deities. They governed with divine power called mana, which was derived from the spiritual energy of their ancestors.
There were eleven classes of ali?i, of both men and women. These included the kahuna (priestesses and priests, experts, craftsmen, and canoe makers) as part of four professions practiced by the nobility. Each island had its own ali?i nui, who governed their individual systems.Ali?i continued to rule the Hawaiian islands until 1893, when Queen Lili?uokalani was overthrown by a coup d'état backed by the United States government.
Ali?i nui were ruling chiefs (in Hawaiian, nui means grand, great, or supreme.). The nui title could be passed on by right of birth.
Social designations of noho ali?i (ruling line)
Samuel M. Kamakau writes extensively about the ali?i nui and kaukau ali?i lines and their importance to Hawaiian history.
Ali?i nui were supreme high chiefs of an island and no others were above them (during the Kingdom period this title would come to mean "Governor"). The four largest Hawaiian islands (Hawai?i proper, Maui, Kaua?i, and O?ahu) were usually ruled each by their own ali?i nui. Moloka?i also had a line of island rulers, but was later subjected to the superior power of nearby Maui and O?ahu during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. M was a special title for the highest chief of the island of Maui. Later, the title was used for all rulers of the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiian monarchs.
Ali?i nui kapu were sacred rulers with special taboos.
Ali?i Naha were a rank of chiefs who were products of half-blood sibling unions; famous Naha chiefs include Keopuolani.
Ali?i Wohi were a rank of chiefs who were products of marriage of close relatives other than siblings; one famous Wohi chief was Kamehameha I. These chiefs possessed the kapu wohi, exempting them from kapu moe (prostration taboo).
Kaukau ali?i were lesser chiefs who served the ali?i nui. It is a relative term and not a fixed level of ali?i nobility. The expression is elastic in terms of how it is used. In general, it means a relative who is born from a lesser ranking parent. A kaukau ali?i son's own children, if born of a lesser ranking ali?i mother, would descend to a lower rank. Eventually the line descends, leading to makainana (commoner).Kaukauali?i gain rank through marriage with higher-ranking ali?i.
One kaukau ali?i line descended from Moana K?ne, son of Keakealanikane, became secondary ali?i to the Kamehameha rulers of the kingdom and were responsible for various hana lawelawe (service tasks). Members of this line married into the Kamehamehas, including Charles Kana?ina and Kek?an?o?a. Some bore K?hili, royal standards made of feathers, and were attendants of the higher-ranking ali?i. During the monarchy some of these chiefs were elevated to positions within the primary political bodies of the Hawaiian legislature and the king's Privy Council. All Hawaiian monarchs after Kamehameha III were the children of Kaukauali?i fathers who married higher ranking wives.:112
Feudal social organization
Ali?i ?Aimoku were subordinate district ali?i, but controlled their petty fiefs. But these petty fiefs could sometimes encompass one-sixth of an island, since the islands were usually divided into six districts. These feudal lords were ali?i nui of their district and were styled as "Ali?i-o-Name of District".
Internecine warfare between heirs of rulers was common in ancient Hawai?i. Warfare between chiefs was also common.
Commoner or lesser Ali?i served the higher-ranking Ali?i, not for pay, but instead, due to their duty to allegiance to the nation.
Higher ali?i gave lesser ali?i parcels of land, which those lesser ali?i would in turn govern. The lesser ali?i divided the land into plots to be farmed and cultivated by makainana families. Harvests were returned to the lesser ali?i, each taking a portion before sending tribute to the supreme ali?i.
Both the reigning dynasties of the united Hawaiian Kingdom (1810-1893) were of ali?i class. As each relative of those dynasties was entitled to the title ali?i, they have later, posthumously, been popularly labeled (mostly erroneously) princesses and princes. But only a limited number of royal relatives ever received the princely title from the monarch.
1843 Kamehameha named his country the Hawaiian Kingdom to distinguish it from the former "Sandwich Isles" proclaimed by Captain Cook in 1798. On November 28, 1843, at the Court of London, the British and French governments entered into a formal agreement to recognize Hawaiian independence.