Aliʻi is a word in the Hawaiian language that refers to the hereditary line of rulers, the noho ali'i, of the Hawaiian Islands.


  • Background 1
  • Social designations of noho aliʻi (ruling line) 2
  • Feudal social organization 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6


In ancient Hawaiian society, the aliʻi were the hereditary nobles (social class or caste).[1][2] The aliʻi consisted of the higher and lesser chiefs of the various levels within the islands.[3][4] The noho alli were the ruling chiefs.[5] It was believed that the aliʻi descended from the gods.[6] They governed with divine power called mana which was derived from the spitual energy of their ancestors[4][7] There were eleven classes of aliʻi of both men and women. These included the kahuna (priest/priestess, experts, craftsmen and canoe maker) as part of four professions practiced by the nobility.[8] Each island had its own aliʻi nui which governed their individual systems.[9] Aliʻi continued to rule the Hawaiian islands until 1893 when Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown by a coup d'état backed by the United States Government.

Aliʻi nui were ruling chiefs (in Hawaiian, nui means grand, great, or supreme.[10]). The nui title could be past on by right of birth.

Alii is also a term that means hello in Palauan Language.

Social designations of noho aliʻi (ruling line)

Samuel M. Kamakau writes extensively about the aliʻi nui and kaukau aliʻi lines and their importance to Hawaiian history.[11]

  • Aliʻi 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 (Hawaiʻi proper, Maui, Kauaʻi, and Oʻahu) were usually ruled each by their own aliʻi nui. Molokaʻi also had a line of island kings, but was later subjected to the superior power of nearby Maui and Oʻahu during the 17th and 18th centuries. Mōʻī was a special title for the highest chief of the island of Maui. Later, the title was used for all kings of the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiian monarchs.
  • Aliʻi nui kapu were sacred rulers with special taboos.
  • Aliʻi Piʻo were a rank of chiefs who were products of full blood sibling unions. Famous Piʻo chiefs were the royal twins, Kameeiamoku and Kamanawa.
  • Aliʻi Naha were a rank of chiefs who were product of half blood sibling unions, famous Naha chiefs include Keopuolani.
  • Aliʻi Wohi were a rank of chiefs who were product of marriage of close relatives other than siblings; one famous Wohi chief being Kamehameha I. These chiefs possessed the kapu wohi, exempting them from kapu moe (prostration taboo).
  • Kaukau aliʻi were lesser chiefs that served the aliʻi nui.[12] It is a relative term and not a fixed level of aliʻi 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.[13][14] A kaukau aliʻi son's own children, with a lesser ranking aliʻi mother would descend to a lower rank. Eventually the line descends, leading to makaʻāinana (commoner).[15] Kaukaualiʻi gain rank through marriage with higher-ranking aliʻi. One kaukau aliʻi line descended from Moana Kāne, son of Keakealanikane, became secondary Aliʻi to the Kamhehameha rulers of the kingdom and were responsible for various hana lawelawe (service tasks). Members of this line married into the Kamehamehas including Charles Kanaʻina and Kekūanāoʻa.[12] Some bore Kāhili, royal standards made of feathers, and were attendants of the higher-ranking aliʻi.[12] 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. Every Hawaiian monarchs after Kamehameha III were the children of Kaukaualiʻi fathers, who married higher ranking wives.[12]:112[16]

Feudal social organization

  • Aliʻi ʻAimoku were subordinate district aliʻi, 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 aliʻi nui of their district and were styled as "Aliʻi-o-Name of District".

Internecine warfare between heirs of rulers was common in ancient Hawaiʻi. Warfare between chiefs was also common.

Commoner or lesser Aliʻi served the higher-ranking Aliʻi, not for pay, but instead, due to their duty to allegiance to the nation.

The caste organization facilitated a feudal system that resembles other feudal societies, for example the feudal systems found in Europe circa 1000 AD, in feudal Japan, Ethiopia, and so on.

Higher aliʻi gave lesser aliʻi parcels of land, which those lesser aliʻi would in turn govern. The lesser aliʻi divided the land into plots to be farmed and cultivated by makaʻāinana families. Harvests were returned to the lesser aliʻi, each taking a portion before being sent to the supreme aliʻi.

Both the reigning dynasties of the united Kingdom of Hawaiʻi (1810–1893) were of aliʻi class. As each relative of those dynasties was entitled to the title aliʻi, they have later, posthumously, been popularly labeled (mostly erroneously) princesses and princes, although only a limited number of royal relatives ever received the princely title from the monarch.

See also


  1. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui; Samuel H. Elbert (1 January 1986). Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian. University of Hawaii Press. p. 20.  
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Sharon Henderson Callahan (20 May 2013). Religious Leadership: A Reference Handbook. SAGE Publications. p. 252.  
  4. ^ a b Brien Foerster. The Real History Of Hawaii: From Origins To The End Of The Monarchy. p. 30.  
  5. ^ Juri Mykkänen (January 2003). Inventing Politics: A New Political Anthropology of the Hawaiian Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press. p. 172.  
  6. ^ John F. McDermott; Wen-Shing Tseng; Thomas W. Maretzki (1 January 1980). People and Cultures of Hawaii: A Psychocultural Profile. University of Hawaii Press. p. 8.  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ Stephen Dando-Collins (1 April 2014). Taking Hawaii: How Thirteen Honolulu Businessmen Overthrew the Queen of Hawaii in 1893, With a Bluff. Open Road Media. p. 9.  
  9. ^ Barbara A. West (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. p. 270.  
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau (1 January 1992). Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Kamehameha Schools Press. p. iii.  
  12. ^ a b c d Kanalu G. Terry Young (25 February 2014). Rethinking the Native Hawaiian Past. Taylor & Francis. p. 58.  
  13. ^ Abraham Fornander; Thomas George Thrum (1920). Fornander collection of Hawaiian antiquities and folk-lore ... Bishop Museum Press. p. 311. 
  14. ^ Davida Malo (1903). Hawaiian Antiquities: (Moolelo Hawaii). Hawaiian islands. pp. 82–. 
  15. ^ J. Kēhaulani Kauanui; J. Kehaulani Kauanui (17 October 2008). Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity. Duke University Press. pp. 44–.  
  16. ^ Osorio, Jon Kamakawiwoʻole (2002). Dismembering Lāhui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 80, 11, 147.  

Further reading

  • Hommon, Robert J. (2013). The Ancient Hawaiian State: Origins of a Political Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Kirch, Patrick Vinton (2010). How Chiefs Became Kings: Divine Kingship and the Rise of Archaic States in Ancient Hawaiʻi. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press.  
  • Linnekin, Jocelyn (1990). Sacred Queens and Women of Consequence: Rank, Gender, and Colonialism in the Hawaiian Islands. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.  
  • Osorio, Jon Kamakawiwoʻole (2002). Dismembering Lāhui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.  
  • Stokes, John F. G. (1932). "The Hawaiian King". Hawaiian Historical Society Papers No. 19. (Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society): 1–28.  
  • Young, Kanalu G. Terry (1998). Rethinking the Native Hawaiian Past. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.