A Hawaiian Change Maker: Queen Ka'ahumanu
A notable figure in Hawaiian history, Ka’ahumanu was a Hawaiian queen and King Kamehameha’s favorite wife. During her time as queen she helped bring Christianity to Hawaii, married two contenders to the throne to maintain Kamehameha’s line, and instigated reforms for women. Here’s just part of her story…
Before we discuss Queen Ka'ahumanu, we need to review the Hawaiian monarchy at the time. King Kamehameha I ruled the Hawaiian islands. Upon Kamehameha’s death, his son (with another woman) Liholiho became king.
Liholiho (Kamehameha II) was only a young man with little experience in governing when his father died, so with the kingdom in need of leadership, Queen Ka’ahumanu stepped in to help. The Maui native donned Kamehameha’s famous yellow cloak as a symbol of her self-appointed role as queen, thus sharing the throne with Liholiho, her adopted son.
Queen Ka'ahumanu, Louis Choris (Life time: 1795-1828), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Queen Ka’ahumanu immediately set to work changing many traditions to consolidate her power and reform society. These included shifting from Hawaii’s worship of multiple gods, dissolving the caste system at the time and disrupting the kapu system, which had helped govern Hawaiian society and maintain social order for centuries.
One of the main reforms she initiated was to overcome the taboos placed on women under the kapu system. This was a code of conduct in ancient Hawaiian society that regulated how people interacted. For example, under kapu, men and women were forbidden to eat together. It was even kapu for women to eat certain foods such as pork, many types of bananas, coconuts and fish. Today, locals use the word kapu on signs that literally mean taboo or “do not enter”, or “do not touch”.
Curious how this ambitious queen ended the kapu system? Well, she openly ate with King Liholiho, breaking the custom of dining seperately!
This is just one example of Queen Ka'ahumanu’s influence in Hawaiian history. To learn more about Hawaii's history, check out our audio driving tours - we have 21 across the Hawaiian Islands.