Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Ai Noa or free eating, translated literally from the Hawaiian, convulsed the Hawaiian islands in 1819. The state religion was overthrown. Women were allowed to eat forbidden food and to eat with men; the priests were no longer to offer human sacrifices; the many prohibitions surrounding the high chiefs were relaxed.
It was customary to mourn the deaths of high chiefs with wailing and self-mutilation, such as knocking out teeth and cutting off fingers. The usual taboos or kapus were in abeyance during the mourning period. Women ate pork and bananas; people had sexual intercourse with whomoever they pleased; routine life was completely overthrown. When a new high chief came to power, he re-imposed the kapus.
Liholiho did attempt to do so, but he was opposed by his mother, Keopuolani, and the other wives of Kamehameha, notably Ka'ahumanu, the powerful Maui chiefess. He took refuge in his canoe and after sailing about aimlessly for two days on the west coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i, he landed and ate the feast of dogmeat (ordinarily reserved for women) that the chiefesses had prepared for him. Messengers were then sent over the islands announcing that eating was free and the kapus had fallen.
This event is still something of a puzzle to historians. Why should the new king have overthrown the state religion but adopted nothing to take its place? Kings have often changed their faith, and forced their peoples to follow ... but to change to nothing? True, the monarchy soon adopted the Congregationalist faith of the American missionaries who arrived in 1820, but there was a year or more of aimless interregnum. Commentators can only point out that since Captain Cook's first visit in 1778, the Hawaiian islands had become a favored Pacific port of call. For forty years Hawaiians had seen powerful and wealthy foreigners disregarding all the kapus and flourishing nonetheless. Perhaps it is not surprising that they would lose faith in their old ways.
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