The growth of trade with foreigners, as the number of ships stopping at the islands increased, created a market economy alongside the traditional subsistence economy. Because the feudal character of the society continued for the natives, the ali'i made new demands on the maka'ainana to service this trade. The most extreme example of this occurred in the sandalwood trade. Hundreds of commoners were forced to gather the fragrant wood for the ali'i to trade with the foreigners. The results of this subjugation included the practical extinction of sandalwood, the neglect of agriculture, and the worsening of the health of the natives, already weakened from diseases introduced by the foreigners. 38/
The Kapu System Falls */
More important than the political and economic changes occurring in the first part of the 1800's was the religious and social significance of the breaking of the kapu system after the death of Kamehameha I in 1819. In that year his son, Liholiho, succeeded him to the throne as Kamehameha II. The new king would not rule alone, however. The dowager queen, Kaahumanu, became the kuhina nui (premier) and exercised substantial authority in running the government.
Although she exercised substantial power, Kaahumanu was still barred from exercising it to the fullest because of her sex. The kapu barring women from the luakini heiau, where one author states that political and religious decisions were made, were very strict. Therefore, soon after Kamehameha died, Kaahumanu began urging Liholiho to abolish the kapu system altogether. 39/
The new king hesitated at first, but he eventually acquiesced to the daring plan of the kuhina nui. The breaking of the kapu system, a truly revolutionary move, was symbolized by ai noa or "free eating"—the king eating with women, breaking the strict kapu against men and women eating together.
The erosion of belief by Hawaiians in the kapu system had begun years before. It is reported by some historians that Kaahumanu herself, along with numerous other women, had begun to break the onerous kapu against them years before. Despite the kapu forbidding it, women had been swimming out to the ships, risking death to do so. The existence of foreigners also served to weaken belief in the kapu system. The ali'i themselves "often had trouble deciding where kapu began and ended in connection with [foreigners]." 40/ Then again, the ali'i may have been convinced by the fact that foreigners did not observe kapu of "the ineffectiveness of the taboos, and, observing the superiority of haole cannon over Hawaiian clubs, of haole ships over native canoes,...began to doubt the power of their ancient gods." 41/
The decision to make such a radical departure from tradition was made by a "handful of chiefs. The commoners, as usual, followed where their ali'i led." 42/ Although they were probably relieved that the more onerous religious restrictions had been lifted, many did not abandon the old faith completely. When Liholiho ordered all the heiau (worship places) destroyed, some Hawaiians salvaged images of their gods. There was some resistance to the breaking of the kapu system on the part of ali'i who were champions of the gods, and a revolt broke out. However, the king succeeded in putting the revolt down in December 1819.
*/ See also chapter below, entitled "Native Hawaiian Religion," pages 232 to 234.