The aliʻi were the traditional nobility of the Hawaiian islands. They were part of a hereditary line of rulers, the ''noho aliʻi''. The word ''aliʻi'' has a similar meaning in the Samoan language and other Polynesian languages, and in Māori it is pronounced "ariki".


In ancient Hawaiian society, the ''aliʻi'' were hereditary nobles (a social class or caste). The ''aliʻi'' consisted of the higher and lesser chiefs of the various levels on the islands. The ''noho aliʻi'' were the ruling chiefs. The ''aliʻi'' 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 ''aliʻi'', 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 aliʻi nui, who governed their individual systems. ''Aliʻi'' continued to play a role in the governance of 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.). The ''nui'' title could be passed on by right of birth.

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. *''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 rulers, but was later subjected to the superior power of nearby Maui and Oʻahu during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. ''Mōʻī'' 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. *''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 products of half-blood sibling unions; famous ''Naha'' chiefs include Keopuolani. *''Aliʻi 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 aliʻi'' were lesser chiefs who served the aliʻi nui. 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. A kaukau aliʻi son's own children, if born of a lesser ranking aliʻi mother, would descend to a lower rank. Eventually the line descends, leading to makaʻāinana (commoner). ''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 Kamehameha 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. Some bore ''Kāhili'', royal standards made of feathers, and were attendants of the higher-ranking ''aliʻi''. 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 Kaukaualiʻi fathers who married higher ranking wives.

See also

* Ruling chiefs of Hawaii * Ancient Hawaiʻi * Kingdom of Hawaiʻi * Alii nui of Hawaii * Alii nui of Maui * Alii nui of Oahu * Alii nui of Kauai * List of monarchs of Tonga * List of monarchs of Tahiti * List of monarchs of Huahine * List of monarchs of Mangareva


Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * {{DEFAULTSORT:Alii Category:Hawaiiana Category:Hawaii culture Category:Hawaiian nobility Category:Noble titles Category:Samoan words and phrases Category:Samoan society Category:Polynesian culture Category:Polynesian titles