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Po'e Kauwā

Updated: Mar 14, 2023



The aristocrats (aliʻi), experts in priestcraft of one kind or another (kahuna), and tribesmen of the land (maka-ʻaina-na) were proud of being one stock, native to Ka-ʻu. But there was an outcaste group whose origin is subject to speculation.

A part of Ninole, in Ka-ʻu, was set apart for the kauwā people; a people so despised that they were never allowed to mingle even with the commoners nor to marry anyone but a kauwā. Should any forbidden union take place and offspring result, the baby was put to death.

Should any person walk on land set apart for the kauwā, he or she was regarded as being defiled and was put to death. A kauwā was allowed to go to the place of the chief who was his lord and nowhere else. In travelling, the head was covered with a large handkerchief of kapa, and the eyes kept downcast in humiliation.

When there was no law-breaker or war victim to offer as human sacrifice in the heiau, the kahuna went near the boundary of the kauwā land and selected a man, as one might select a fowl in a barnyard. A kauwā could not refuse, and followed the kahuna who called him. If he were not to be put to death immediately, he was given an elongated gourd to wear, suspended from the neck with a string, which was referred to as “garland for waiting” (lei i ke ʻolo). To say to one that his ancestor had worn the ʻolo gourd, was the equivalent of saying that he was a person of no consequence. For a person to refer to himself as his chiefʻs kauwā was all right, because it implied a properly humble spirit. In Christian times the expression kauwā o ke Akua, Godʻs humble servant, came into use. But in other than Bible language we prefer to speak of servants as kanaka Nana (work man) or kanaka lawelawe (lawe: to carry, serve).

With the overthrow of the kapu system the segregation of the kauwā was done away with. It was no longer compulsory for them to wear distinguishing marks tattooed in the middle of the forehead or at the outer corners of the eyes. They mingled with the people in general and were lost sight of. Some married outside of their own group, thus mixing kauwā blood with that of others.

In our homeland lived a man in whose veins ran the blood of chiefs and of the kauwā. One of his daughters became intensely interested in genealogy and went to question him. He would only mention the chiefly side but of the kauwā side he was silent. To his daughterʻs plea, his one reply was, “What do you care about such smutty nosed people?” (He aha ka nana is poʻe ihu papaʻa?)

At one time my motherʻs brother fell in love with a pretty girl who lived in Pahala. She was industrious, well mannered and the kind of person who would have made an excellent wife. Plans for the coming marriage went on until my grandmother learned that she was of kauwā ancestry. The engagement was broken at once and all plans laid aside! Excellent though the girl was, she was absolutely not acceptable as a new addition to the family.

It is my own belief that the despised kauwā were early settlers, who fought against those who migrated hither at a later date, were badly defeated, greatly reduced in numbers and forced by their conquerors to live a segregated life on a tract of land allotted to them—despised and regarded as the very lowest of the low.

Note: this below was not included in the THE POLYNESIAN FAMILY SYSTEM IN KA-ʻU, HAWAIʻI

In ancient times on the island of Oahu, prior to contact from the whites, there was a fresh water spring called Kawailumalumai (drowning waters) in Kewalo that was used to sacrifice the people known as kauwā. This Kewalo is known today as Kewalo basin, a place where the ship yard is and where the fishing boats are anchored. The kauwa drowned here, were offered at the heiau of Kānelā‘au on the slopes of Pūowaina (Punchbowl) This drowning ritual was known as the law of Kaihehe'e or Kānāwai Kaihehe‘e or Ke-kaihe‘ehe‘e. The priest holding the victim’s head under water would say to her or him on any signs of struggling, “Moe malie i ke kai o ko haku.” “Lie still in the waters of your superiors.” From this it was called Kawailumalumai, “Drowning waters.”

This may have been the common way across all the islands as how the kauwa were prepared for the offering on the various heiau.

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