California State Polytechnic University Pomona

Kapu: The Lynchpin of Economic, Political, and Social Inequality in Traditional Hawai’i

Kapu–a.k.a. tabu (or taboo), is a mechanism whereby individuals can exert power and authority based on their mana. Mana, an unseen, supernaturally bestowed force, differs among humans and can make contacts potentially dangerous. High mana people can make resources or activities off limits. In this way they manipulate what others may exploit, which in turn empowers them. Mana and kapu created elites–ali’i–and commoners–maka’ainana– in a hierarchical and autocratic society.

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