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For the plant known as a'ali'i or aalii, see Dodonaea viscosa.

Alii (also Aliʻi) is a word in some Polynesian languages denoting chiefly status[1] in ancient Hawaii and the Samoa Islands. A similar word with the same concept is found in other Polynesian societies. In the Cook Islands, an ariki is a high chief and the House of Ariki is a parliamentary house (with very limited power). In New Zealand a Māori ariki held a rank of nobility and the Maori monarch held the title Te Arikinui (Great Chief) similar to Ke Aliʻi Nui in Hawaiian. In Tokelau, the term aliki denotes a chief, on Easter Island a noble was ariki, in Gambier Islands akariki, and in Tahiti the term is ari'i.

In Samoa, ali'i is a chiefly rank in the fa'amatai system which lies at the heart of the culture's socio-political organisation[2] and similar to the traditional system in Hawaii.

Hawaiian aliʻi[edit]

Main article: Aliʻi

In the Hawaiian language the word means: "Chief or chiefess, a ruler/monarch, headman, noble, aristocrat, king/queen or commander".[3] In ancient Hawaiian society, ali'i was a hereditary chiefly or noble rank (social class or caste).[4] The aliʻi class consisted of the high and lesser chiefs of the various realms in the islands. They governed with divine power called mana.[5] The aliʻi were the highest class, ranking above both kahuna (priests) and makaʻāinana (commoners). Most common translations are "Chief" and "High Chief." All the aliʻi Hawaiian dynasties of the several islands were interrelated, and apparently forbidden to intermarry with other classes.

Aliʻi were full of mana and could place and remove kapu (curse or taboo) on objects. Aliʻi continued to rule the Hawaiian islands until 1893 when Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown by coup and the Constitutional Monarchy, Government, and supporting Aliʻi were deposed from power.

Aliʻi Nui were ruling chiefs (in Hawaiian, nui means grand, great, or supreme.[6]) and must claim parentage at least of a mother of the highest rank.

  • Aliʻi ʻnui were supreme high chiefs of an island and no other's were above them. The four largest Hawaiian islands (Hawaiʻi proper, Maui, Kauaʻi, and Oʻahu) were usually ruled each by their own aliʻi ʻnui. Molokaʻi also had a line of island kings, but was later subjected to the superior power of nearby Maui and Oʻahu during the 17th and 18th centuries. ʻī was a special title for the highest chief of the island of Maui. Later, the title was used for all kings of the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiian monarchs.
  • Aliʻi ʻAimoku were subordinate district aliʻi, but controlled their petty fiefs. But these petty fiefs could sometimes encompass one-sixth of an island, since the islands were usually divided into six districts. These feudal lords were aliʻi nui of their district and were styled as "Aliʻi-o-Name of District".

Internecine warfare between heirs of rulers was common in ancient Hawaiʻi. Warfare between chiefs was also common.

Commoner or lesser Aliʻi served the higher-ranking Aliʻi, not for pay, but instead, due to their duty to allegiance to the nation.

The caste organization facilitated a feudal system that resembles other feudal societies, for example the feudal systems found in Europe circa 1000 AD, in feudal Japan, Ethiopia, and so on.

Higher aliʻi gave lesser aliʻi parcels of land, which those lesser aliʻi would in turn govern. The lesser aliʻi divided the land into plots to be farmed and cultivated by makaʻainana families. Harvests were returned to the lesser aliʻi, each taking a portion before being sent to the supreme aliʻi.

Both the reigning dynasties of the united Kingdom of Hawaiʻi (1810–1893) were of aliʻi class. As each relative of those dynasties was entitled to the title aliʻi, they have later, posthumously, been popularly labeled (mostly erroneously) princesses and princes, although only a limited number of royal relatives ever received the princely title from the monarch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Duranti, Alessandro (2009). Linguistic anthropology. John Wiley and Sons. p. 234. ISBN 1-4051-2632-9. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  2. ^ Fana'afi Le Tagaloa, Aiono (1986). "Western Samoa: the sacred covenant". Land Rights of Pacific Women. Institute of Pacific Studies of the University of the South Pacific. p. 103. ISBN 982-02-0012-1. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  3. ^ Mary Māmaka Kaiao Kuleana kope. "Hawaiian Dictionaries". University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved 2014-11-24. 
  4. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of aliʻi ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved 19 September 2010. 
  5. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of mana ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved 19 September 2010. 
  6. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of nui ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved 19 September 2010.