lands throughout an entire island. He had the right to redistribute all lands upon his accession to office. In addition, he could alienate the land of any person of lower rank and transfer it to someone else. Commoners could be dispossessed from land for such reasons as hoarding surplus production, failing to contribute labor for the construction of irrigation works, and failing to make their household plots adequately productive. High chiefs and local stewards also controlled and supervised access to water used in irrigation. Local stewards directly supervised household economic production, making sure that the land was being cultivated. In general, persons of high status could call upon those of lower rank for the performance of various labor services; commoners, of course, were the major source of labor for communal projects. Refusal by a commoner to comply with a demand for labor could result in his being put to death. It is clear that the major responsibilities of labor and economic production were carried out by the commoner class, and high chiefs and their families were freed from direct involvement in subsistence production. In this sense, chiefs constituted a kind of primitive “leisure class,” putting others beneath them to work.
Hawaiian society also displayed class differences in consumption patterns. Although the redistributive ethic guaranteed an adequate food supply for all, and commoners have been described as “prosperous,” certain choice foods were reserved for high chiefs. Moreover, luxury goods were often restricted to high-status persons and served as insignia of rank. The use of certain luxury items for dress and ornamentation was limited to high chiefs, and the quality of housing was closely associated with rank.
The Hawaiian paramount chief was considered divine. Because of the aura of sanctity that surrounded him, a series of elaborate taboos existed concerning contact