Early Western Diminishment of the Hawaiian Women’s Rights

Early Western Diminishment of the Hawaiian Women’s Rights

By Victoria S. Creed, Waihona ‘Aina Corp. & Cultural Surveys Hawaii and Isaaca Hanson, a descendant of Leoiki

Society for Hawaiian Archaeology Conference, Hilo , Oct. 17-19, 2008


In archaeology, we have trouble finding surface structures and cultural artifacts associated with Hawaiian women because of the overthrow of Hawaiian religion in 1819, and because Missionaries intentionally took away women's power when they could, due to their discomfort with women ruling. Thus, surface structures and artifacts relating to women are not readily identifiable, because they were hidden, destroyed, or few informants remained who knew or were willing to share such information. Many members of this society, and our president, Tom Dye, have worked to improve this relationship between archaeologists and informants. Hopefully, their work will identify more female structures.


The Waihona ‘Aina website, which contains a wealth of historical documents can demonstrate proof of lineage, legal ramifications, and of course, land descriptions can also tell us something about women’s rights in the nineteenth century, both before and after the missionaries arrived. The earliest example is the difference described between the Kaua’i missionaries and King Kaumuali’i concerning land, and the second is possibly the worst case of belittling a Hawaiian ali’i woman, Leoiki, when she leaves the islands with the British Captain William Buckle.

In Claim No. 387, Oliver Chapin testifies he was present in 1820 when the Reverends Whitney and Ruggles first came to Kaua’i. He heard Kaumuali’i ask Whitney if they were going to live permanently at Waimea. When Whitney and Ruggles replied affirmatively, Kaumuali’i offered four lands, one each to Mr. Whitney, Mrs. Whitney, Mr. Ruggles and Mrs. Ruggles, Reverend Whitney declined the offer for the women: “One land to each of us (the husbands) is all we want” he told Kaumuali‘i (LCA 387, FT p. 263 volume 3 pt. 1). Apparently, in land matters the Hawaiian ali’i did not view women to be of lesser status.

Unfortunately, the most recent perpetrator of this male-oriented mindset is yours truly. When the original Hawaiian documents were translated in the 1970s[,] the “ia” is uniformly translated as “he” unless an identifying “wahine” is stated. I apologize to everyone affected for having continued this tradition. Isaaca Hanson, my collaborator in this project, first noted that her female ancestor, Leoiki, had claims that said “he” where it should have been “she.” Now we are trying to identify all such females, and we put brackets around “she” and “her” after the “he, him, his”. The Mähele document for Leoiki’s land in Kailua , O’ahu states the son inherits at the death of his “father” and is probably a translation of “makua” which should be parent, or in this case mother, since he got the land after his mother died.

Although there were incidents between missionaries and foreigners before the Leoiki and William Buckle events, their deliberately misconstrued relationship was spread world-wide by the missionary press. In 1825 in Lähainä, Rev. William Richards sent his daily journal to the mission headquarters and this account appeared in the newspapers. He wrote that the British Captain William Buckle purchased Leoiki, a young woman in the court of Nähi’ena’ena in Lähainä, from Leoiki’s kahu (guardian), Wahinepio, and that she was a “slave” when she went off with William Buckle in March 1825 (MH, Jan 1827, p. 41 and see the article on website article). Six months later, after the kapu was orally declared against women boarding ships, Richards writes an entry in his journal, which the newspaper titles: “The Outrage,” when Captain Buckle’s sailors terrified him and his family for four days trying to get him to repeal the “kapu.” However, before Richards’ journal was published, a Joint Letter in the Missionary Herald from Reverends Bingham, Blatchely, Chamberlain, Ruggles and Loomis, appeared (in the Oct. 15, 1825 issue), describing the “Outrage” by the sailors and this captain who had purchased a “slave,” thus conflating the two events to condemn Buckle in the public “eye.”

Demoting someone to a “slave” was not possible in Hawai’i . Slaves were a caste apart and born and raised as “slaves” (kauwa). Missionaries did not know much about slaves in Hawai’i but they did know that “slavery” was a hot topic on the mainland.

The more likely truth is that Wahinepio, the kahu or guardian of the women in Nähi’ena’ena’s train in Lähainä (after Ke ō p ū olani died in 1824), permitted Leoiki to go and that Captain Buckle gave Wahinepio money which could have been both a dowry (OED 3 rd definition) and a guarantee of Leoiki’s return. In fact, the latter guarantee appears in the testimony Richards collected when he tried to show that Leoiki had been “purchased.” Unfortunately, the “slave” version of the events is repeated in over 30 books and articles by both respected and not-so-well-known scholars and even on Hawai’i tourist websites today.

If this version were true—if Buckle had been a slave trader, he could have been sentenced to death by the British. In the testimonies that Richards collected to support his claim of “slavery” several ali‘i followed the “party line” of the “slave” version of Buckle’s and Leoiki’s relationship, and testified to that effect. One of those who testified that she was “sold” was Hoapiliwahine, the second wife of Hoapili. Hoapiliwahine testifies “where there is payment there is purchase” (HMCS Letters, vol. 3, p. 858). Other Hawaiians testified in the same way. Jennifer Fish Kashay notes that Hawaiian women by the 1820s were not only “commodified” but also sources of desire, altercation and economic gain. (Fish Kashay, 2008, p. 370). And there is ample evidence to show that Fish Kashay’s statement is true. But not in the case of Leoiki. Money can be many other things than purchase, such as, for example, support for the missionaries.

When he read the Missionary Herald in 1827, a year after his return to Hawai’i with his wife and baby son, Captain Buckle accused Richards of libel. Richards first claimed he had not written this, but soon Ka’ahumanu needed to defend him. The chiefs held a meeting November 26, 1827 , to discuss that issue among others. Richards admitted he had written the article and the chiefs decided to let the matter drop. “ All were again silent for a long time, till finally Hoapiri said, “That must be the end of it, for we all know that Leoiki was sold, and if it is a crime to say it, then we are all in fault, for we have all said it; - that must be the end of it.” (HMCS, p. 710). So, h ere is additional evidence that Leoiki was sold to Capt. Buckle as a slave.

But is the evidence reliable? First, I show the arguments against the possibility that Leoiki was “sold,” or was a “slave” and then discuss why Richards wrote about the events as he did, why Ka’ahumanu defended him, why the testimonies gathered from honorable Hawaiians in Lähainä stating that Leoiki was sold (HCMS Letters) do so and last, why the chiefs let the entire matter drop.

The legal reasons, some coming from archival land documents, show Leoiki was not “sold” and was not a “slave.” These are:

1st: Both Captain Buckle and Leoiki denied the charges to the missionaries on O’ahu (Levi Chamberlin, HCMS letters , p. 713) ;

2nd: They were considered a married couple (as shown in Mahele documents of a neighbor in Fort Street (Rooke, LCA 924) and a slave could not officially marry. “Kauwa was a term of degradation and great reproach.” Even as an epithet, it was a cause for fighting (Malo p. 68-69). A child born to a slave and ali’i would have been dashed to death against a rock (Malo, p. 70);

3rd: The Buckles’ son was considered legitimate. William Wahinepio Kahakuha’akoi Buckle, born on February 5, 1826 , was given his father’s name and the name of Leoiki’s kahu in reverse order. Wahinepio would have had to agree he could have her name, and she would not have done if Leoiki were a slave;

4th: The Mähele documents show that Leoiki was given five lands on three islands; she also received title to the land Captain Buckle bought for their home in downtown Honolulu: both definite indications that she was still considered an ali‘i;

5th: The persons who gave her the lands are all members, associates or officials of the Pi’ilani/ Kamehameha family: Daniel Oleloa, konohiki for Ka’ahumanu on Kaua’i (LCA 3261). On Maui , her land is from Kauhi, a Kamehameha warrior (LCA 3261). Leoiki claims Kapalai in Kailua O’ahu from Kamehameha III himself (LCA 3261) and received it finally as a grant by an 1850 act for relief of certain konohiki who did not receive their mähele claims (Grant 2735). Leoiki receives the ‘Ili of Kalawahine on O’ahu from Kahekili (Kahekili Kaukuna, a husband of Wahinepio, LCA 3261). She was given Waipio in ‘Ewa by the former Lono priest Hewahewa (LCA 8241CW).

6th: Leoiki’s children and grandchildren held high status positions in the Hawaiian kingdom in their adult lives – Leoiki’s and Capt. Buckle's son served on the Privy Council under Kaläkaua, and was the first warden at O’ahu prison. He and Leoiki’s h ā nai son, Kapahukepau, also both served on the first juries of the Supreme Court held in Hawai’i (various newspapers,, and William Wahinepio Kahakuha’akoi’s daughter, Jane [Nahinu] Clark was the companion of Liliu’okalani before and during her imprisonment (Liliuokalani 1990, pps. 220, 226, 227),

7th: Captain Buckle was never charged with slavery;

8th: His and Leoiki’s son was given British citizenship, since he was born aboard Buckle’s ship (1930 census, p. 98), an impossibility for a child born of a slave;

9th: Leoiki still had William’s belongings at the time of her death in 1848, as shown in her will (Maui Historical Society, 1971, pps 64-66);

10th: the Oxford English Dictionary defines a dowry (third definition) as money given to the family of the bride, as well as the more common definition nowadays, money given by a bride’s family.

11th: Kawaiahao church records show two Buckle burial plots, relocated numerous times, with one burial, which we believe is Leoiki;

12th: Reverend Richards claimed in his journal that Leoiki sent messengers three times to beg him to not to allow her to go with Captain Buckle (MH vol. XXXIII, Jan 1827, p. 41). However, Leoiki denied Richards’ story to Levi Chamberlain (HMCSL, Nov. 3, 1827, pg. 705).

We believe, therefore, it is probable that Leoiki wanted to go with William Buckle and that Wahinepio permitted her to go. She certainly married someone of her own or higher status, as William Buckle was of the landed gentry in England . The Buckles appear to have had a relationship based simply on the foundation of love and honor.

Richards and the other missionaries used their published letters to evoke an emotional response to their misconstrued “barbarism” of the riot, and calling Leoiki a “slave” aided that response. “Their motive was to elicit funds and support for other missionaries to come to Hawai’i .” Buckle states this belief in a letter to Richards saying Richards wants to take “ bread from the mouth of many a half starved child, to enable the deluded parent to contribute his proportion for the relief of the poor persecuted missionary” (HCMS Letters, p. 714.)

Lilikalä Kame’eleihiwa says Hawaiian chiefs who make the wrong decisions lose mana (divine power) and are subject to replacement (Kame’eleihiwa, p. 45). Ka’ahumanu chose the missionaries’ religion as her basis for power. Had Ka’ahumanu been known to have supported a known liar, she might have lost face and power. Certainly Ka’ahumanu made enemies by this decision, among them high chiefs Boki and Manuia as well as many foreigners (Kamakau p. 283). David Malo argued before the chiefs that the messenger was not responsible for the message and the chiefs accepted that argument (Kamakau, p. 282). Hoapili, followed by his wife Hoapiliwahine, Nähi’ena’ena, Kekau’önohi, Kaukuna Kahekili, David Malo, Namale and Taua (the Tahitian Christian who served Ke ō p ū olani ) ( HMCS, p. 868) were typically and sincerely proving their faith and obligation to the Kamehameha dynasty and Ka’ahumanu, and they were willing to sacrifice Buckle’s and Leoiki’s reputations, at least in the English-speaking world. Richards and the other missionaries involved were not held responsible for their libelous statements, either then or until today.

In a meeting of the council of chiefs , when Richards admits: “The letter to which you refer I have seen – I wrote it – my answer therefore will be in the affirmative and when I have given this, what farther?”[sic]. “All were again silent for a long time, till finally Hoapili said “That must be the end of it, for we all know that Leoiki was sold, and if it is a crime to say it, then we are all in fault, for we have all said it – That must be the end of it.” (HMCS, p. 868-869). Thus, Hoapili reinforced the idea that Leoiki was bought and therefore a “slave.” The chiefs had to know who Leoiki’s parents and grandparents were, but no one speaks of them. This altercation between Richards and Buckle was no concern of the chiefs. But of course, it should have been - for the missionaries had begun their debasement of Hawaiian ali’i, starting with a woman of lesser rank, who was not perceived as an imminent threat to their growing power. The Leoiki/Buckle affair did not affect the ali‘i’s personal dealings with Leoiki later on (see land documents). The debasement of Hawaiians began with the women and the kapu of women boarding ships after Leoiki first left with William Buckle. Other laws followed the same pattern.

Eight generations of Buckle offspring have been affected by the missionaries’ exaggerated and sometimes deliberately misleading accounts of events, in order to recruit new missionaries to Hawai‘i. Ruth Tabra writes: the palapala to which she [Ka’ahumanu] mandated her people by decree – introduced to Hawaiian minds the western view of women as incapable of political action, financial decisions, or responsibility for themselves and their property” (Tabrah, pps 43-44).

In conclusion, we believe, by the Mission changing Hawaiian culture so dramatically, archaeologists are at a disadvantage, and this distortion of the status of native women compounds the difficulties we encounter.


Works Cited

1824-1830 Hawaii Missionary Childrens’ Society, Letters, vol. 3.

1827 Hawaii Mission Children’s Society Letters, Nov. 3, 1827 , HMCSL, pg. 705), Chamberlain letter to Richards: …Leoiki has been questioned and denies it).

1840 Tracy, Joseph, Solomon Peck, Enoch Mudge, William Cutter, and Enoch Mack, History of the American Missions to the Heathen, from their Commencement to the Present Time, Compiled Chiefly from the Published and Unpublished Documents of the Board by Joseph Tracy, Spooner & Howland, Worcester, MA (journal of Rev. Richards).

1850 Land Commission Award 387, (Foreign Testimony p. 263 volume 3 pt. 1, No. 387 1850), Am[erican] Mission Part 2 Sec. 1, Waimea, Kauai,

1930 Fifteenth Census of the United States : 1930, Honolulu City ,

“Clark, Jane, father born under British flag at sea, Honolulu City , April 2-3, 1930 ”.

1951 Malo, David, Hawaiian Antiquities, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu .

1961 (1966) Kamakau, Samuel M., Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii, 1st ed., and revised edition, the Kamehameha Schools Press, Honolulu .

1966 Kame'eleihiwa, Lilikalä, Nä Wahine Kapu: Divine Hawaiian Women, Ai Pohaku Press.

1971 Maui Historical Society, Lahaina Historical Guide, Lahaina.

1984 Tabrah, Ruth M., Hawaii : A History , W.W. Norton & Co., N.Y.

1987 Silverman, Jane Litten, Kaahumanu: Molder of Change, Friends of the Judiciary History Center of Hawaii , Honolulu .

1989 Reynolds, Stephen, Journal of Stephen Reynolds, Vol. I: 1823-1829, Ed. By Pauline N. King, Ku Pa'a Incorporated & The Peabody Museum of Salem , MA.

1992 Kame’eleihiwa, Lilikalä, Native Lands and Foreign Desires , Ko Hawai'i Aina a me Na Koi Pu'umake a ka Po'e Haole , Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu ,

2002 Fish Kashay, “Native, Foreigner, Missionary, Priest: Western imperialism and Religious Conflict in Early 19 th-Century Hawaii , Cercles 5, (2002) 3-10.


2008 Fish Kashay, “Competing Imperialisms and Hawaiian Authority: The Cannonading of Lähainä in 1827” Pacific Historical Review, August 2008, Vol. 77, No. 3, Regents of the University of California.

1997-2008, Databases of the Mahele, Boundary Commissions, Land Grants and Royal Patents from the State Archives and Department of Land and Natural Resources Land Division.