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Kapu means something is sacred, holy, forbidden or not to be touched or made public. If something was kapu, it is not to be known or used in an average day to day way. It is reserved for future generations to take care of the burial, and it is special to the families. Kapu is also a code of conduct of laws and regulations. It influences gender roles, politics, religion, and everyday lifestyles. The kapu was used in government and religious power. 


Hawaiians made Kapu signs as a warning to keep out. Two sticks overlapping one another in the shape of an X called Pūlo‘ulo‘u. This warning sign was made of two wooden poles and round balls at the top of each stick. The ball was covered in a white cloth, and inside the ball were the phalanges of the hands and feet of past ancestors. It’s a symbol of warning, and further approach is forbidden because the area is sacred and protected.

In Hawaiian culture, desecrating a grave was the worst crime a person could commit, punishable by death. Hawaiians executed criminals by binding the person’s arms and clubbing their head, or in extreme cases, choking a person to death. Sometimes criminals were tortured by removing their intestines alive. Looking into burial caves was also considered a crime, with the punishment of having the individual’s eyes gouged out and removed.

In different practices Hawaiians would leave the criminal's body to be infested by insects and left in the wide open to rot on the altar as an offering to the gods. Hawaiians would desecrate the criminal by burning and crushing the iwi (bones). Human remains left exposed in lava fields or in rural areas were considered to be an insult by exposing it to the elements and to be eaten by wild animals. Traditionally, bones were also distributed to various ali‘i (chiefs) to mock their victims. Mocking their victims, sometimes chiefs would incorporate the victim’s bones and even teeth in sculptures, bowls and ceremonial objects.

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