SummaryBefore 1819 Hawaiian society was ruled by a system of ritual laws called kapu. One of these, the aikapu (sacred eating), required men and women to eat separately. Because eating was ritual, some food items, symbolically associated with male deities, were forbidden to women. It was believed that women had a “haumia” (traditionally translated as “defiling”) effect on the male manifestations of the divine and were, as a consequence, barred from direct worship of male gods and work tasks such as agriculture and cooking. In Western history writing, Hawaiian women always presented a certain paradox. Although submitted to aikapu ideology, that was considered devaluing by Western historians, women were nevertheless always present in public affairs. They engaged in the same activities as men, often together with men. They practised sports, went to war and assumed public leadership roles competing with men for power. Ruling queens and other powerful chiefesses appear frequently in Hawaiian history, chants and myths. The Hawaiians did not seem to expect different behaviour of men and women, except perhaps in ritual contexts. Rank transcended any potential asymmetry of genders and sometimes the highest-ranking women were considered above the kapu system, even the aikapu. In 1819, after 40 years of contact with the foreigners, powerful Hawaiian queens decided to abolish the kapu system, including the aikapu. They proclaimed that they wished Hawaiians to live like the foreigners and they publicly dined with men. Free eating, or ainoa, became a metaphor for all foreign ideas that were adopted. Many Western historians believe that the abolition of kapu was an act of emancipation, but the idea of hierarchy between men and women was introduced with Christianity. The missionaries tried to teach Hawaiian women submissiveness and correct their perceived “masculine” behaviour to fit with the expectations of Western femininity. Despite these efforts, Hawaiian women never really left the arena of public life and constantly opposed the dominant ideology of Western powers. Given their strong position in the traditional society, Hawaiian women negotiated a transformed idea of femininity within the imposed system of values. Their struggle was not against the native gender structures, but the patriarchal structure of Western colonialism. Today Hawaiians strive for sovereignty and preservation of their values and women are among the most prominent leaders of the revival and sovereignty movement either as artists, scholars or activists. Hawaiian female scholars proclaim that they do not need Western feminism, since they have never lost gender equality within the native society.