Keopuolani, the “sacred wife” of Kamehameha I, was considered sacred because of her high lineage. She was the product of generations of intermarriage between high-ranking ali‘i of the Pi‘ilani line. The marriage of close relatives—full-blood brothers and sisters, half siblings, first cousins—was believed to magnify the mana, or power, of the chiefly class, concentrating it so that each succeeding generation was more sacred.
Marriage to Keopuolani consolidated Kamehameha’s new power; his wife was of higher rank than his, and their children would inherit both the divine mana of their mother’s bloodline and the mana their father had achieved through his conquests. Keopuolani also brought the Pi‘ilani family’s mo‘o goddess Kihawahine, whose power helped legitimate and establish Kamehameha’s new authority as ruler of the Islands.
Keopuolani’s status was so high that it both protected and restricted her. The near-worship with which she was regarded meant that Keopuolani led nothing like a normal life. Most people faced death if they touched or approached her. Even Kamehameha had to remove his malo (loincloth) in her presence and crawl to approach her. Keopuolani seems to have been a kind woman who did her best to protect others from her powerful kapu, so that no one was put to death because of it. She remained close to her sons, who were handed over, as tradition required, to be raised by other ali‘i, but insisted on keeping daughter Nahi‘ena‘ena with her.