Cities of Refuge (Mattot-Masei 5775)

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Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau, Hawaii (credit: Ashira Konigsburg)

Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau, the City of Refuge, on Hawaii’s Big Island was functional into the early 19th century, when kapu, Hawaii’s system of ritual taboos, was overturned by King Kamehameha II. Until that time, many breaches of the kapu could result in death, including for an offence as ephemeral as allowing your shadow to fall over a chief’s house. However, by entering a pu`uhonua(a place of refuge), often by swimming across a bay, and performing a ritual facilitated by the priest there, the punishment could be annulled.

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