David Malo on autocracy, pt. 2

While the authority of the kings in ancient Hawai’i was and is described as more or less absolute, selections from Mo’olelo Hawai’i, chapter 38: The Civil Polity demonstrate some constraints:

46. One thing which the kalaimoku [the king’s right-hand-man and chief agent] impressed upon the king was to protect the property of the chiefs as well as that of the common people; not to rob them, not to appropriate wantonly the crops of the common people.
47. If the king made tour about the island, when night fell, the proper thing for him to do was to camp down by the highway, and the next morning to proceed on his journey. It was not right for him to enter the house of commoner to pass the night; that was all wrong and was termed alaiki, the short way.
48. The wrong lay in the fact that when the king entered the house of common man his men entered with him. They ate of the commoner’s food, helped themselves to his goods, seduced or ravished the females, acted disgracefully, and raised the devil generally.
49. Their counsel to the king was that when, in travelling along the alaloa, he came to branch-road, he was not to follow the branch, because that was bad practice. The branch-road was called mooa, or meheu. (Mooa, bending of the grass; meheu, trail, trace.)
50. The evil lay in the fact that when the king left the beaten way, the people followed along with him. The path led probably to little farm—mahina ai—and as soon as the king’s men saw it they pulled the crops, helping themselves to the sugar-cane, etc., and the blame for the outrage fell upon the king.
51. Another reason why the king should not turn aside to follow a by-path was because it might lead to house where women were beating tapa—hale kuku—and if the king’s men found her to be handsome looking woman, they might ravish her, in which case the king would be blamed for the deed.
52. The proper course for the king was to camp at night by the highway. If the people put up house for him, well and good. If not, let his own retinue set up for him tent, and let him eat the food he brought with him. The king who would follow this plan would not have to issue any orders to the districts for food; he would be called king of superior wisdom. (Alii noeau loa), prudent king.
53. Again when the king went on canoe-voyage around the island, he should not let his canoes tack back and forth, off and on, in towards the land and out to sea again, lest, by so doing, they should come across fleet of fishing canoes, and the fishermen, being robbed of their fish, should lay the blame upon the king.
54. The right plan in sailing would be to keep the canoe on straight course from the cape just passed to the one ahead, and when that was doubled to steer directly for the next cape, and so on until the destination was reached.

67. It is the king’s duty to seek the welfare of the common people, because they constitute the body politic. Many kings have been put to death by the people because of their oppression of the makaainana.
68. The following kings lost their lives on account of their cruel exactions on the commoners: …
71. It was for this reason that some of the ancient kings had wholesome fear of the people. But the commoners were sure to be defeated when the king had right on his side.

Many, perhaps all ancient societies had similar implicit constitutional provisions.