In the generations that followed initial settlement, the Hawaiians developed a sophisticated system of land use and resource management. In the early 1500s, the island (moku-puni) was divided into districts or moku-o-loko.
The large moku-o-loko were further divided into political regions and manageable units of land. Ahupua‘a, another division of land, were usually marked by altars with images or representations of a pig placed upon them, thus the name ahu-pua‘a or pig altar.
The ahupua‘a were also divided into smaller manageable parcels of land—such as the ‘ili, kō‘ele, mahina ‘ai, māla, and kīhāpa – makaʻāinana lived on kuleana.
In these smaller land parcels the makaʻāinana cultivated crops necessary to sustain their families, and supplied the needs of the chiefly communities they were associated with. (Maly)
“The makaʻāinana were the planters and fishers who lived on (ma) the (ka) lands (‘āina;) the final na is a plural substantive.” (Handy) Or, they may be viewed as maka (eye) ‘āina (land) – ‘the eyes of the land.’ Pukui notes the name literally translates to ‘people that attend the land.’
“They were the commoners who were a class distinct and apart from the aliʻi, or class of chiefs, the temple kahuna or priests, koa or warriors, and konohiki or overseers.” (Handy) The rulers were set apart from the general populace, the makaʻāinana, by an elaborate, strictly enforced series of kapu or restrictions. (Mitchell)
“(T)he reason for this division being that men in the pursuit of their own gratification and pleasure wandered off in one direction and another until they were lost sight of and forgotten.” The makaʻāinana are said to have fallen to their common status because they lost their genealogies. (Malo)
The makaʻāinana made up the largest segment of the population. In addition to their work as the planters and the fishermen they were the craftsmen and the soldiers. They were the major source of manpower. (Mitchell)
The ahupua‘a supplied food and materials to the makaʻāinana who tended the land, as well as to the konohiki (overseers,) who administered the ahupua‘a and the aliʻi nui (chief,) who was responsible for several ahupua‘a.
This responsibility to provide for himself and the aliʻi on a long-term basis generally compelled the konohiki toward sustainable management of both human and natural resources. (Garovoy)
The makaʻāinana lived on the lands assigned to them by the chiefs as long as they worked acceptably and paid adequate taxes.
They could be removed from their lands by the konohiki or any chief with authority in the ahupuaʻa. If they were unhappy under a chief they were free to move to another ahupuaʻa. (Mitchell)
As long as sufficient tribute was offered and kapu (restrictions) were observed, the makaʻāinana who lived in a given ahupua‘a had access to most of the resources from mountain slopes to the ocean.
These access rights were almost uniformly tied to residency on a particular land, and earned as a result of taking responsibility for stewardship of the natural environment and supplying the needs of ones’ ali‘i. (Maly)
The makaʻāinana were allotted a plot of ground by their chief. Here they planted, irrigated, nurtured and harvested taro, sweet potatoes and other crops. They raised pigs, dogs and chickens to supplement their diet, and they had the right to fish in the sea or in protected fish ponds.
The makaʻāinana worked for the chief 6 days each month, fought in the chief’s wars, and paid taxes in the form of goods produced. Order and discipline were maintained through a strict code of laws, known as the kapu system. (UH-CLEAR)
The material necessities and the luxuries of the people of old Hawai’i were produced by these skilled workers. The culture materials which we admire in the museums and private collections today as the unique arts and crafts of Hawai’i are from the hands and minds of these “commoners who were not common.” (Mitchell)
Following the Great Māhele, by 1855, the lands in Hawaii had been distributed: the Konohiki were granted 1.5 million acres (Konohiki Lands;) King Kamehameha was granted approximately 1 million acres (Crown Lands;) and the Hawaiian government was granted 1.5 million acres (Government Lands.)
Deeds executed during the Māhele conveying land contained the phrase “ua koe ke kuleana o na kānaka,” or “reserving the rights of all native tenants,” in continuation of the reserved tenancies which characterized the traditional Hawaiian land tenure system.
The Kuleana Act of 1850 authorized the Land Commission to award fee simple titles to all native tenants who lived and worked on parcels of Crown, Government, or Konohiki Lands. Most makaʻāinana never claimed their kuleana.
Of the 29,221 adult males in Hawaii in 1850 eligible to make land claims, only 8,205 makaʻāinana actually received kuleana awards. Their awards account for a combined 28,600 acres of kuleana lands—less than one percent of the Kingdom’s lands. (Garovoy)