The first Hawaiʻi Supreme Court case to discuss “the rights common people to go to the mountains, and the seas attached to their own particular land exclusively” in the 1850 Kuleana Act was Oni v Meek (1858.)
Oni, a tenant of the ahupua’a of Honouliuli, O’ahu, filed suit against John Meek, who had a lease over the entire ahupuaʻa. Oni brought suit when some of his horses, which had been pastured on Meek’s land, were impounded and sold. Oni claimed that he had a right to pasture his horses (by custom and by language in the Kuleana Act.)
The Hawai’i Supreme Court rejected both arguments. For over a hundred years, the Oni v Meek case appeared to foreclose claims based on custom. (MacKenzie)
In 1892 the legislature of the Hawaiian Kingdom and Queen Liliʻuokalani passed a law that recognized Hawaiian usage as part of the common law of the Kingdom, together with the common law of England.
An act on November 25, 1892, Act to Reorganize the Judiciary Department, ch. LVII, § 5, 1892 Laws of Her Majesty Liliuokalani, Queen of the Hawaiian Islands, provided for exceptions to the English common law that were “established by Hawaiian national usage.”
This law, which is today known as Section 1-1 of the Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes (HRS,) provided the basis for the rights of the makaʻāinana (common people) beyond the rights reserved under the Kuleana Act, so as to include whatever was broadly customary as Hawaiian usage prior to 1892. (McGregor & MacKenzie)
HRS §1-1 Common law of the State; exceptions, states, “The common law of England, as ascertained by English and American decisions, is declared to be the common law of the State of Hawaii in all cases, except …”
“… as otherwise expressly provided by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or by the laws of the State, or fixed by Hawaiian judicial precedent, or established by Hawaiian usage; provided that no person shall be subject to criminal proceedings except as provided by the written laws of the United States or of the State. (Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes)
Effective January 1, 1893 and continuing today, common law was adopted “except as otherwise provided … or fixed by Hawaiian judicial precedent, or established by Hawaiian usage….” (HRS Case Notes)
In 1978, the Hawaiʻi State Constitution was amended to specifically recognize traditional and customary Hawaiian practices by adopting Article XII, Section 7:
“The State reaffirms and shall protect all rights, customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by ahupua’a tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, subject to the right of the State to regulate such rights.”
In 1995, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court, explained in the Public Access Shoreline Hawaii (PASH) case that “Oni merely rejected one particular claim based upon an apparently non-traditional practice that had not achieved customary status in the area where the right was asserted.” (MacKenzie)
The PASH Court stressed that “the precise nature and scope of the rights retained by (HRS) § 1-1 … depend upon the particular circumstances of each case”.
The Court set out a test for the doctrine of custom, requiring that a custom be consistent when measured against other customs; a practice be certain in an objective sense, “(A) particular custom is certain if it is objectively defined and applied; certainty is not subjectively determined”; and a traditional use be exercised in a reasonable manner.
The PASH Court also clarified that “those persons who are ‘descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the islands prior to 1778,’ and who assert otherwise valid customary and traditional Hawaiian rights under HRS 1-1, are entitled to protection regardless of their blood quantum.” (MacKenzie)
In the ‘Kapili’ case (dealing with entering undeveloped lands to gather, without unnecessarily disturbing the surrounding environment, natural products necessary for certain traditional native Hawaiian practices) the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court noted:
“The statutory exception to the common law is thus akin to the English doctrine of custom whereby practices and privileges unique to particular districts continued to apply to residents of those districts in contravention of the common law.”
“This, however, is not to say that we find that all the requisite elements of the doctrine of custom were necessarily incorporated in § 1-1. Rather, we believe that the retention of a Hawaiian tradition should in each case be determined by balancing the respective interests and harm once it is established that the application of the custom has continued in a particular area.” (Supreme Court, Kapili)
Related to this, in the Pele Defense Fund case, it was determined that, “The nature and scope of the rights reserved to hoaʻāina (tenants) by custom and usage are to be defined according to the values, traditions and customs associated with a particular area as transmitted from one generation to the next in the conduct of subsistence, cultural, and religious activities.”
That case also found that residency of a particular ahupuaʻa was not required for gather, noting, “Unlike other areas in Hawaii, Hawaiians historically crossed ahupua`a boundaries in the Puna district. …”
“…The hunting and gathering patterns in the Puna district are unique because they are influenced, to a large extent, by an active volcano, Kilauea. It can be reasonably inferred that volcanic eruptions in the Puna area force hunters and gatherers to change areas to find plants and animals for subsistence purposes.” (Circuit Court, PDF)
The Pele Defense Fund decision extended rights to non-Hawaiians, noting, “Accordingly, non-Hawaiians could have the same right as Hawaiians, irrespective of Article XII, § 7 if they could prove that their rights were based on custom and usage.”
“The Pele Defense Fund decision concluded with “a permanent injunction against excluding the following persons from entering the undeveloped portions of the land and using the developed portion for reasonable access to the undeveloped portions, to perform customarily and traditionally exercised subsistence and cultural practices:”
“(a) Hawaiian subsistence or cultural practitioners who are descendants of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778; (b) Person or persons accompanying Hawaiian subsistence or cultural practitioners described in (a); or (c) Persons related by blood, marriage or adoption to Hawaiian subsistence or cultural practitioners described in (a).”
Within the same Hawaii Revised Statues is another important law (§5-7.5) ‘Aloha Spirit’.
‘Aloha Spirit’ is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, “Aloha”, the following unuhi laula loa may be used:
‘Akahai,’ kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
‘Lokahi,’ unity, to be expressed with harmony;
‘Oluolu,’ agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
‘Haahaa,’ humility, to be expressed with modesty;
‘Ahonui,’ patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
‘Aloha’ is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. ‘Aloha’ means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return.
‘Aloha’ is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ‘Aloha’ means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
Aloha, it’s the law.