Malo notes, “The office of an independent king (Ali‘i ‘āi moku, literally one who eats, or rules over, an island) was established on the following basis …”
“He being the house, his younger brothers born of the same parents, and those who were called fathers or mothers (uncles and aunts) through relationship to his own father or mother, formed the stockade that stood as a defence about him.”
“Another wall of defence about the king, in addition to his brothers were his own sisters, those of the same blood as himself. These were people of authority and held important offices in the king’s government.”
“One was his kuhina nui, or prime minister; others were generals (pukaua), captains (alihi-kaua), marshals (ilamuku), the king’s executive officers, to carry out his commands. … So it was with the king; the chiefs below him and the common people throughout the whole country were his defence.” (Hawaiian Antiquities, Malo)
“Controversy and bitterness have arisen in recent years because of the widespread and seemingly well-established belief that land owned by early foreign settles was dishonestly acquired …”
“… either through cajoling the king or a chief, so that gifts of large tracts resulted; or through some vague arrangement whereby the common people were induced to part with their land for less than the current value.” (Pageant of the Soil, Hobbs, 1935)
Jon Osorio suggests, “The single most critical dismemberment of Hawaiian society was the Māhele or division of lands and the consequent transformation of ‘āina into private property between 1845 and 1850.”
He boldly suggests, “No one disagrees that the privatization of lands proved to be disastrous for Maka‘āinana”. He goes on to suggest, “The Māhele was a foreign solution to the problem of managing lands increasingly emptied of people.” (Dismembering Lāhui, Osorio)
Actually, some disagree.
“The accusation of dishonesty in regard to land transactions by foreigners seems to be directed most bitterly and emphatically toward the missionary group.” (Hobbs, 1935)
“The popular theory that missionaries acquired land by dishonest practice is unsupported by facts.”
However, “There is indisputable evidence that individual missionaries refused many opportunities to acquire gifts of land, either for themselves or for the mission.” (Hobbs, 1935)
“A page-by-page research of all records of land conveyance in the Territory of Hawaii was made in order to determine the amount of land acquired by each individual member of the American Protestant Mission, the amount paid for it, and, in general, the disposition made of the property.”
“In most instances it is clear that these lands were disposed of for very nominal sums and that comparatively small areas were left by will to descendants.” (Hobbs, 1935)
Hobbs notes that “Close scrutiny of the records of the Land Office in Honolulu will reveal, however, that a much larger area of land remained in the possession of Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians than is generally thought to have been the case.”
Likewise, Donovan Preza “offers a correction to the perceived results of the Māhele.” He notes “that the particularities of Hawaiian history should be properly explored, contextualized, and not be pre-judged.”
“These kinds of pre-judgments lead to a kind of colonial determinism which allows for the acceptance of less-rigorous arguments to be accepted as truth.” (Preza)
In looking at the Māhele, Preza makes the argument that “This division took place between the King and each individual konohiki whereby the rights of all of the Konohiki to the various ahupua‘a were divided.”
“These rights were codified in the 1839 Declaration of Rights. These vested rights refer to ‘interests’ in land, but these interests were segregated by class and did not imply an equality of rights between the government, Konohiki class, and Maka‘āinana class.”
“Under Kālai‘āina (the carving/distribution of land), the King can be thought to have held absolute title to land as sovereign and was the source of governance, “The Government was as exclusively in him as the titles to the lands were.” (Preza)
The Māhele ‘event’ resulted in the division of the previously ‘undivided’ rights of the Konohiki class in the dominium of Hawai‘i. The Māhele ‘event’ did not establish one’s title to land. (Preza) The first māhele, or division, of lands was signed on January 27, 1848; the last māhele was signed on March 7, 1848.
“The Māhele itself does not give a title. It is a division, and of great value because, if confirmed by the Board of Land Commission, a complete title is obtained. … By the Māhele, His Majesty the King consented that [Konohiki’s name] should have the land, subject to the award of the Land Commission” (Kenoa et al v. John Meek, October Term 1871)
After a Konohiki took their claim to the Land Commission, their rights and interests in land were confirmed and title to land was established through the issuance of a Land Commission Award.
Preza argues, “If the Māhele produced an initial dispossession, one would expect to see the majority of the land transferring into foreign hands.”
Actually, “Interpreting the Māhele as a division of land (versus rights in land), contributes to this confusion due to the large amount of land initially divided between Kauikeaouli (2.5-million acres) and the remaining Konohiki (1.5-million acres).”
Foreigners were not part of the Māhele. Some nonaboriginal Hawaiians who arrived in Hawai‘i prior to the Māhele were consolidated into the Konohiki class, such as John Young and Isaac Davis “foreigners who came and worked for Kamehameha were treated in a manner similar to kaukau ali‘i”. (Preza)
Then, the Kuleana Act was one mechanism which was used to divide out the interests of the maka‘āinana class.
Foreigners were not included in the system of Kālai‘āina and were not considered to be of the Maka‘āinana class, they were outside of it. Foreigners, even those naturalized as Hawaiian Nationals, were not considered Native Tenants and therefore, they were not eligible for a Land Commission award from the Kuleana Act. (Preza)
“On March 8, 1848, the day after the great division (Māhele) between the Konohiki class, Kauikeaouli divided the 2.5-million acres of land in his possession between his private estate and the government.”
“As a result of this division he kept approximately 1-million acres of land for himself as his private property (King’s Land) and relinquished 1.5-million acres of land to the Hawaiian Kingdom government creating what is called “Government Land”.”
“Government Lands are those lands which are considered to be used for the benefit of the country as a whole and constitute approximately 1.5-million acres. Any proceeds from Government Lands went to the government treasury and were used to benefit the citizenry of the country.” (Preza)
In 1850, a law was passed allowing maka‘āinana (the ‘native tenants’) to claim fee simple title to the lands they worked.
“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.’
Some suggest the foreigners bought up all the land.
In 1850, provision was made to permit foreigners equal privileges with Hawaiians; on July 10, 1850, the Hawaiian legislature passed ‘An Act To Abolish The Disabilities Of Aliens To Acquire And Convey Lands In Fee Simple’ (sometimes referred to as the Alien Land Ownership Act); it allowed: …
“That any alien, resident in the Hawaiian islands, may acquire and hold to himself, his heirs and assigns, a fee simple estate in any land of this kingdom, and may also convey the same by sale, gift, exchange, will or otherwise, to any Hawaiian subject, or to any alien, resident …” (Penal Code 1850)
At its August 19, 1850 Privy Council meeting, “Mr Wyllie brought forward & read a report of a committee appointed on the 29th April & powers enlarged on the 24th June to report respecting lands applied for by Missionaries.” The ‘Report on Missionary Lands’ was published in the Polynesian on May 7, 1852.
In part, that report notes, “The missionaries who have received and applied for lands have neither received and applied for them, without offering what they conceived to be a fair consideration for them.”
“So far as their applications have been granted, your Majesty’s government have dealt with them precisely as they have dealt with other applicants for land, that is, they have accepted the price where they considered it fair, and they have raised it where they considered it unfair.” (Signed by RC Wyllie and Keoni Ana)
WD Alexander, Superintendent of Government Survey, notes that “Between the years 1850 and 1860, nearly all the desirable Government land was sold, generally to natives. The portions sold were surveyed at the expense of the purchaser.” (Alexander, 1891)
Preza validates that and also shows Hawaiians out-purchased Non-Hawaiians. “Purchases by Hawaiians (1,856) in the 1850s alone outnumbers the total number of purchases by Non-Hawaiians (1,020) from 1846-1893. More Hawaiians bought land in the 1850s than Non-Hawaiians did between 1846 and 1893.” (Preza)
Government Grants refer to the fee-simple sale of Government Land and take the form of ‘Royal Patents’, ‘Royal Patent Grants’, or ‘Grants’. Of the 3,470 awards, 2,450 (71 percent) of the Government Grants were purchased by ‘Hawaiians’. ‘Non-Hawaiians’ purchased 1,020 awards (29 percent). (Preza)
Some blame sugar planters for buying all the land. “The Māhele of 1848 created the potential to own private property in Hawai‘i.
Immediately following the Māhele the sugar plantations were more likely to lease land rather than purchase land …”
“… due to the economic risks involved in purchasing large amounts of land with little re-sale value. Trends in the sale of Government Lands show that Hawaiians were active participants in the purchase of these lands.” (Preza)
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It would be interesting to create a cartographic reference which, with slight animation, illustrates the transition of ownership during this pivotal era. Do you know of anyone who works with such artifacts? Kiana Pauda.
Kimo Sutton says
Very good history as it seems we have heard tales of western people stealing or taking the land from Hawaiians. Osorio be may part of that continuation of fiction. Unless the continuation of the true history of land sales and leases are shown it could still be taught that land was taken or given by the monarchs. Thus a racist or twisted interpretation taught to students perpetuating a false narrative.
Pablo Gabriel says
I would imagine what Dr. Osorio is referring to is the fact that by 1893, 90% of the lands of Hawai’i were controlled by foreigners. The māhele would never have occurred without pressure from the missionaries, whose financial support from the church was about to come to an end because they had fulfilled their purpose. Many missionaries wanted to stay and private land ownership was key. Let’s not forget that there were 88,000 Hawaiians in 1848, of that 44,000 adults. Only 8500 Land Commission Awards were given out to the Hawaiians, which is 19% of the people.