“The popular theory that missionaries acquired land by dishonest practice is unsupported by facts.”
“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.”
“The possession of land by foreigners in the sense of full individual title was always a disputed question. Such early foreign residents as John Young, Isaac Davis Don Francisco De Paula Marin occupied lands given them by the Great Kamehameha in the fullest sense of proprietorship then acknowledged.” (Hobbs)
Let’s look back …
“It being therefore fully established, that there are but three classes of persons having vested rights in the lands—1st, the Government, 2nd, the landlord (Chiefs and Konohiki,) and 3rd, the tenant (Makaʻāinana,) it next becomes necessary to ascertain the proportional rights of each.”
“Happily, evidence on this point is not wanting, though it may be the most difficult one to settle satisfactorily of any connected with land claims. The testimony elicited is of the best and highest kind.”
“It has been given immediately by a large number of persons, of a great variety of character, many of them old men, perfectly acquainted with the ancient usages of the country; some were landlords, and some were tenants.” (Land Commission Principles, adopted by Legislature October 26, 1846)
“The title of the Hawaiian government in the lands so acquired and so bona fide owned, as in the preceding sections set forth, shall be deemed in law to be allodial, subject to the previous vested rights of tenants and others, which shall not have been divested by their own acts, or by operation of law.” (Laws adopted 1846)
In 1848, King Kamehameha III responded to increasing economic pressure from foreigners who sought to control land by fundamentally changing the land tenure system to a westernized paper title system.
The lands were formally divided among the king and the chiefs, and the fee titles were recorded in the Māhele book. Lands granted in the Māhele were granted “subject to the rights of native tenants,” usually tenant farmers who already worked and resided on portions of those lands.
More than 240 of the highest-ranking Chiefs and Konohiki in the Kingdom joined Kamehameha III in this task. The first māhele, or division, of lands was signed on January 27, 1848; the last māhele was signed on March 7, 1848.
Each māhele was in effect a quitclaim agreement between the King and a Chief or Konohiki with reference to the lands in which they both claimed interests.
In 1850, a law was passed allowing maka‘ainana (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.’
Those who claimed their parcel(s) successfully acquired what is known as a 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)
The Kingdom looked to sell land to boost the economic opportunities in the Islands. “The need for agricultural products and the parallel problem of placing more lands under cultivation was again emphasized by the Minister of Finance in his report for 1848 …”
“‘There is little question if these islands ever become populous and wealthy, it must be by agriculture. … But I trust … that the
lands may, at no distant period, lie no longer unoccupied, or devoted solely to the sustenance of cattle and horses but dotted with enclosed and cultivated farms and pleasant dwellings.’”
“In 1849 the problem of getting additional land under cultivation was such that the Minister of Finance in his official report for the year made the following interesting proposal …”
“‘It is submitted to the consideration of the legislature whether the true interests of the country do not require the imposition of a small tax per acre upon all lands lying uncultivate or unused throughout the Kingdom. The lands are of no value whatever to the Kingdom and … they contribute nothing toward the support and maintenance of the government.’”
“The policy of disposing of public lands was, obviously, an attempt not only to enrich the economic life of the Kingdom but also to provide needed funds for the rapidly expanding departments of the new government.” (Hobbs)
At the same time that the Kingdom was addressing distribution of lands to the King, Chiefs and Makaʻāinana, they were also looking at land for the missionaries.
“Some conversation then took place on the expediency and policy of granting lands to Missionaries at a price cheaper than lands are disposed of to other parties.” (Privy Council Minutes, November 23, 1849)
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 was received and it was Resolved that it be left by the cabinet to publish when they see fit. 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. …”
“One of the undersigned strongly urged that consideration upon your majesty in Privy Council so far back as the 28th of May, 1847, recommending that a formal resolution should be passed, declaring the gratitude of the nation to the missionaries for the services they had performed, and making some provision for their children.”
“Your majesty’s late greatly lamented Minister of Public Instruction (and former missionary) Mr. Richards, with that disinterestedness which characterized him personally in all his worldly interests, was fearful that to moot such a question would throw obloquy upon the reverend body to which he had belonged, and hence to the day of his death, he abstained from moving it.”
“Neither has any missionary, or any one who had been connected with the mission, ever taken it up to this day; but the undersigned, who are neither missionaries, nor have ever been connected with them, hesitate not to declare to your majesty that it will remain, in all future history …”
“… a stain upon this Christian nation if the important services of the missionaries be not acknowledged in some unequivocal and substantial manner. This acknowledgment should not be a thing implied or secretly understood, but openly and publicly declared.” (Signed by RC Wyllie and Keoni Ana)
“Much has been said against sales of land to individuals of the American missionaries at low prices. But nothing can be more unreasonable and unjust.”
“It is well known that these parties are severing their connection with the Board in Boston with a determination to seek support for themselves and families on the Islands, that they return poor and in most cases with numerous children all born in the Islands …”
“It would then ill become the government to refuse to sell lands at moderate prices to retiring missionaries while it has confirmed grants of thousands of acres to others who never paid one dollar for it …” (Wyllie and Keoni Ana, 1850; Schulz, Hobbs)