Forever I shall sing the praises
Of Kahana’s beauty unsurpassed
The fragrance of beauteous mountains
By the zephyrs to thee is wafted
(Written for Mary Foster and her country home at Kahana)
The island of Oʻahu is divided into 6 moku (districts), consisting of: ‘Ewa, Kona, Koʻolauloa, Koʻolaupoko, Waialua and Waiʻanae. These moku were further divided into 86 ahupua‘a (land divisions within the moku.)
Kahana (Lit., the work, cutting or turning point;) approximately 5,250-acres, is one of the 32 ahupua‘a that make up the moku of Koʻolauloa on the windward and north shore side of the island. It extends from the top of the Koʻolau mountain (at approximate the 2,700-foot elevation) down to the ocean.
The ahupuaʻa of Kahana, like all land in Hawai`i prior to the Great Māhele of 1848, belonged to the King. It is estimated that a population of 600 – 1,000 people lived here at the time of the arrival of Captain Cook (1778,) and about 200 at the time of the Māhele.
Much of the lower marshland surrounding the river was planted with taro; the higher dryland area leading to the ridges on both sides of the river was planted with trees, sugar cane, banana and sweet potato. Groves of bamboo, ti leaves, kukui and hala trees at various locations indicate significant areas of ancient dwelling places. (Kaʻanaʻana)
Ane Keohokālole, mother of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani received the bulk of the ahupuaʻa of Kahana at the Māhele; several kuleana awards to makaʻāinana (commoners) were scattered in the valley, as well as land for a school and roads.
Keohokālole received 5,050-acres, and the kuleana awards totaled less than 200-acres (the kuleana lands included the house lots and taro loʻi of the makaʻāinana.) The remainder of the ahupuaʻa included undeveloped uplands.
In 1856, Keohokālole and her husband Kapaʻakea created an asset pool, a type of trust. As trustee, Keohokālole later sold Kahana (May 1857) to AhSing (also known as Apakana,) a Chinese merchant. (LRB)
These lands later passed through the hands of a few other Chinese merchants before being bought by a land hui composed of Hawaiian members of the Church of Jesus Chris Latter Day Saints, called the Ka Hui Kuʻai i ka ʻĀina ʻo Kahana in 1874. The hui had 95 members; most members getting one share, and a few receiving multiple shares. (LRB)
The hui movement was not isolated to Kahana, it was throughout the Islands. They were formed as an attempt to retain or reestablish part of the old system that predated private ownership granted through the Māhele. (Stauffer)
Here, each shareholder had his or her own house lot and taro loʻi, but all had an undivided interest in the pasture and uplands, and in the freshwater rights, ocean fishing rights and Huilua fishpond.
Each member was allowed an equal share in the akule that were caught, and could have up to six animals running freely on the land (additional animals would be paid at a quarter per year.) (LRB)
When the call came in the late-1880s for Mormons to gather at Salt Lake City, many from Kahana wanted to leave for Utah with other Hawaiian Mormons; at least a third of the founders of the Hawaiian Mormon Iosepa (Joseph) Colony in Utah were from Kahana. (Stauffer)
Then, Mary Foster (daughter of James Robinson and wife of Thomas Foster – an initial organizer of the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company, that later became Hawaiian Airlines) became involved in purchasing interests in land in Kahana.
This was the beginning a “bitter economic and legal struggle” with Kāneʻohe Ranch for control of the valley. An out of court settlement was reached in 1901 in which Mary Foster bought out the Ranch’s interest, giving her a controlling interest in Kahana.
With added acquisitions, by 1920, she eventually owned 97% of the valley. Mrs. Foster died in 1930, and Kahana passed to her estate and was held in trust for her heirs.
When World War II broke out, the military moved the Japanese families out, and in 1942 the US Army Corps of Engineers erected a jungle warfare training center in the valley.
In 1955, the Robinson Agency, acting as the agent for the Foster Estate, contracted with a planner for feasibility studies on Kahana. The report recommended making an authentic South Sea island resort village – an inn with 20 rooms, creating a small lake in the valley, and a nine-hole golf course. Nothing happened as a result of this plan.
A study on usage of the valley as a public park was done, but no action was taken. Also in 1962, a private foundation presented a plan to create a scientific botanical garden.
In 1965, John J. Hulten (real estate appraiser and State Senator) prepared a report for DLNR noting that Kahana was ideally suited to be a regional park, offering seashore water sports, mountain camping, and salt and freshwater fishing, and a tropical botanical garden. “Properly developed it will be a major attraction with 1,000,000 visits annually.”
The “proper development” he had in mind included 600 “developable acres” for camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and swimming, and foresaw over 1,000 camping sites plus cabins, restaurant, and shops.
He said that a hotel and other commercial buildings could be developed, and wanted the creation of a 50 acre lake. All of this development would be assisted by a botanical garden and a mauka road from Likelike Highway to Kahana.
In 1965, the State condemned the property for park purposes with a $5,000,000 price, paid in five annual installments (which included some federal funds.) By 1969, the State owned Kahana free and clear.
A 1987 law authorized DLNR to issue long term residential leases to individuals who had been living on the lands and provided authorization for a residential subdivision in Kahana Valley. In 1993, the Department entered into 65 year leases covering 31 residential properties – in lieu of rent payments, the lessees are required to contribute at least twenty-five hours of service each month.
A later law (2008) created the Living Park Planning Council, placed within the DLNR for administrative purposes. The purpose of the Council was to create a master plan and advise the Department of matters pertaining to the park.
Kahana Valley State Park was renamed the Ahupuaʻa ʻo Kahana State Park in November 2000. Kahana is the second-largest state park in the state park system (Na Pali Coast State Park is larger, at 6,175 acres.)