Lanai History - Glimpses Into An Island History

The history of Lanai is rich and diverse, spanning first, some 800 years of native Hawaiian residency and subsistence practices (ca. 1000-1800 A.D.). Then following 1800, there was a decline in the native population as foreign influences began to grow. On Lanai, this led to the development of ranching interests—generally under the direction of large land owners, and spanning a 100 year period from the 1850s to 1950.

Map of Lanai

Ancient Hawaiian villages, ceremonial features, dry-land agricultural fields, fishponds, and a wide range of cultural sites dot the shoreline of Lanai at places like Keone, Kaumalapau, Kaunolu, Mamaki, Kapalaoa, Kapihaa, Hulopoe, Manele, Kamaiki, Naha, Kahemano, Lopa, Kahalepalaoa, Kahea, Keomoku, Kaa, Hauola, Maunalei, (including a wet land taro field system in the valley), Kahokunui, Kaiolohia, Awalua, Polihua and Kaena.

In the uplands, localities at Kaa, Koele, Kihamaniania, Kamoku uka, Kalulu uka, Kaunolu uka, Kealia Aupuni and Kealia Kapu, and Palawai were also locations of significant traditional settlements.

Last thatched house on Lanai at Palawai.
The Last Hawaiian thatched house on Lanai at
Palawai (Dole Collection, 1912)

Several important traditions pertaining to the settlement of Lanai, and beliefs and practices of the ancient residents are also commemorated at such places as Puhi-o-Kaala, Halulu, Puu Pehe, Kalaehi, Pohaku O, Ke-ahi-a-Kawelo, Kanepuu, Kaena iki, Nanahoa, and Haalele Paakai.

Ruins of Ancient Loi Kalo on Lanai.
Ruins of Ancient Loi Kalo (Taro Pond Fields in
Maunalei Valley (Dole Collection, 1912)

A look into the traditions and historical residency on Lanai offers us—in the present day—lessons for living in a sustainable manner on our unique island home.

Native subsistence practices continued through ca. 1920. Early efforts at commercial agriculture were undertaken in the middle 1800s—with particular efforts focused on lands at Palawai, as part of a native Hawaiian settlement under the direction of Mormon elders. The first plantation on Lanai was a sugar endeavor that lasted only about three years (1899-1901), and was based out of the Maunalei-Keomoku and the Kahalepalaoa Vicinity on the windward side of the island.