The history of the Māhele ‘Āina (Land Division of 1848) between the King, Chiefs, Government and commoners, and establishment of fee-simple land title on Lāna‘i was researched and compiled by Kepā and Onaona Maly as a part of a detailed ethnographic study on the island of Lāna‘i.
The Māhele ‘Āina and associated Helu or Land Commission Award Numbers (L.C.A.), identifying the original holders of title to lands on Lāna‘i provides the foundational record of fee-simple property title on the island. The story of the Māhele ‘Āina on Lāna‘i reveals much about residency, land use and land tenure on the island, but also leaves much unanswered—the answers to some questions may never be fully understood. In the papers provided through links on this page, readers are provided the first fully detailed account of the original history of land title (and failed claims for title) on Lāna‘i.
The manuscript (in five parts pdf file)—with digital images of the original Hawaiian language documents and full translations prepared by Kepā Maly—is organized by subsections meant to provide readers with access to the wide range of documentation recorded as a part of the Māhele ‘Āina.
In the years leading up to the Māhele ‘Āina (Land Division), the King and members of his council undertook an “experiment” of dividing and granting fee-simple interest in properties at selected locations in the islands. By this time, wild cattle and other ungulates had already led to the abandonment of lands by natives at various locations — while not specifically mentioned, Lāna‘i was already suffering from the impacts of the feral animals as well. The Māhele ‘Āina itself met with mixed success. More than half the applications made by native tenants of Lāna‘i for kuleana (personal property rights) were rejected by the Land Commission (see the Māhele ‘Āina on Lāna‘i). This problem was recognized while the Māhele was being undertaken, and Kamehameha III implemented the program that allowed native and foreign residents to apply for grants of land — in fee-simple interest—which were held in the Government Land Inventory.
Between 1855 to 1867, thirteen (13) grant applications, covering 735.93 acres, were surveyed and patented to fourteen individuals (13 natives and one foreigner) on the island of Lāna‘i. Most of the native claimants had also applied for land as a part of the Māhele ‘Āina — some grantees received awards, others did not. The land came from the Crown and Government inventory of lands in four ahupua‘a. Documentation pertaining to the successful bidders for grant lands on Lāna‘i may be viewed by following the link below.
Following the Māhele ‘Āina, there was a growing movement to fence off land areas and control access to resources which native tenants had traditionally used. By the 1860s, foreign land owners and business interests petitioned the Crown to have the boundaries of their respective lands—which were the foundation of plantation and ranching interests—settled. In 1862, the King appointed a Commission of Boundaries (the Boundary Commission), whose task it was to collect traditional knowledge of place, pertaining to land boundaries, customary practices, and determine the most equitable boundaries of each ahupua‘a that had been awarded to Ali‘i, Konohiki, and foreigners during the Māhele. The commission proceedings were conducted under the courts and as formal actions under the law. As the commissioners on the various islands undertook their work, the kingdom hired or contracted with surveyors to begin the surveys, and in 1874, the Commissioners of Boundaries were authorized to certify the boundaries for lands brought before them (W.D. Alexander in Thrum 1891:117-118).
Primary records in this collection from Lāna‘i were recorded between 1876 to 1891. The records include testimonies of elder kama‘āina who were either recipients of kuleana in the Māhele, holders of Royal Patent Land Grants on the island, or who were the direct descendants of the original fee-simple title holders. The narratives that follow include several sources of documentation. There are examples of the preliminary requests for establishing the boundaries; letters from the surveyors in the field; excerpts from surveyor’s field books (Register Books); the record of testimonies given by native residents of Lāna‘i; and the entire record of the Commission in certifying the boundaries of each ahupua‘a on Lāna‘i. The resulting documentation covers descriptions of the land, extending from ocean fisheries to the mountain peaks, and also describe traditional practices; land use; changes in the landscape witnessed over the informants’ life time; and various cultural features across the land.
The native witnesses usually spoke in Hawaiian, and in some instances, their testimony was translated into English and transcribed as the proceedings occurred. Other testimonies from Lāna‘i have remained in Hawaiian, untranslated, until development of this manuscript. Translations of the Hawaiian language texts below were prepared by Kepā Maly as a part of this research project.
A review of all conveyances (Bureau of Conveyances – State of Hawai‘i) from the Island of Lāna‘i, recorded in the books (Liber) for the years between 1845 to 1961 was conducted by Kepā and Onaona Maly as a part of a documentary study for Lāna‘i. Records from Grantor and Grantee volumes of the Bureau of Conveyances were researched, and all records identified as being from Lāna‘i, including sixty four (64) documents translated for the first time from the original Hawaiian texts to English, have were transcribed.
While the Grantor/Grantee volumes covering Lāna‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i and Kaho‘olawe, date from 1845, the earliest record of land title found in the volumes from Lāna‘i was dated March 31, 1860. Land records for the period from 1845 to 1859 are generally covered under the Māhele ‘Āina (Land Division), which established fee-simple property rights in the Hawaiian Islands, or by issuance of Royal Patent Grants on lands taken from the Government land inventory.
This Lāna‘i land history document provides readers with key points of the records, without the extensive repetition of the recital as recorded in the original documents. The citations include the following documentation:
(1) Who entered into the agreement;
(2) When the agreement was made;
(3) The type of action (lease, sale, or other);
(4) What and where the property or action is found;
(5) Conditions and how sum was paid; and
(6) Family documentation.
Documents originally recorded in the Hawaiian language were translated by Kepā Maly, as a part of this undertaking. These translations like those recorded in English generally include verbatim excerpts of key points of the conveyances, skipping the repetition of clauses, conditions and circumstances of the instruments.