Great Māhele

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The Great Māhele ("to divide or portion") or just the Māhele was the Hawaiian land redistribution proposed by King Kamehameha III. The Great Māhele was one of the most important episodes of Hawaiian history, second only to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. While intended to provide secure title to Hawaiians, it would eventually end up separating many of them from their land.[1]

Bill of Rights[edit]

The 1839 Hawaiian Bill of Rights, also known as the 1839 Constitution of Hawaii, was an attempt by Kamehameha III and his chiefs to guarantee that the Hawaiian people would not lose their tenured land, and provided the groundwork for a free enterprise system.[2] The document, which had an attached code of laws, was drafted by Lahainaluna missionary school alumnus Boaz Mahune, revised by the Council of Chiefs and by Kamehameha III in June 1839.[3]

1840 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii[edit]

The 1840 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii established a constitutional monarchy. It stated that the land belonged to its people and was to be managed by the king.[4] It established executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The document established allodial title property rights which maintained the lands in the hands of Hawaiian subjects to mālama (nurture and sustain).[5]

In order to protect Hawaiian lands from foreigners, Kamehameha III divided the lands among all the people of Hawaiʻi. aliʻi, konohiki and makaʻainana alike.[3] The Mahele changed the previous land system under which the kuleana (responsibility and obligation) ahupuaʻa to mālama ʻāina was given by the mōʻī (king) to an aliʻi nui (high chief), his subordinate aliʻi and konohiki who received taxes and tribute from the people who worked the land collectively. Private land ownership did not exist.

The Great Māhele of March 7, 1848, relocated one-third of the land to the mōʻī (monarch) Hawaiian crown lands. Another third was allocated among the aliʻi and konohiki (chiefs and managers of ahupuaʻa). The remaining one-third was given to the makaʻāinana (common people). The law required land claims to be filed within two years under the Kuleana Act of 1850, and many Hawaiians made no claim.[6]

Eventually most of the land was sold by the government of the Republic and settlers from the continental US or auctioned to The Big Five (Hawaii) corporations.[7] This resulted in Hawaiʻi having about 32% of the land owned by the state, while another 4.8% is Hawaiian Homelands.[8]

Acts of 1850[edit]

Alien Land Ownership Act[edit]

While opponents Kamehameha IV, Kamehameha V and missionary physician Gerrit Judd were traveling, on July 10, 1850 the legislature passed the Alien Land Ownership Act. It allowed foreigners to hold title to land. The Act was written by Chief Justice William Little Lee. The justification was the promise of prosperity resulting from an influx of much-needed capital and labor.[9][10]

Kuleana Act-August 6, 1850[edit]

Another notable part of the Great Mahele was the Kuleana Act of 1850.[11]

Under this provision, commoners were allowed to petition for title to land that they cultivated and lived on, similar to the homesteading laws used to manage land tenure in US territories in the nineteenth century. It also abolished the right of cultivation and pasturage on the larger, common lands of the ahupuaʻa, title of which went to the chief, the crown or the government.

Ownership of land was a previously unknown concept for ordinary Hawaiians. Many did not understand the need to make a claim for land where they already lived and/or worked. Communication depended upon word-of-mouth or the ability to read the written word. Making a claim required money to pay for a pre-claim land survey. The system required two witnesses to confirm that the claimant had worked the land.[12] About 18,000 plots of 3 acres each were successfully claimed.[13][14] The Kingdom's population at the time was some 82,000.[15] Members of higher classes and aliʻi obtained title to most Hawaiian land. Due to the ongoing effect of western diseases and property taxes, many lost their property.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jocelyn Linnekin (1990). Sacred Queens and Women of Consequence: Rank, Gender, and Colonialism in the Hawaiian Islands. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-06423-1.
  2. ^ "Kingdom of Hawaii Constitution of 1839". The Morgan Report. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
    "1839 Hawaiian Bill of Rights". Free Hawaii. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  3. ^ a b Hitch, Thomas Kemper; Kamins, Robert M (1993). Islands in Transition: The Past, Present, and Future of Hawaii's Economy. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 28–30. ISBN 978-0-8248-1498-4.
  4. ^ McGregor, Davianna Pomaikai (2007). Na Kua'aina: Living Hawaiian Culture. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-0-8248-2946-9.
  5. ^ Richard H. Kosaki (1978). "Constitutions and Constitutional Conventions of Hawaii". Hawaiian Journal of History. Vol. 12. Hawaii Historical Society. pp. 120–138. hdl:10524/196.
  6. ^ Van Dyke, Jon M (2007). Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai'i?. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 44–49. ISBN 978-0-8248-3211-7.
  7. ^ Native Hawaiians Study Commission Report – 1983 Archived 2007-08-29 at the Wayback Machine, p. 334
  8. ^ Hawaii Statewide GIS Program
  9. ^ Merry, Sally Engle (1999). Colonizing Hawai'i. Princeton University Press. pp. 93–95. ISBN 978-0-691-00932-2.
  10. ^ Van Dyke, Jon M (2007). Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai'i?. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 60–61. ISBN 978-0-8248-3211-7.
  11. ^ Rhodes, Diane Lee. "A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island". Changes After the Death of Kamehameha. United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  12. ^ Wong, Helen; Rayson, Ann (1997). Hawaii's Royal History. Bess Press. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-0-935848-48-9.
  13. ^ a b Kent, N J (1993). Hawaii Islands Under the Influence. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 31–33. ISBN 978-0-8248-1552-3.
  14. ^ a b Norgren, Jill (2006). American Cultural Pluralism and Law. Praeger. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-275-98699-5.
  15. ^ "Hawaiian Encyclopedia: Population and Visitor Statistics".

Further reading[edit]

  • Jon J. Chinen. The Great Mahele: Hawaii's land division of 1848 (University of Hawaii Press, 1958).
  • Linnekin, Jogelyn. "Statistical analysis of the great Māhele: some preliminary findings∗." Journal of Pacific History 22#1 (1987): 15-33.
  • Linnekin, Jocelyn. "The Hui lands of Keanae: Hawaiian land tenure and the Great Mahele." Journal of the Polynesian Society 92#2 (1983): 169-188.
  • Stauffer, Robert H. Kahana: How the land was lost (University of Hawaii Press, 2004).

External links[edit]