By the 1840s, the maka‘āinana began making pleas to the king, asking that he not allow foreigners the right to possess land and hold positions in government. A series of petitions from across the islands on this matter went unheeded. With lands from his personal inventory, the king set up a mechanism to lease out and eventually sell large tracts of land for the development of businesses, which, it was hoped, would also benefit the kingdom. On December 10, 1845, Kamehameha III signed into law a joint resolution establishing and outlining the responsibilities of the Board of Commissioners to Quiet Land Titles, setting in motion the Māhele ‘Āina or division of lands and natural resources between the king and his subjects. Among the actions called for, and laws to be implemented were
ARTICLE IV. Of The Board Of Commissioners To Quiet Land Titles
SECTION I His Majesty shall appoint through the minister of the interior, and upon consultation with the privy council, five commissioners, one of whom shall be the attorney general of this kingdom, to be a board for the investigation and final ascertainment or rejection of all claims of private individuals, whether natives or foreigners, to any landed property acquired anterior to the passage of this act; the awards of which board, unless appealed from as hereinafter allowed, shall be binding upon the minister of the interior and upon the applicant...
SECTION VII The decisions of said board shall be in accordance with the principles established by the civil code of this kingdom in regard to prescription, occupancy, fixtures, native usages in regard to landed tenures, water privileges and rights of piscary, the rights of women, the rights of absentees, tenancy and subtenancy, —primogeniture and rights of adoption; which decisions being of a majority in number of said board, shall be only subject to appeal to the supreme court, and when such appeal shall not have been taken, they shall be final…
SECTION XIII The titles of all lands claimed of the Hawaiian government anterior to the passage of this act, upon being confirmed as aforesaid, in whole or in part by the board of commissioners, shall be deemed to be forever settled, as awarded by said board, unless appeal be taken to the supreme court, as already prescribed. And all claims rejected by said board, unless appeal be taken as aforesaid, shall be deemed to be forever barred and foreclosed, from the expiration of the time allowed for such appeal.1
The Māhele defined the land interests of Kauikeaouli (King Kamehameha III), some 252 high-ranking ali‘i and konohiki—including several foreigners who had been befriended by members of the Kamehameha line—and the government. As a result of the Māhele, all lands in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i—and associated fisheries as described in the laws above—came to be placed in one of three categories: i) Crown lands for the occupant of the throne; ii) Government lands; and iii) Konohiki lands. The “Enabling” or “Kuleana Act” of the Māhele, dated December 21, 1849, further defined the framework by which hoa‘āina could apply for and be granted fee-simple interest in kuleana lands.2 The Kuleana Act reconfirmed the rights of hoa‘āina to access the land and collect resources from mountains to the shore. Though not specifically stated in this act, the rights of piscary (to fisheries and fishing) had already been granted and were protected by preceding laws.
1In The Polynesian, January 3, 1846, p. 140.
2cf. Kamakau in Ke Au Okoa, July 8 & 15, 1869; 1961, p. 403.