Honouliuli: Procedures of the Land Commission, 1848–1855

The records of the Māhele ‘Āina are a significant source of firsthand accounts from native tenants of Honouliuli whose residency generally spanned the period from ca. 1800 to 1855. The records describe native Hawaiian residency and land use practices.  They identify specific residents, types of land use, fishery and fishing rights, crops cultivated, and features on the landscape. The Māhele ‘Āina gave the hoa‘āina an opportunity to acquire a fee-simple property interest—lands awarded to the hoa‘āina became known as kuleana lands—in land on which they lived and actively cultivated, but the process required them to provide personal testimonies regarding their residency and land use practices.

All of the claims and resulting awards for kuleana across the islands were numbered, and the LCA numbers remain in use today to identify original owners of land in the islands. The work of the Land Commission was concluded on March 31, 1855. The program, directed by principles adopted on August 20, 18461 met with mixed results. In its statement to the king,2 the Commissioners to Quiet Land Titles summarized events that had transpired during the life of the commission:

The first award made by the Commission was that of John Voss [a foreigner] on the 31st March 1847.

The time originally granted to the Board for the hearing and settlement of all the land claims in the kingdom was two years, ending the fourteenth day of February, 1848.

Before the expiration of that term it became evident that a longer time would be required to perform the work… Accordingly, the Legislature on the 26th day of August 1847, passed an Act to extend the duration of the Board to the 14th of February, 1849, adding one year to the term first prescribed, not however, for the purpose of admitting fresh claims, but for the purposes of hearing, adjudicating and surveying those claims that should be presented by the 14th February, 1848. It became apparent to the Legislature of 1848 that the labors of the Land Commission had never been fully understood, nor the magnitude of the work assigned to them properly appreciated, and that it was necessary again to extend the duration of the Board. An act was accordingly passed, wisely extending the powers of the Commissioners “for such a period of time from the 14th day of February 1849, as shall be necessary for the full and faithful examination, settlement and award upon all such claims as may have been presented to said Board.” … [T]he Board appointed a number of Sub-Commissioners in various parts of the kingdom, chiefly gentlemen connected with the American Mission, who from their intelligence, knowledge of the Hawaiian language, and well-known desire to forward any work which they believed to be for the good of the people, were better calculated than any other class of men on the islands to be useful auxiliaries to the Board at Honolulu…

During the ten months that elapsed between the constitution of the Board and the end of the year 1846, only 371 claims were received at the office; during the year 1847 only 2,460, while 8,478 came in after the first day of January 1848. To these are to be added 2,100 claims, bearing supplementary numbers, chiefly consisting of claims which had been forwarded to the Board, but lost or destroyed on the way. In the year 1851, 105 new claims were admitted, for Kuleanas in the Fort Lands of Honolulu, by order of the Legislature. The total number of claims therefore, amounts to 13,514, of which 209 belonged to foreigners and their descendants. The original papers, as they were received at the office, were numbered and copied into the Registers of the Commission, which highly necessary part of the work entailed no small amount of labor…

The whole number of Awards perfected by the Board up to its dissolution is 9,337, leaving an apparent balance of claims Not Awarded of say 4,200. Of these, at least 1,500 may be ranked as duplicates, and of the remaining 2,700 perhaps 1,500 have been rejected as bad, while of the balance some have not been prosecuted by the parties interested; many have been relinquished and given up to the Konohikis, even after surveys were procured by the Board, and hundreds of claimants have died, leaving no legal representatives. It is probable also that on account of the dilatoriness of some claimants in prosecuting their rights before the Commission, there are even now, after the great length of time which has been afforded, some perfectly good claims on the Registers of the Board, the owners of which have never taken the trouble to prove them. If there are any such, they deserve no commiseration, for every pains has been taken by the Commissioners and their agents, by means of oft repeated public notices and renewed visits to the different districts of the Islands, to afford all and every of the claimants an opportunity of securing their rights.3

It has been reported that the lands awarded to hoa‘āina totaled approximately 28,658 acres [18:295].

In Honouliuli Ahupua‘a no hoa‘āina claims were recorded for lands within the Hoakalei program area. The claims nearest the program area were recorded in the ‘ili of Pu‘uloa—all of which were relinquished by the native tenants prior to issuing of awards. The major grouping of kuleana occurred in the area known as the Honouliuli Taro Lands, being situated several miles inland of shoreline, and near the Hō‘ae‘ae boundary with Honouliuli. Based on customary practice, it is reasonable to assume that the native tenants of ‘āina kalo (taro lands) shared familial ties with those people who once made the coastal lands of the One‘ula-Kuālaka‘i region home. It was a typical practice to travel between different areas to manage resources and practice what kūpuna describe as kuapo: the exchange of goods between the extended families and specialists in various fields of subsistence living.

1See ARTICLE IV of The Board Of Commissioners To Quiet Land Titles.

2George M. Robertson, March 31, 1855.

3Minister of Interior Report, 1856, p. 10–17.


Related Maps

Related Documents

The native tenant land claims from the Native Register for lands in Honouliuli can be found here. The claim number or helu is given, followed by the name of the claimant, and the name of the land area. The Native Register contains the claims submitted by the person who occupies the land. This includes a description of the location of the land, as well as what has been developed on the land—houses, taro patches, gardens, etc. The native testimony and foreign testimony contain statements from residents in the area which verify the statements of the claimant made in the Native Register. A few of the claims were not awarded. Click the Category link for Land Commission Award below to see the claims for Honouliuli.

The accompanying images are of two kinds. The first kind is the notes of survey which formed the records of the Mahele Award Books. They include metes and bounds and plot plans of the parcels surveyed for native tenants. The specific land names and parcels, plot plan maps, and, if provided, additional notes (e.g. names of people and places, or descriptions of features) which supplement the register and testimony volumes are cited.

The second kind of images included are the Royal Patents issued on Mahele Aina Awards. Upon agreement of the land areas to be awarded, surveys were conducted and recorded. The king issued Royal Patents in confirmation of the land areas to awardees. The original documents are presented. The figure captions include the royal patent number (Palapala Sila Nui Helu), the LCA number (Kuleana Helu), the awardee, land area and description, date, signatory parties, and source. The documents are not transcribed, but may be read from the original patents. In some instances, additional place names which were not identified in the earlier records were also cited in the claims; those place names are cited in the land description from each patent. Click the Category link for Royal Patent to see those issued for Honouliuli.

The notes of survey and Royal Patent associated with a Land Commission Award can be navigated to through links under Related Images on each Land Commission Award page.

By the 1840s, the makaainana 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 Mahele Aina 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 Mahele defined the land interests of Kauikeaouli (King Kamehameha III), some 252 high-ranking alii and konohiki—including several foreigners who had been befriended by members of the Kamehameha line—and the government. As a result of the Mahele, all lands in the Kingdom of Hawaii—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 Mahele, dated December 21, 1849, further defined the framework by which hoa‘aina could apply for and be granted fee-simple interest in kuleana lands.2 The Kuleana Act reconfirmed the rights of hoaaina 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.

The Hoakalei Cultural Foundation (HCF) seeks to provide the public with access to the rich history of Honouliuli Ahupuaa—bringing traditional and historical documentation that has time depth, and that is factual, to the attention of all who care for this land. The research is being conducted in a wide range of archival collections, and incorporates primary—first account—documentation from both Hawaiian- and English-language resources.

As a part of that research, Kepa Maly and Onaona Pomroy Maly completed a review of all the original land title records of the Hawaiian Kingdom recorded during the Mahele Aina (Land Division) between the years 1847 and 1855. For the first time, all of the Mahele records have been compiled in one collection, and the original Hawaiian-language documents of the Native Register and Testimony collections were translated by Kepa Maly for this program. This work was conducted over a five-week period between July and August 2012. The results provide readers with significant documentation coming from those who lived on and knew the land in a traditional manner. The Mahele documents describe land use, residency, and the practices of the families of Honouliuli and its smaller land subdivisions. With this information, we are able better to understand the history and cultural landscape of Honouliuli. While much has changed in the last 170 years, the spirit of place, the named places, and lives of those who came before us are still present on the land. Their history adds value to our own lives and community.

All told, 436 Mahele documents were found for Honouliuli; no additional Mahele claims for Honouliuli are known to exist. This total can be broken down, as follows:

105 Native Register (NR) Claim records registered by 99 native tenants;
80 Native Testimony (NT) Claim records;
99 Foreign Testimony (FT) records;
77  Mahele Award Book records; and
75  Palapala Sila Nui (Royal Patent) records.

Of the 106 native tenant claims and one chiefly claim identified from Honouliuli, 74 were awarded to the claimants or their heirs and 33 were denied.

In compiling this collection of historical land and family records from Honouliuli, we have attempted to ensure the accuracy of all citations. The original records though, are challenging. Being all handwritten, the writing is at times illegible. At other times spelling of personal and land area names vary from one record to another. We have done our best to compare the various records and maintain the highest accuracy possible. The records are organized by Helu—the original numerical sequence assigned at the time of recording the information. Also, certain important classes of information such as place names, personal names, subsistence practices, types of features, and cultural and natural resources are called out in tables and summary form for easy access to the historical information.