Last month, a historic bill was signed at Washington Place settling a nearly 3-decades-old dispute between the state of Hawaii and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs over ceded lands.
The settlement signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie resolved OHA's claim to former crown land revenue in exchange for 30 acres of waterfront property in Kaka'ako in Honolulu worth $200 million.
This includes valuable land near Kewalo Basin, including the old Fisherman's Wharf property where my parents took us as children for seafood dinners. There was a view of the fishing boats and hanging nets and glass balls at the entrance. In exchange, the agency waived claims over its share of proceeds from duty-free shops and lands used for state hospitals and public housing projects.
"A debt was paid to our people," said OHA Chair Colette Machado, but just what was this debt? Many people still don't know what the "ceded lands" are.
I will tell you, but first it is necessary to understand the "crown lands."
The story goes back to Jan. 27, 1848, when the formal Mahele (division) of the kingdom's lands began at the old 'Iolani Palace in Honolulu. On this important day in Hawaiian history, Kamehameha III and the chiefs began the process of dividing up the lands of the kingdom, until then owned completely by the king and bestowed on favored chiefs to use and administer as they pleased.
Volumes have been written about the long, tragic process that ensued. Suffice it to say that in the days that followed, the lands of Hawaii were divided among the king, the chiefs and the government, each receiving a third, about 1 million acres. Later, the chiefs settled on an amount they were willing to give the commoners: 1 percent of the lands, or 30,000 acres.
The king named 138 lands for himself on five islands, retaining 35 on Maui, including many in Lahaina, Ka'anapali, Wailuku and Hana. These were his personal lands, to be freely spent, leased or mortgaged for the support of the king and his successors.
Among them were the ahupua'a of Olowalu, Ukumehame, Kahakuloa and Wailuku; the ahupua'a of Alamihi, Ilikahi, Kaua'ula, Kuholilea (east), Kuhua, Lapakea, Mala, Puehuehu, Waianae and Waine'e in the district of Lahaina; the ahupua'a of Honokowai, Napili and Polua in Ka'anapali; the ahupua'a of Honomanu, Keanae, Wailua in Ko'olau; Waiohonu in Hana, and the ahupua'a of Kealahou and Keokea in Kula.
Kauikeaouli, known as "Ka Mo'i Lokomaika'i," the beneficent king, died in 1853. He had no legitimate survivors and designated Alexander Liholiho, the son of Princess Elizabeth Kina'u and high chief Kekuana'oa, as his heir.
Kamehameha IV, only 20 when he assumed the throne, was "of brilliant talents and winning of manners," elegant in appearance and refined in conversation. He had an excellent mind, a fine command of Hawaiian and English as well as some Spanish and French. Some saw him as "the brightest and most intelligent" of his people.
He favored Great Britain and its church, and with his beautiful young queen, Emma Kalanikaumakeamano Na'ea Rooke, established a glittering court.
Alexander spent lavishly of his inheritance from Kamehameha III. The cost of his wedding to Emma was over $10 million. He died in 1864 without a will and in debt $42,000, threatening his queen with poverty.
Alexander's older brother, Lot, declared himself Kamehameha V and proved an able leader. If Alexander was like a hawk, Lot was "a bull: massive, plodding but powerful, shrewd, decisive and ruthless, relentless and coldly passionate."
Kamehameha V went bankrupt several years before taking the throne, but, being an honorable businessman, paid everyone back. He applied this fiduciary responsibility to a troubling matter: By 1865, the vast personal landholdings of Kamehameha III, worth over $1.3 billion in today's money, had been almost completely sold, leased or mortgaged by him and his successor.
Kamehameha V assented in 1865 to the passage of a law authorizing the sale of bonds to "extinguish" the mortgages on the estate of Kamehameha IV and return the property to the "Royal Domain." These lands, renamed "the crown lands," were made "inalienable," meaning they could not be sold. They were put under the management of the Commissioners of Crown Lands for the support of all further successors to the throne.
The king agreed to be put on a budget, annually receiving $16,000 a year from the Legislature and $20,000 in revenue from the crown estates. Mark Twain called it "a New York detective's income."
The crown lands were seized when Lili'uokalani was overthrown, and legalized in 1894 as the property of the new Republic of Hawaii. In 1898, under the terms of annexation to the United States, they, along with the government lands, were "ceded" to the United States.
The terms were generous. The joint resolution made it clear that the ceded lands were to be administered in Hawaii and held in trust to benefit the people of the islands. It took from then until now to evolve that definition.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.