Episode 37: The Māhele with Dr. Kamana Beamer and Donovan Preza
In 1848 Kauikeaouli’s government set out to organize, in paper form, all four million of Hawai‘i’s acres. The king continued to see imperial aggression as a threat, and he was determined to privatize land to protect it from foreign governments and safeguard it for the people. The undertaking that accomplished this was the Māhele, and it created, says geographer Dr. Kamana Beamer, a hybrid system of private property unlike any other.
“It’s very clear to me that what they were trying to do was codify aspects of that ancestral knowledge base as well as lifestyle on the land in perpetuity in a new system. The Māhele helped to codify the fact that these lands were owned and had collective sets of rights amongst the three classes, which were the ali‘i, the mō‘ï as well as the maka‘äinana, or the Hawaiian people.”
As a result of the Māhele land was divided up into three broad categories: Konohiki Lands, Crown Lands, and Government Lands. After the Māhele, lands were put up for sale, and the trend with purchases in the Kingdom, says geographer Donovan Preza, was that a few foreigners bought lots in Honolulu and large quantities of acres, while many Hawaiians bought small farm lots of one to fifty acres. “You have thousands of very small purchases, a handful of very large purchases. It wasn’t that foreigners designed the system and bought all the prime lands. That trend came after the overthrow.”