Aloha 'Aina (Love of the Land): The Struggle for Land and Power in Hawai'i
from East Wind Magazine Vol. 1 No. 1 Spring/Summer (1982)
Subheadings were added to the original publication to make this more readable on the web.
by Tracy Takano
This image of foreigners became a reality, and today native Hawai'ians and other local people–the people of Hawai'i from Asia, Puerto Rico and Portugal first brought over as contract laborers by the plantation owners–are locked into a fight with the graspers for every beach, valley and piece of land in Hawai'i.
The struggle for land began when the foreigners from the U.S. and Europe came to exploit and colonize Hawai'i in the early 1800's. The graspers saw that to take the land, they also needed to replace the ali'i, the Hawai'ian chiefs who controlled the land. They were able to do this by the end of the century when the haole (white) capitalist planters and merchants overthrew the Hawai'ian monarchy in 1893. As the land was lost, the foreigners' grasp grew tighter on the sovereignty of Hawai'i. Similarly, the struggle to regain the land today is part of the struggle for revolution and to gain political power.
The Hawai'ians had a very developed feudal society by the time British explorer James Cook came to the islands in 1778. The Hawai'ian land system was based on use rather than private ownership – the ali'i controlled the land, but the maka'ãinana (people of the land, commoners) had the right to use the resources of the land and sea. The relationship between the people and the land was expressed in the concept aloha'ãina –love of the land. Hawai'ians took care of the land so that the land could continue to sustain them. The Hawai'ian economy, culture, religion and political system were based on shared use and respect for the land.
Cook had opened the doors to a flood of Americans and Europeans who rushed to exploit Hawai'i. Westerners, especially the American missionaries, gained favor with some of theali'i and were given positions in the Hawai'ian government. They convinced many of the ali'i of the superiority of the haole ways including the philosophy of free trade which the missionaries taught in the schools they established for the ali'i. Most significantly, they were able to introduce private ownership of land.
By the 1850's, the haole caused a major land distribution called The Great Mahele which instituted private ownership of land. About a third of the land, some 1,500,000 acres, was supposed to be for land claims by the maka'ãinana but the ali'i and the haole manipulated the Mahele so that they received most of the land while the maka'ainana received only 28,000 acres. Less than 1% of the land went to the 99% of the population. The Hawai'ians, whose bodies and souls were tied to the land, were cut off from it, and the haole were able to replace the Hawai'ian social structure with their own.
It was also during the 1850's that the haole, especially the American capitalist planters and merchants, began seriously organizing either for an overthrow of the monarchy or annexation by the U.S. In 1893, the planters and merchants staged a coup backed up with a U.S. navy gunboat and 150 U.S. troops. Queen Lili'uokalani was forced into a conditional surrender, and the haole immediately asked for annexation by the U.S.
Formal annexation by the U.S. in 1898 meant that political power was even further removed from the people and that Hawai'i was secure for imperialist domination. The planter monopolies – Alexander & Baldwin, AMFAC, Castle & Cooke, C. Brewer, and Theo. Davies – became known as the Big Five because they came to control 80% of the islands' wealth and were the real rulers of Hawai'i. Hawai'i became a military base for the U.S. and was under martial law during World War II. Statehood in 1959 completed the political domination of the people by the American imperialists.
Statehood brought new waves of settlers to the islands and greatly changed the character of Hawai'i. The first ten years were especially devastating. During this period, the population rose by 137,000 people, and just under 100,000 in this increase was in the haole population. Most of the people coming from the mainland U.S. were professionals, businessmen and management people. During this time, the military occupation of the islands stepped up.
Domination by monopoly corporationsIn addition to the Big Five, other U.S. monopoly corporations accelerated their domination of the Hawai'ian economy. The number of tourists increased 500% and the number of hotel rooms tripled to hold them.
The system of land distribution did not change much since the plantation days. 45% of the land is held by 39 major landholders, while small, private owners control only 6.3% of the land. The rest is held by the State and U.S. government.
The large landholders were making the most of this new influx of capital and rich people. Land previously used for pineapple and sugar was cleared and leased for resorts or expensive housing developments. Small leasehold farms were pushed out of the valleys to make room for development. Hotels and condominiums crowded onto the best beaches. America's welcome to the people of Hawai'i in their first decade of statehood was greater alienation from the land and sea and even less control over their lives.
The Revolutionary Struggle from Kalama ValleyThese same ten years were also ~ times of revolution around the world. Many young people in Hawai'i were inspired to take action too–in part by the liberation movements in the Third World and by U.S. revolutionary organizations such as I Wor Kuen, the Young Lords Party and the Black Panther Party – but mainly from seeing what U.S. imperialism had done to Hawai'i. A new revolutionary nationalist movement emerged in Hawai'i out of the struggle for Kalama Valley.
Kalama Valley is located east of Honolulu on the island of O'ahu. The valley had many small farms which were worked by the Hawai'ian, Portuguese, Japanese and Pilipino residents. In the summer of 1970, the Bishop Estate, the largest private landholder in Hawai'i, began evicting the tenants to make way for an expensive housing development.
Most of the residents were forced out, but the last remaining residents would not leave. The struggle for Kalama Valley was significant because it signalled the beginning of an organized resistance to the widespread evictions by the big landholders and a reborn consciousness that the people who work the land and make it productive should control it. This idea was put out most clearly by Kokua Hawai'i, a revolutionary nationalist organization that took up the Kalama Valley fight.
Kokua Hawai'i linked the evictions to the fact that the people of Hawai'i needed land and political power. "For the first time, a lot of us began to realize what it is to be Local and to be proud of it; What it feels like to be brown and proud. What happened in Kalama was a coming together of Local People . . . The time is here when we have to put the big landholders and developers in their place ... We need some da kine Power for us kine Local People." Kokua Hawai'i called for "land for the people of Hawai'i," self-determination and revolution to get that power.
Kalama Valley was lost, but the larger struggle for land and power grew because these demands came straight from the heart of the people. These sentiments were strongest among the native Hawai'ian people because they have lost the most. When your whole culture, economy and identity is built around the land, you have to be on the land! Taking away their land made it easier for the imperialists to oppress the Hawai'ians.
Other local people united with the struggles to stop development and the use of Hawai'ian lands for outside interests. Their whole lives had also changed completely because of the capitalist ownership and control of the land.
There were different experiences faced by each nationality from China, Japan, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Korea and the Philippines who were brought to work the plantations, but they were all forced to work the land that they did not own. This gave the planters complete control over their living and working conditions. They restricted the people's use of their own language and force fed them Americanization. The capitalists would not allow them to live as equals to the haole.
After one or two generations here, local people began to adopt some of the Hawai'ian ways, and there was much intermarriage and interaction among the different nationalities because of their common experience of oppression under U.S. imperialism. They felt Hawai'i was home because of their years of hard work and suffering here. They were also angry at seeing that they had no control over their home being sold away to the highest bidder.
Kalama Valley was just the opening shot. It inspired the local people to build organizations everywhere to fight for the land. A lot of these struggles have been in the country, or rural areas, partially because the capitalists tried to develop these areas heavily in the 1970's, but mainly it was due to the strength of the people in the country.
Many Hawai'ians lived in the country because they can be closer to the land and the Hawai'ian way of life. Other local people in the country also farm and fish and were close to the land. A "country lifestyle" developed based on the traditional Hawai'ian and Asian concepts of sharing, exchanging goods and socializing. Despite the changes Hawai'i had gone through, aloha 'aina was still felt by the people in the country because they were still able to be on the land and work it and were less influenced by Americanization.
The large land estates owned most of the land the people lived and worked on and soon began to rezone the areas for resort, housing development and other more profitable use of the land.
But community after community resisted. The largest and most militant struggle was by the farmers and residents of Waiahole-Waikane Valley which began in 1974 and still continues. The demand for long-term leases to keep the land in agricultural use, to stop capitalist development, and to keep the country lifestyle mobilized thousands of people. These same general demands characterized the struggles at Niumalu-Nãwiliwili on Kaua'i; 'Ewa, He'eia-Kea, Waimãnalo on the island of O'ahu; and many other places in the mid-1970's.
Opposition has come out against major state projects that would bring urbanization to country areas of O'ahu. The state plans to build a deep-draft harbor at Barber's Point on the leeward coast and the H-3 freeway to the windward coast which would destroy many Hawai'ian historical sites along with the country lifestyle of these areas.
Many of the older communities in Honolulu and other towns were also eyed by greedy developers, and the residents organized themselves to resist evictions. The overall demands in these struggles were to stop evictions and to be able to control what kinds of development goes on in their communities.
Old Vineyard and Old Young Street were longtime communities threatened by development in 1973. They wanted to retain their communities because they knew their neighbors, could speak their own languages there, and did not want to be squeezed together like the other congested areas of Honolulu.
In Chinatown, People Against Chinatown Eviction (PACE) was formed in 1974 to stop evictions and to fight for low-rent housing. Most of the residents were elderly Pilipinos who needed to be in Chinatown because of the low rent and to be where they could socialize and use their own language.
Two years earlier in the town of Waipahu, the Pilipino community in Ota Camp was faced with eviction. Instead of moving, the Ota Camp residents demanded a community that allowed extended families to live together and areas to grow their food. Like PACE, they got massive support for their demands, and the Ota Camp won relocation so that they could retain their culture.
The upsurge in the struggle for land has gotten the most energy from the Hawai'ian people. To be Hawai'ian means to be on the land, and the Hawai'ians have been the most active in getting back on the land.
The Hawai'ians have traditionally had access to the land and the sea, and part of the Hawai'ian economy, until today, is based on hunting, fishing and gathering. But development took over the land and blocked many accesses. The organization Hui Alaloa on the island of Moloka'i and Hawai'ians on the island of Hawai'i organized marches beginning in 1975 to open traditional Hawai'ian trails and accesses despite the fences and the property laws.
There have been many examples of Hawai'ians asserting their rights by occupying the land and taking it back. The Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana organized five occupations of the island of Kaho'olawe in 1976 and 1977 to stop the U.S. Navy from using the island as a target for practice bombing. It was the beginning of the struggle which mobilized thousands to struggle to preserve the rich Hawai'ian culture and history found on Kaho'olawe. The Ohana popularized the concept of aloha 'aina to describe their feelings for Kaho'olawe and gave it added meaning. Aloha 'aina became a call to reclaim Kaho'olawe and all Hawai'ian land and use the land in a way that benefited the people.
The landholders were threatened ~ by the growing movement to take back the land and have gone all out to squash it. In 1974, Hawai'ians occupied a beach in Kona on the island of Hawai'i and built Kuka'ilimoku Village to block construction of a hotel. The developers and police came many times to tear down the village and get rid of the residents, but the people are determined to keep access to the beach open and save the many historical sites there. I n 1979, the state government tried to smash the struggle of Hawai'ians of Sand Island on O'ahu. People there had taken over Hawai'ian land which was being used as an industrial dump. Their aim was to live in the Hawai'ian way by the sea and to establish a park where Hawai'ians could live and perpetuate their culture. The State evicted them but has not stopped their struggle.
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The many land struggles throughout the islands show the desire and need of the people of Hawai'i for I and. Whether the demand is for stopping development, control of the communities, preserving agriculture and country lifestyle, access, or the outright return of the land, the people have shown their willingness to fight.
There is no shortage of land in Hawai'i. The people of Hawai'i are on the land now and will continue taking over more of the land they aren't on. It comes down to a question of who will control the land and who will control Hawai'i. It is a question of political power and whether that power will stay with U.S. imperialism or come to the people of Hawai'i.
Tracy Takano was born and raised in Hawai'i. He is a shop steward in Local 5 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union.