Hawaii, Land Law, Real Estate, Colonialism, Settler Colonialism


Hawai’ian property laws in the 19th century, while intended to provide for the transition of the islands to a European mode of commerce and allow for greater prosperity, weakened the power of Native Hawai`ian subjects and ultimately contributed to European planter power and the eventual annexation of the islands. Prior to European contact, land in the Kingdom of Hawai`i was communally owned and not treated as a tradable commodity. However, forced to settle foreign debts, the Hawai’ian government instituted land reform intended to raise money and maintain Hawai’ian sovereignty. Given the constant threat of annexation by Western powers and the pressures of the settler lobby, this Hawai’ian land legislation was critically flawed, transferring vast amounts of land to white settlers, creating a plantation economy and ultimately leading to the destruction of Hawai’i as it was. Corruption, bad economic decisions and constant settler pushback created imperfect legal processes, which led to haole accumulation of land and subsequent economic dominance and the simultaneous environmental and economic destruction of native, particularly maka’āinana, lands. This paper examines how these two phenomena led to native Hawai’ian impoverishment, a growing settler influence on the government and the eventual overthrow of the native-led government.