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Episode 37: The M?hele 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 M?hele, 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 M?hele 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 m?‘ï as well as the maka‘äinana, or the Hawaiian people.”

As a result of the M?hele land was divided up into three broad categories: Konohiki Lands, Crown Lands, and Government Lands. After the M?hele, 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.”

researcher, writter, and narrator of Aloha Aina. She is currently an editor at Hawai‘i’s largest magazine, Hana Hou!, where she has written and edited numerous award-winning articles about Hawai‘i. She was the founding editor of Honolulu Weekly. She holds a BA in Pacific history and journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and a JD from Stanford Law School.
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