The “Value” of Land



n. Land, earth. Cf. ʻai, to eat; ʻaina, kamaʻāina.

Photo: Sylvia HusseyAloha mai kākou,

My mother was raised by her grandparents in Kaʻūpūlehu north of Kailua-Kona. Her grandfather was a fisherman and they lived on the beach in a simple house that he built himself. He took the fish he caught and traded with folks up ma uka for the produce and other things the family needed. He had no palapala for the land they lived on. If there was a Tax Map Key for the property he did not know what it was. They just lived, as they had always lived, on the land which fed them.

Today my great-grandparents would be considered squatters, homeless. The outraged landowner would certainly contact the County to complain. And a crew of government employees would forthwith converge on the site giving my great-grandparents just a few moments to collect their personal belongings before dispassionately tearing down their home and summarily removing the resulting debris, leaving the family with nothing.

And it would be perfectly legal.

The spiritual, intimate and reciprocal relationship of Hawaiians to the ʻāina has been marginalized and discounted since Western concepts of land ownership were imposed on the kingdom by foreigners hungry to purchase Hawaiian land.

Since statehood Hawaiʻi has seen in-migration from the continent, a massive influx of tourists, and increased real-estate speculation by foreign investors. Our traditional connection to the ʻāina is invisible in the existing structure; a structure we did not create and whose laws and policies have literally eroded the foundations of many ʻōiwi by physically removing them from places they are tied to by generations of ancestors.

Where are the Hawaiian voices in these discussions about the “value” of land or in the creation of the systems in which the value of land is expressed? Increasingly priced out of our homeland, the separation of ʻōiwi from kulāiwi takes many forms, from families forced to live in tents on the side of the road, to the diaspora of Hawaiians moving to the continent because of the lack of affordable housing and the corresponding high cost of living.

While some are fortunate to own land through kingdom awards or the prudent purchases of their kūpuna, the value of the land has skyrocketed due to speculation and development, and many Hawaiian families have already lost, or are in danger of losing, their ancestral lands because they cannot afford to pay the property taxes.

In this issue of Ka Wai Ola we share the story of the Chang-Kukahiko ʻOhana of Makena, Maui. Like many other families they are trying to hold on to ʻohana land despite property taxes of about $100,000 a year. We also take a look at homelessness from a social-political perspective and talk to an advocate for a homeless camp on Oʻahu.

We cannot continue to allow the laws and policies affecting land in Hawaiʻi to be made without our input. Hawaiians need to ensure that we have a seat at the table. We must become an informed and active citizenry. We need to get out and vote. Otherwise we have no voice.

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer