Ma ka ʻĀina: On the Land – Towards a Makaʻāinana History of Hawaiʻi

#67 in the Moʻolelo series

This post is simply to say that we can’t do it quite yet – write a makaʻāinana history of Hawaiʻi akin to Howard Zinn’s Peoples’ History of United States. Handy and Handy (with Pukui) in Native Planters point out that the term makaʻāinana literally means those ma ka ʻāina – on the land (na is plural). What I attempt here is simply to string together some evidence of what certain makaʻāinana were doing at various historical points in the Kingdom period. But what is very unclear is whether these individuals are at all representative, or whether they were unusual and not telling of any patterns of what makaʻāinana were doing and going through.

We know the aliʻi well, but what were common people doing, say in the Kingdom era? Anita Manning writes in The Hawaiian Journal of History of one makaʻāinana on Hawaiʻi Island who became a capitalist, leveraging his assets and rising up in the new capitalist society.

I think of my great-great grandfather, who was a deacon under Dwight Baldwin in Lahaina, and whose “nickname” invoked kūpaʻa – referring to the steadfastness of his Christian faith. He owned land and seemed to fare relatively well in capitalism. He signed the Kūʻē petitions in 1897 at age 78 – again typical – but was he?

His son Ramon Hoe Makekau, who has been the subject of research (along with William Punohu White – almost surely not makaʻāinana and John Wise) by Ronald Williams, who sees him as an exemplar of Hawaiian resistance to American imperialism within the Hawaiian churches. He served in the Territorial legislature, so it’s hard to see him as representative of the common man – he literally represented them.

Ramon Hoe Makekau

Land is always the basis for livelihood, and the story of land seems to mirror that of the typical makaʻāinana. In general, my own research and that of others such as Donovan Preza, Kamana Beamer and Keanu Sai, shows that Hawaiians did adapt to “Euroamerican-modelled land tenure system” and ownership was more widespread than previously thought. But actual circumstances on the ground varied over time and place. One petition letter pleads with government officials, giving a window into the state of the “common man.”

Some descriptions tell of there being no resources available, such as firewood, thatch, Aho cord, and the like, even for bare survival. Makaʻāinana petitions attest to this, but the picture appears mixed – other Hawaiians were doing well in the new system. One thing we do see in the mid- to late-nineteenth century is the beginning of meritocracy – makaʻāinana could now rise in society through their merit, most importantly education, in a way that seems previously unthinkable. Samuel Kamakau was one, as seen in the post on his life, Joseph Nawahī was another. Kaukau aliʻi like Mataio Kekuanaoʻa and perhaps David Malo could also rise to heights unimaginable in traditional society. The term “understudied” is used to describe areas of research that are lacking in scholarly interest and work – of these, what could be more important than the entire social class of the makaʻāinana? Many studies end this way, and Iʻll end as well by saying: more research needs to be done.

1 Comment

Filed under Education

One response to “Ma ka ʻĀina: On the Land – Towards a Makaʻāinana History of Hawaiʻi

  1. so, the story I have in my head of Hawaiians generally not adjusting well to a land ownership model…you’re telling me there’s examples of Hawaiians who actually DID adjust well to the land ownership model? Who weren’t “sellouts” to foreign interests?

    If so…this is very cool. Things that make me go hmm…


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