Book Review and Analysis of ‘Kahana: How the Land Was Lost’

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“Kenneth Conklin Image”

”Summary of the Most Interesting Issues in Robert H. Stauffer’s book, “Kahana: How the Land Was Lost””


Dear readers, I promise not to bore you right
away. I’ll give you dessert first, and then you may
eat your vegetables afterward. But this book is quite
a feast, so I hope you’ll at least use your fork to
push around some of those vegetables on your plate.

Dr. Robert H. Stauffer’s book is a detailed study
of land transfers in Kahana Valley, focusing on the
period between 1850-1900.

”’But wait.”’ Don’t go to sleep yet. Dr. Stauffer’s
scholarly study is overlaid with a mind-boggling set
of assumptions — a Procrustean bed on which he
strives mightily to stretch the data or chop off
reasonable but contrary conclusions. A casual reader,
or someone not familiar with Hawaiian sovereignty
rhetoric, might get swept away by Dr. Stauffer’s story
without quite grasping the significance of the way he
thinks. A lengthy book review is necessary to fully
explain some complex ideas and show how Dr. Stauffer
deals with them. But first, let’s get the “big
picture” and expose the basic absurdities so we can
watch them unfold in glorious detail later.

The book is entitled: “Kahana: How the Land Was
Lost.” But anyone driving from Kaneohe to Laie will
not see a huge black hole at Kahana. The land has not
been lost. It is still there. Some uneducated
sovereignty activists merely scream “The Haoles stole
our land.” Dr. Stauffer more euphemistically says the
land was “taken” or “lost.” But he has a very
peculiar theory of what that means and how it
happened. In the end, he screams alongside those
activists, albeit through a pillow.

We know right at the start of his book that
something is wrong when he says, “In the roughly fifty
years prior to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy,
90 percent of all the land in the islands passed into the
control or ownership of non-Hawaiians.” (page 5) If
we’re paying attention, and know some history, we
might ask: What the heck do you mean 90 percent? What about
the crown land, the government land, the Bishop estate
and all the other Alii trusts? Stauffer’s answer is
shocking. He claims that by 1840 haoles were already
starting to control the government of the Kingdom.
The Constitution and the Mahele (decreed by the
all-powerful sovereign 100 percent native-blood King
Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III) resulted in a legal system
controlled by haoles. Soon, says Stauffer, haoles
controlled the legislature too (even though they never
made up more than 25 percent of its members). Therefore all
land controlled by the King or the government was
actually controlled by haoles and should be considered

Stauffer, being of socialist mentality, also
considers that land sold by makaainana to any alii
or anyone not in residence in a particular ahupuaa is
“lost,” even if the absentee owner has 100 percent native
blood. That’s because Stauffer wants to champion the
poor, downtrodden makaainana and the communal
ahupuaa system of land management for a subsistence
lifestyle. He even goes so far as to call Mary Foster
(who owned 97 percent of Kahana at one point) a “haole” even
though she had 25 percent native ancestry, was descended from
alii, and sided with the royalists against the
overthrow. He calls her a haole because she did not
live in Kahana, she wanted to bring in developers to
build tourist amenities, and, worst of all, she used
the legal system to foreclose on mortgages made by
Hawaiian farmers (although Stauffer doesn’t dwell on
that story).

A central theme underlying Dr. Stauffer’s book is
that if there were a law making land inalienable for
native Hawaiians, then they would not have lost their
land. Well, duh! Of course! If there were a law
making it illegal for natives to sell their land, then
they could not have sold it! And if the law made it
illegal for land to be taken from natives through
government condemnation or through mortgage
foreclosure, then the land could not have been taken
from them. Is that profound or what!

Stauffer seems to propose that inalienability of
land should apply only to “indigenous” people. One
reason for treating only “indigenous” people this way
would be because they are presumed to be stupid or
unsophisticated, and are easily taken advantage of by
a legal system they can’t comprehend. Today’s
mythology about indigenous people’s relationship to
the land goes something like this: For people of
Western mentality, people own the land and can buy or
sell it and treat it like dirt; but for indigenous
people, the people belong to the land, and a person
can no more own, buy or sell the land than he could
own, buy or sell his mother.

Contrary to the usual assumption that Hawaiians
were stupid or unsophisticated, Stauffer’s book points
out that Hawaii’s natives, at least in Kahana valley,
understood the law, used it to their advantage, and
held onto 100 percent of their land for more than a
generation after the Mahele. So perhaps Stauffer
likes the alternative justification for making land
inalienable for Hawaiians — that “indigenous” people
are congenitally close to the land and, by golly,
we’re going to make sure they stay that way even if
they don’t want to! Noblesse oblige. We know
Hawaiians will face temptations to sell their land, or
to mortgage it beyond their ability to repay. It’s
our responsibility to protect them against selling
their land, because if they do that they will lose
their “indigenous” heart. We know what’s good for
them. We also want to preserve their indigeneity for
our own aesthetic enjoyment, much as we deny our
neighbors the right to build a house whose height
would interfere with our own viewplane.

Stauffer does not discuss how (native) landowners
could raise large amounts of capital quickly to
develop their land to make it more productive without
using mortgages, nor does he explain why any bank or
investor would underwrite a mortgage when the land
could not be used as collateral because it would be
illegal to foreclose on a (native) mortgage. He never
discusses the 203,000 acres of “Hawaiian Homelands”
under DHHL where the land is, indeed, unalienable, and
where homeowners are unable to obtain home-improvement
mortgages except by relying on the generosity of a
taxpayer funded federal government guarantee brokered
through the state government agency OHA. Remember,
Stauffer considers government land to be “lost” since
the government is controlled by haoles. Presumably,
Stauffer would say the Hawaiian Homelands are “lost”
to the haoles.

Stauffer also puts forward the remarkable notion
that if there had not been substantial immigration of
outsiders into Hawaii, including Asian laborers, then
Hawaiian culture and land ownership would not have
changed. Here we have another profound insight that
boggles the mind! It’s unclear what remedy Stauffer
would suggest, either for back then or for now.
Perhaps all the ships arriving before 1790 should have
been sabotaged and sunk, with the officers and crew
being put to work in the taro patches. Maybe the
missionaries should have been sent back to New England
in 1820, along with the whole idea of written language
and laws. Maybe King Kalakaua should have stayed home
instead of going to Japan to recruit plantation
laborers. And what can be done under present
circumstances to stop non-natives from polluting the
local culture and geneologies? Indeed, another
Christmas 2003 coffee-table book, “Then There Were
None,” describes how the number of 100 percent blood natives
declined through disease, poverty, and intermarriage
until soon they will die out completely. Some
Hawaiians apparently agree with Ku Klux Klan wizards
that mixing of the races is evil. The increase of
ethnic Hawaiians from 40,000 in 1900 to 400,000 in
2000 — a tenfold increase in the first century of
American sovereignty — does not mitigate the
extinction of the full-bloods, according to them.

Another concept underlying Dr. Stauffer’s book is
that so-called “indigenous” people are the only ones
who truly belong to Hawaii (that’s why they are the
only people Stauffer believes should be protected with
a law to make their land unalienable). This dangerous
concept has become more visible recently in the
writings and speeches of the sovereignty activists
(see detailed analysis later). Stauffer never
explicitly raises this issue; but he makes clear that
Chinese and Japanese who buy land or hui shares in
Kahana to work the land in the style of makaainana
are malihini and never really can become kamaaina.
And haoles can never be full-fledged Hawaiians back in
the day (Kingdom) or now, even though they may be
native-born, or get naturalized by giving up other
citizenship and taking a loyalty oath, or get
appointed to the Legislature or the cabinet, or get
elected to the Legislature.

Before starting the detailed analysis of Dr.
Stauffer’s book, we should look briefly at some
positive contributions it has made toward
de-mythologizing the Hawaiian grievance industry.
Stauffer wants to maintain the fundamental concept
that ethnic Hawaiians are the victims of history,
dispossessed of their lands by forces outside their
control. But Stauffer also sees from his research
that some commonly held myths about Hawaiians — myths
that are demeaning to their intelligence — are not
true. His research shows that Hawaiians (and
especially makaainana) did in fact receive more than
a fair share of land in the Mahele; and they did in
fact understand the legal system quite well and used
it to their advantage to hold onto their land and
their communal lifestyle. So, how will Stauffer
maintain that Hawaiians were nevertheless victims?
Ah, for that you’ll need to read the detailed book
review (or the book itself). If I give away
everything now, I’ll lose my audience; so I won’t do
it unless there’s a law to make audiences unalienable!

Just a brief teaser: Stauffer blames the “loss”
of land generally on the absence of an unalienability
law, but also particularly on a law passed in 1874
that allowed nonjudicial foreclosures of mortgages.
But even though that 1874 law is a central focus of
his book, and gives him a conspiracy theory to explain
how intelligent and hardworking Hawaiians were
victimized, Stauffer fails to provide the text of that
law for readers to analyze. His book is so detailed
and heavily footnoted, one wonders why he fails to
provide the text of the law that he blames for
creating Hawaiian dispossession. Stauffer shows there
were an increasing number of land “losses” starting
8-10 years after enactment of the nonjudicial
foreclosure law of 1874. But he fails to provide any
sort of count or analysis to show what percentage of
(native) land foreclosures were actually processed
under that particular law, and whether they would not
have happened anyway under other methods of
foreclosure. In other words, that 1874 law may be
largely irrelevant — a cloud of dust thrown in the
readers’ eyes to provide a deep, dark conspiracy
theory so that native victimhood can continue to be
claimed even though much of the old victimhood
mythology is actually disproved by Stauffer’s
research. Stauffer identifies a law he says is the
main reason why Hawaiians lost their land, but he does
not provide the text of the law. He shows that the
number of foreclosures increases after the law was
passed — 10 years after! But he does not show that
the increase of foreclosures was due to this law
rather than to general economic conditions, or that
the natives would not have been foreclosed anyway by
means of other laws. He implies that the law was a
haole weapon aimed at Hawaiians to dispossess them,
but he does not discuss whether non-Hawaiians
(including haoles) were also foreclosed by this law.

It’s difficult to describe an overall impression
or “grade” for Bob Stauffer’s book. His research into
the details of land transfers in Kahana over a period
of many decades seems detailed and thoroughly
documented. He clearly had a mass of data in search
of a theory. His research clearly showed that some of the common myths about the effects of the
Mahele were false, and he had the courage to say so
(see the section immediately next). But then, not
knowing how to explain the data and desperately
seeking a way to maintain the victimhood of Hawaiians
at the hands of haoles, he produced a
true-by-definition theory that if there had been a
non-alienation law for native lands, then the natives
wouldn’t have lost their land. And he produced a
conspiracy theory about a law whose text he does not
provide and whose direct effects he utterly fails to
document (except circumstantially). It is as though
he did a structural engineering analysis of the
moment-to-moment details of how the twin towers of the
World Trade Center collapsed, and based on that he put
forward a conspiracy theory that President Bush knew
about Osama Bin Laden’s plans beforehand.

”Stauffer’s Positive Contributions to the Deconstructions of the Hawaiian Grievance Mythology”

Old myth: The makaainana got screwed, ending up with
less than one percent of Hawaii’s lands.

Newly recognized reality: Stauffer’s research reveals
that although the acreage given to makaainana was
less than 1 percent, those particular acres were by
far the most valuable. “The people’s kuleana
homesteads were fully developed and productive …
their aggregate value across the islands came to about
$2.7 billion (in 2000 dollars), or almost half of all
the land values … being worth twice as much as the
lands of any of the three classes of absentee
landlords [king, government, and alii].” (page 5)

Old myth: The makaainana very quickly lost their
land because they sold it for a pittance and
squandered the money.

Newly recognized reality: Stauffer’s research reveals
that, at least in Kahana valley, the maka’ainana held
onto their land for more than a generation (mostly
until the late 1880s), and then some of them began
selling or leasing it for substantial amounts of
money. Furthermore, many of the sales to “outsiders”
(especially the early ones) were to blood-Hawaiian
members of their extended families.

Old myth: The makaainana were unsophisticated about
Western law and Western concepts of land ownership.

Newly recognized reality: Stauffer says (page 2):
“[T]he people were not naive victims, as is popularly
assumed. They quickly learned the ropes of the
Western legal system and tenaciously used legal
maneuvers to hold onto their lands. They resisted
strongly in many innovative ways.” Stauffer’s
research shows the makaainana were very well aware of
the importance of holding onto land. They quickly
learned how to use Western law to preserve traditional
lifestyle by setting up a hui — a sort of land
owners’ ahupuaa-wide condominium association for
cooperative land management that allowed them to
maintain individual plots of land as well as communal
access to water irrigation systems, woodlands, and
fishponds. Their hui bylaws prevented sale of land or
hui shares to outsiders, much as some “cooperative”
apartment buildings today require a vote by the
membership to approve a particular buyer before an
apartment owner can sell to him. The Kahana hui had
an elaborate bookkeeping system to track and
distribute hui income from leasing of water rights,
fishing rights, gathering of materials, etc. These
makaainana Hawaiians were even sophisticated to use
some of the legal techniques and tax-avoidance
strategies used by top-notch lawyers today — some of
the Kahana land sales were to Hawaiian or non-Hawaiian
family members to avoid inheritance or probate
difficulties or taxes, but reserving exclusive rights
to residency and income during the seller’s lifetime.

Old myth: The Hawaiian Kingdom had nearly 100 percent
literacy rate.

Newly recognized reality: Stauffer points out several
times (and in tones of surprise and regret) that many
of the property transfer documents, including the high
volume sales period of the 1880s and 1890s, were
signed with an X.

Related issue: Hawaiian sovereignty activists often
say that the signatures on the anti-annexation
petitions in 1897 include virtually 100 percent of the native
population (this is false, of course; the
anti-annexation petition contains only a little over
21,000 signatures which would be slightly over 50 percent of
the native population at the time, and only 19 percent of the
total population). Those anti-annexation petitions
are now available on the Internet.

Counting the number of petition signatures for ”’all”’ of
Koolauloa (which includes the following villages and
all the land between them from the mountains to the
ocean: Kaaawa, Kahana, Punaluu, Hauula, Laie,
Kahuku, Kawela) there are 48 women and 204 men, all of
whom are signed with full signatures (no Xs). That
raises interesting questions, such as: Why were there
so many Xs on property transfer documents but no Xs on
the annexation petitions? Did all the natives who
signed property transfer documents with an X refuse to
sign the anti-annexation petition, or were their
signatures forged on the petition? Weren’t there more
than 252 natives living in all of Koolauloa in 1897?
(Stauffer’s book, on page 117, has a table showing the
total population of all of Koolauloa in 1896 was
1,835, and it would seem very unlikely that 86 percent of all
the residents of Koolauloa had no native ancestry).
Why were there four times as many men as women signing
the petition? (Were there four times as many native
men as native women living in all of Koolauloa? What
did all those surplus men do on Saturday nights?)

The points above deserve more detailed analysis, and
there are additional topics to be covered. The entire
book review, including the content above and the
topics below, can be found at:




SOME REFERENCES (published 1997-2003) TO CURRENT USE



”’Kenneth R. Conklin is an independent scholar in Kaneohe, Hawaii. His Web site on Hawaiian Sovereignty is at:”’ ”’He can be contacted at:”’

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