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Honoring Hawaii’s First Homestead


Beginning in 1921, a selected group of hardy Hawaiian families began building a life in Kalama`ula. They cleared kiawe, constructed homes and infrastructure, planted gardens and raised livestock. It was difficult work, but because of their success, more than 6,000 Hawaiian Homesteaders now live around the state, according to OHA Chairperson Colette Machado.

“They had to make do and… they overcame that and succeeded,” said Machado. “If it wasn’t for the Kalama`ula demonstration, [Native Hawaiians] wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Last week, the descendants of Hawaii’s first 42 homesteaders in Kalama`ula gathered to celebrate 90 years since the establishment of the Kalaniana`ole Settlement, as it was known.

“[We] give tribute to Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole, whose vision and legacy is why we are gathered here today,” said Gene Ross Davis, a third generation beneficiary and Hawaiian Homes Commissioner from Molokai. “It was during a time of upheaval and turbulence within the kingdom… he was the author of the Hawaiian Homes Act of 1921… [and] it was his level of commitment and dedication and love for the people that brought this great blessing which we enjoy at this time.”

Prince Kuhio was among those who selected that first group of homesteaders, said Nani Kawa`a, Ross Davis’ sister and granddaughter of George Wellington Maioho, one of the original settlers.

Seventy applications were received to settle Kalama`ula, Kawa`a said, and eight were chosen initially, with others soon to follow. Applicants’ age, number of children and skills were taken into consideration, she said, and those chosen were racially diverse: pure Hawaiian, Chinese/Hawaiian and Caucasian/Hawaiian. Some were from Molokai originally, while others were from around Hawaii.

“Ready to move without delay,” noted some applications, quoted in Hawaiian newspaper documents, according to Kawa`a.

After having been selected, the real work began for the early homesteaders like Maioho. Kawa`a noted that no task was simple — once lumber arrived to build homes, for example, newspaper articles stated that some shipments arrived wet, causing construction delays.

Homesteaders took such factors like which direction the wind blew into consideration when building their homes, Kawa`a said. Another customization for some was a modern convenience that wasn’t common at the time.

“Maioho desires to put his toilet inside of his house…” noted one newspaper document. Kawa`a said that some fellow homesteaders followed suit, instead of constructing an out-house.

“[The land] was full of kiawe trees and no running water… they had to clear it themselves,” said Kapua Lauifi, in a video documentary of homestead descendants created by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) to commemorate the 90th anniversary. “My great grandfather had ducks running around [and other animals]. They were self-sustainable.”

And it wasn’t just the men that toiled, said Machado.

“Men, women and children all worked for the majority of the time… they worked very hard,” she related. “[Records] talked about the women being core of the family — working the land as well as… keeping the family together.”

For descendants, the three-day anniversary event — spanning Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Kalaniana`ole Hall — was an opportunity to share stories of their family history and growing up in Kalama`ula.

“For us, the ocean was our playground… our neighbors… were all the original families,” said Kalama`ula resident and descendent Penny Martin. “Not many people can say they live in a place where they were born and raised… it’s a place where [I connect]… with my ohana and my ancestors and my culture too.”

William Akutagawa, local historian and executive director of Na Pu`uwai, offered a historical perspective on the Kalama`ula area, noting its rich history that is left today in the form of petroglyphs, burials and other artifacts. The name “Kalama`ula” means “red rays of the sun,” he said.

Maui County Councilperson Stacy Crivello quoted a historic petition from Kuhio and others to Congress, asking for land for Hawaiians.

“The Hawaiian people looked with hope to Kalama`ula… a place for regeneration,” it read. Kuhio was concerned for the continuation of the Hawaiian race.

“Today, Kalama`ula homesteaders are reminded that the future is found in the past,” said Crivello, recalling her childhood after her family — not among the original homesteaders — moved to Kalama`ula.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie attended the celebration, and other Hawaii politicians — including Alan Arakawa, Mazie Hirono, Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa — presented resolutions and certificates honoring the occasion.

“We pay tribute to the first families who settled this land, our grandparents, who toiled with much blood, sweat and tears in breaking this ground, in making this their home,” said Ross Davis. “We give tribute to all these people who left their families to come and open up the way not only for Kalama`ula but for every homestead organization around the state.”


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