Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawaii?
504pp. December 2007
Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawaii?
Author: Van Dyke, Jon M.;
Excellence in Hawaiian Culture, Text/Reference, and Nonfiction, 2009 Ka Palapala Pookela Awards

The 1846-1848 Mahele (division) transformed the lands of Hawai‘i from a shared value into private property, but left many issues unresolved. Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) agreed to the Mahele, which divided all land among the mô‘î (king), the ali‘i (chiefs), and the maka‘âînana (commoners), in the hopes of keeping the lands in Hawaiian hands even if a foreign power claimed sovereignty over the Islands. The king’s share was further divided into Government and Crown Lands, the latter managed personally by the ruler until a court decision in 1864 and a statute passed in 1865 declared that they could no longer be bought or sold by the mô‘î and should be maintained intact for future monarchs. After the illegal overthrow of the monarchy in 1893, Government and Crown Lands were joined together, and after annexation in 1898 they were managed as a public trust by the United States. At statehood in 1959, all but 373,720 acres of Government and Crown Lands were transferred to the State of Hawai‘i. The legal status of Crown Lands remains controversial and misunderstood to this day.

In this engrossing work, Jon Van Dyke describes and analyzes in detail the complex cultural and legal history of Hawai‘i’s Crown Lands. He argues that these lands must be examined as a separate entity and their unique status recognized. Government Lands were created to provide for the needs of the general population; Crown Lands were part of the personal domain of Kamehameha III and evolved into a resource designed to support the mô‘î, who in turn supported the Native Hawaiian people. The question of who owns Hawai‘i’s Crown Lands today is of singular importance for Native Hawaiians in their quest for recognition and sovereignty, and this volume will become a primary resource on a fundamental issue underlying Native Hawaiian birthrights.

64 illus., 6 maps

One of the Most Memorable Books of 2008, Honolulu Advertiser

"Definitive. Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawaii? [is] certain to become the standard reference for that question." —The Nation (28 April 2008)

"This book is not merely an objective catalog of a series of tragic acts perpetrated against Hawaiians. Beyond a legal history, it is an attempt to provide some guidance toward the reconciliation of past wrongs. . . . Van Dyke doggedly pursues his subject and his reasoning is sound and persuasive, drawing attention to past injustices and pointing toward possible restitution among which would include use of the Crown Lands as a land base for the Native Hawaiian Nation. This is an essential work, one that will likely be influential in future discussions of this issue and one that must be read, processed and understood." —Honolulu Weekly (18:7, 13–19 February 2008)

"Fascinating. . . . Deeply researched. . . . Adds a new and thought-provoking dimension on a debate that has too often boiled down into simplistic arguments." —Honolulu Advertiser (13 February 2008)

Author: Van Dyke, Jon M.;
Jon M. Van Dyke has been a professor of law since 1976 at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai‘i.
Read the introduction (PDF).
Foreword, by William S. Richardson


1. Introduction

2. Land Tenure on the Eve of Western Contact

3. Before the Mahele

4. The Mahele

5. The Government Lands

6. The Transfer of Lands from Kauikeaouli to Alexander Liholiho (1854–55)

7. The Passing of Alexander Liholiho (1863)

8. In the Matter of the Estate of His Majesty Kamehameha IV (1864)

9. The 1865 Statute Making the Crown Lands Inalienable

10. The Ascension of William Charles Lunalilo to the Throne (1872)

11. The Transition between the Kamehameha Line and Kaläkaua’s Keawe-a-Heulu Line

12. Claus Spreckels, Princess Ruth Ke‘elikolani, and the Claim to a Half Interest in the Crown Lands

13. The Inalienable Crown Lands (1865–93)

14. The 1887 Bayonet Constitution and the Reciprocity / Pearl Harbor Treaty: Preludes to Overthrow

15. Population, Voting, and Citizenship in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i

16. The 1893 Overthrow of the Kingdom

17. The Republic of Hawaii (1894–98)

18. The 1895 Land Act

19. Annexation by the United States (1898)

20. The Crown Lands during the Territorial Period (1898–1959)

21. Liliuokalani v. United States (1910)

22. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (1921)

23. Statehood (1959 to Present)

24. The "Painful Irony" of Rice v. Cayetano (2000)

25. The Kamehameha Schools

26. The Other Ali‘i Trusts

27. The British Crown Lands

28. Claims of Ali‘i Descendants

29. Summary and Conclusions


1. Principles Adopted by the Land Commission, 1846–47

2. An Act Relating to the Crown, Government, and Fort Lands, June 7, 1848

3. The Kuleana Act (Enactment of Further Principles), August 6, 1850

4. In the Matter of the Estate of His Majesty Kamehameha IV, 1864

5. Act Rendering the Crown Lands Inalienable, January 3, 1865

6. Joint Resolution of Annexation, July 7, 1898

7. Excerpts from the Organic Act, April 30, 1900

8. Liliuokalani v. United States (U.S. Court of Claims 1910)

9. "Apology Resolution," November 23, 1993


Selected Bibliography

General Index

Case Index

Credits for Photographs