- The ali'i nui...himself enjoyed no absolute ownership of all the land. The ali'i nui was a trustee of all the people within an island or some other larger district. The konohiki also maintained a similar tentative position because the maka'ainana were free to leave the ahupua'a if they were unhappy with a particular chieftain...or konohiki. In short, the members throughout the political hierarchy shared a mutual dependence in sustaining their subsistence way of life...8/
However, the land itself was viewed as belonging not to one individual but to the gods. All the people, including the ali'i, merely administered the land for the benefit of the gods and society as a whole.
The system, therefore, had no analogy to ownership in fee simple absolute. 9/ The high chief had significant power: "the king was over all the people; he was the supreme executive, so long, however, as he did right!" 10/ The native Hawaiians believed that the power of the high chief was divine power, channeled through him by the gods, and that he was a trustee of the land and other resources on behalf of the gods. 11/ This concept continued down through the political hierarchy.
Transition Period: 1778 to 1846
The arrival of westerners altered socio-economic patterns in Hawaii. By 1795, King Kamahameha I had expanded his rule to all of Hawaii except the island of Kauai, in part by use of European arms. An aristrocratic class developed, which had to be serviced by the Hawaiian economy. Further, the activity of port communities and demands of the sandalwood trade drew the tanners from the land. The new focus away from subsistence coincided with the spread of Western diseases and worsened the lot of the commoners. Agriculture suffered as a result. Traditional notions of responsibility to chiefs were disrupted, and an oppressive tax system was installed. 12/ The result, however, was greater control by the king and greater stability in landholding. 13/
In 1819, Kamehameha II became king, and with the Dowager Queen Kaahumanu as regent, ruled until 1825. He decided not to disrupt the holdings of his predecessor's subchiefs. Foreigners wanted to codify this new stability in landholdinqs. 14/ Therefore, when Kamehameha III became king at age 12, the council of chiefs, with some advice from an English frigate captain, persuaded him to adopt a formal policy allowing chiefs to keep their land upon the king's death. This policy was known as the Law of 1825. During this time as well, westerners were given lands by the king or chiefs, so that they entered the Hawaiian landholding pattern. 15/ When the sandalwood trade collapsed from overharvesting, these westerners turned to largescale plantation crops as a focus for economic activity. 16/
In 1839, Kamehameha III set forth a Declaration of Rights providing that: "Protection is hereby secured to the persons of all the people, together with their lands, their building lots and all their property, and nothing whatever shall be taken from any individual, except by express provision of the laws." 17/ In 1840, a written constitution was adopted. It attempted to adjust land rights to reflect the new relationships described above. It was designed as a final attempt to preserve the traditional land system and to keep native Hawaiians in their homes rather than migrating to the developing port areas of Honolulu and Lahaina. The constitution, and laws enacted pursuant to it, announced tenants' rights for the first time and lowered