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Mapping the Lands and Waters of Hawai'I

By Riley M. Moffat

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Book Id: WPLBN0002096906
Format Type: Default
File Size: 2 MB
Reproduction Date: 6/29/2011

Title: Mapping the Lands and Waters of Hawai'I  
Author: Riley M. Moffat
Language: English
Subject: Non Fiction, Geography, Anthropology, Recreation, Hawaiian Geography
Collections: Education, Cultural Anthropology, Authors Community, Recreation, Geography, Anthropology, Marketing, Economics, Finance, Sociology, Social Sciences, Political Sociology, Economy, Literature, Government, Political Science
Publication Date:
Publisher: Editions, Ltd.
Member Page: Hale Kuamoʻo Hawaiian Language Center


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Moffat, R. M. (1986). Mapping the Lands and Waters of Hawai'I. Retrieved from

In i870, the kingdom of hawaii faced a challenge: as a result of often poor surveying during the mahele process in the 1840s and 1850s, land records were chaotic. Uncertainty over boundaries and land ownership was a major hindrance to real estate sales, taxes, and the development of the kingdoms economy. Under the direction of the young William DeWitt Alexander, a new government agency was established to take charge of surveying and mapping operations in the country. The Hawaiian Government Survey (1870—1900) was an ambitious undertaking for the period. Although comparable agencies were well established in Europe by then, even the United States had not yet created an agency whose mandate was to map the entire country. Combining the best of a classical education, a pragmatic approach to problems, and a willingness to tackle rugged outdoor work in often miserable conditions, W. D. Alexander succeeded in shaping his small but dedicated staff into a mapping agency that achieved a remarkably high standard of proficiency. In doing so, Alexander made a decision that was both brave and wise, choosing not to emulate the work of European and American mapping agencies but to develop a uniquely Hawaiian approach to mapping the land. The legacy of Alexanders agency lives on today, as virtually all real estate transactions in twenty-first century Hawaii may be traced back in one form or another to work done by the Hawaiian Government Survey. In the course of executing their mission, Alexander and his staff left another legacy as well: they captured cartographically the vestiges of the traditional Hawaiian system of land tenure. Employing and consulting Hawaiians when working in the field, the government surveyors documented ancient boundaries and names of land units and the features within them. Because so much of Hawaiian culture was rooted in the relation of people to the land, the preservation of that land system was an important component in the preservation of Hawaiian culture. This volume, the third in a series that includes The Early Mapping of Hawaii and Surveying the Mahele, tells the story of how the Hawaiian Government Survey mapped the lands and charted the waters of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

By the late 1860s, private land ownership had replaced the traditional Hawaiian land tenure system, with profound and far-reaching effects on Hawaiian society. In the traditional Hawaiian system land was not owned outright by anyone but was held in stewardship for all the people by the alii ai moku, the highest ranking member of society. The alii ai moku granted the use of specific pieces of land to high-ranking alii (often referred to as chiefs), who in turn assigned parcels to be used by lesser alii or to individual families. The makaainana, or common people, paid rent to those above them in the hierarchy by giving a portion of the produce from their gardens and other resources gathered from the land and the waters and by contributing labor to projects for the common good. Recipients of such benefits kept some and passed the rest up the social and political chain. The alii in turn were obligated to carry out the many functions associated with any form of government.


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