“This is how private property land tenure entered Hawai’i. The common people, driven from their birthright, received less than one percent of the land. They starved, while huge haole-owned sugar plantations thrived.
And what had the historians said? They had said that the Americans “liberated” the Hawaiians from an oppressive “feudal” system. By inventing a feudal past, the historians justify – and become complicituous in – massive American theft.
Is there “evidence” – as historians call it – for traditional Hawaiian concepts of land use? The evidence is in the sayings of my people and in the words they wrote more than a century ago, much of which has been translated. Historians however, have chosen to ignore any references here to shared land use. But there is incontrevertible evidence in the very structure of the Hawaiian language. If the historians had bothered to learn our language (as any American historian of France would learn French), they would have discovered that we show possession in two ways: through the use of an “a” possessive, which reveals acquired status, and through the use of an “o” possessive, which denotes inherent status. My body (ko’u kino) and my parents (ko’u mākua), for example, take the “o” form; most material objects, such as food (ka’u mea’ai) take the “a” form. But land, like one’s body and one’s parents, takes the “o” possessive (ko’u ‘āina). Thus, in our way of speaking, land is inherent to the people; it is like our bodies and our parents. The people cannot exist without the land, and the land cannot exist without the people.
Every major historian of Hawai’i has been mistaken about Hawaiian land tenure. The chiefs did not own the land, they could not own the land. My mother was right, and the haole historians were wrong. If they had studied our language, they would have known that no one owned the land. But was their failing merely ignorance, or simple ethnocentric bias?”
Source: Haunani-Kay Trask. 1999. From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press. 116-117.
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