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Parking at Ke`e

Hordes of visitor cars descend on Kē‘ē Beach daily, both beach-goers and hikers of the Nā Pali trail. The cars in the back are waiting for spaces to open up.

“Today, Halele‘a, true to its name, attracts increasing numbers of people to its verdant shores,” Carlos remarks, “including the rich and famous from the world over. People from the continents and the rest of the world now spend millions to buy property, fueling tremendous increases in the prices of land and making Halele‘a one of the most expensive places to live in all of Hawai‘i today.

Home for Sale<

This house for sale on the beach in Naue lists for $4.9 million. The taxes alone are $35,000.

“You see the very wealthy ending up on the beach, and the people who were here first, not being able to afford to live on the beach anymore, because of the real property taxation system. As more people bought land here along the beaches, with the county taxes and the fair market value, the price of land went up and up and up.

"The taxes on these local folks’ lands, which were basically farmlands, lo‘i kalo and house sites, got so expensive that one couldn't afford to pay the taxes on the land any more. They were getting into five-digit figures for land taxes. The taxes became so great that the Hawaiian families couldn’t afford to keep the land any more. And the kind of people that bought those lands changed dramatically. The house recently built and situated right at the mouth of Limahuli Stream was reputedly was built by a person who owned a chain of shopping centers in Texas. Othe╩╗s arrived recently, include movie stars and successful rock musicians. This is the level of the wealth that the local people and the Hawaiian people who still retain land, have to compete with for land. So they’re ending up moving back and back from the sea shore which were lands they originally theirs.”

This situation, Carlos surmises, is not unlike what is thought to be the origins of the Menehune, as was discussed in the Arrival section. The same principles are at work, but some of the circumstances have changed:

Houses at Naue

Fancy new beachside homes at Naue.

“The beach was a prime place to live in ancient times because of the weather. Number one, it’s usually drier close to the beach—drier than it is back up in the mountains. The second thing is access to the sea for protein—the fish, the limu (sea vegetables), and other resources. In those days, everything was raised or gathered, and because there’s more sunlight down at the beach, you can raise taro much better there than you can way back in the mountain. It matures more quickly, and gives more of a crop. So since the desired place to live was next to the sea, the powerful people end up living by the sea, in the most prime locations.

“Today the same situation occurs, except that because of Hawai‘i being tied into the American economy, Hawaiians no longer have close residential ties to the beaches. Because they no longer have to live off of what’s grown on the land (more than 90% of food and other life supporting material is shipped in from other places in the world), and because our building materials are so much better, the high mountains afford another prime spot. It’s cool up there, and there’s privacy.

“So these days the very rich live by the ocean, and live up high on the mountains, and everybody else is spread between, in the pockets. So there are these marginal areas where the less fortunate live, like Wai‘anae and Waimānalo on O‘ahu, and places like that. That’s a reflection of that logic—that when the conquerors come in, they get the best real estate, and the other people have to move, or assimilate and become part of that culture, or they resist it and get annihilated, or just pushed. Or they try to separate themselves by going into isolation somewhere.”

The problem today in Hā‘ena bears this mark. After land was privatized—first with the Mahele, and a century later with the break-up of the Hui Kū‘ai ‘Āina—it became a market commodity. And in accordance with the principle of supply and demand, the prices went up, especially on the near-shore areas in this beautiful, remote location. The fame of Hā‘ena, Hanalei and the Halele‘a district generally in guidebooks as the place that served as the backdrop for many famous movies (Jurassic Park, South Pacific, Bali Hai, King Kong) has added to its allure, and has continued to bring people from outside seeking a tropical paradise.

“Most of the lands out here in Limahuli, in Mānoa, and along the plains to Naue are privately owned. In current academic and resource management groups, the concept of the ahupua‘a is a piece of land that goes from the mountains to the sea. But because of the results of the Mahele, and different ideas of property ownership, the ahupua‘a has been fragmented. One of the big desires of our community organization is to somehow restore, at least in part, part of the ahupua‘a idea of having a continuous piece of land that goes from mountains to sea to manage, and which will sustain the community.”


Demographic attributes of Ha‘ena:






Total Population




Native Hawaiian Population

65 (97%)

109 (36%)

98 (23%)

Population Comprised of Other Races

2 (3%)

191 (64%)

333 (77%)

Total Number of Housing Units




Households (occupied units)





Demographics for Hā‘ena show that the population has gone from almost entirely Hawaiian to Hawaiians being less than a quarter of the residents. In addition, there are the thousands of tourists that make their way the area each day, totaling more than 700,000 visitors per year. Recent visitor surveys suggest the numbers will continue to rise.

Wainiha House

This two-bedroom, two-bath house in Wainiha lists for over $800,000.

“It’s hard so a lot of the locals have to move elsewhere, because they cannot survive here,” Lahela agrees. “No home, they don’t own nothing because they cannot. I just heard that here in Hawai‘i the land is going higher: it was from four hundred thousand dollars to six hundred-something thousand. I was like ‘What? A single home, are you crazy?’ So that’s the challenges that we community have to contend with.”

“Here already the land alone was running at $100,000,” Nalani states. “We don’t have that kind of money for just want a small piece. It’s crazy. It breaks my heart. We started renting from 1982, and we’ve rented until now—outside of Hā‘ena. And yet you look at all these other families that were left properties from their kūpuna, they can’t even take care of that by paying the land taxes twice a year. And so they lose it. Or if they have it, they’re not taking care of it.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘What is wrong with you guys, you guys are so fortunate.’ Here you have something, you can grow your own food, and they don’t. Oh my gosh, some of them don’t even work. And you think, ‘Okay, go out there and take care of something, take care of the land. You volunteer and do something. Go to the ocean and check things out.’ And they don’t. They can’t even mālama that ‘āina. It’s like, What is wrong with you? You only get to pay land taxes twice a year, you don’t have to be out renting every month—as we have been.”

“They sell it because want the money,” Kelii adds. “These guys, I wish I had that—I wish I had that. Everybody is struggling, living paycheck to paycheck. We cannot afford to go buy land because of what is happening to our place. Our place is being sold out. It’s come to a point where we cannot afford to buy land and that is the most devastating thing that really hurts me. We’re the people from here, and our government is not helping us in any way to have something for us. We’re from here. Now it’s just so hard to purchase property. Maybe someday we see. We don’t know what can happen.”

Ka‘iulani talks about limiting tourism.

“Our community is full of people who moved here,” Lahela agrees. “That’s really why they move here, is that there is aloha here. It’s a different style of living. It should be very loving and very open so you feel safe, and you want to raise your family here, you want to retire here. I always hear that—who wouldn’t want to? But at the same time it’s a struggle for us to see the changes that come in. It’s a very haole mentality: Own. This is, ‘No cross our area’ and stuff. And there is no more trust, and they forget that that’s why you moved over here. You didn’t move here to change us. If we’re doing wrong, then change us, but not when we have the values. That, I think, is what everybody in the world wants—that kind of love, love, love. The kind, respect, mālama your place, take care of what we have so it can be here forever, for the new generations to come. I think our family, that’s what we can do.

Makaala and Michael talk about Vacation Rentals.

“A lot of our locals are not really people persons,” Lahela adds. “They’re not like to sit like this and talk to anyone, even to a group. I’ve learned how to sit like this because of exposure of being with people. I say ‘If you don’t do it, how are we going to learn? You guys have to come out.’ They’re like ‘What? We’re scared.’ So they don’t feel like maybe they’re smart or they can speak. It’s like, just be yourself, who you are. You don’t be what you think they want you to be, you have to be what you are, who you are and share, so people can learn.

“A lot of our families, like when my parents passed, the brothers and sisters, I think we are going to get changes when my family and other families are participating in the community. Because it’s like a buffer: our parents are always the ones, and we follow what they tell us. If we’re going to do something, we do it together. And so I say for our families for the challenge, when we come together, we can do anything that is required for us to accomplish. I think that us by ourselves is a challenge—we can’t. But with more of us, we can do anything.

“For us it’s so hard, because like so much moving in. There’s so much of us get a hard time to be able live where we’re living. The houses are getting more expensive. Then our taxes shoot up. Just surviving here.... I always ask the visitors, ‘How do you guys do it?’

“It’s the quality of life that keeps us here. It is expensive, it is expensive here. We would never change for the style of how we live here. For anything.”

Read Leilani’s thoughts cultural resilience.


Equally devastating to the local situation is the arrival of other newcomers: invasive species that are spreading throughout the environment, displacing native plants. Our attention turns to the environment.



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