Maunalei, Keomoku and the Kahalepalaoa Vicinity

In ancient times, the windward coast of the island of Lanai was home to many native residents. In Maunalei Valley was found the only perennial stream on the island, home to a system of loi kalo (taro pond field terraces), which supplied all the important taro of the Hawaiian diet. Sheltered coves, fronted by a barrier reef, provided the residents with access to important fisheries, and allowed for the development of loko ia (fishponds), in which various species of fish were cultivated, and available to native tenants, even when the ocean was too rough for the canoes to venture out to sea.

Rains borne upon the trade-winds also provided water for cultivated crops. And many claims for kuleana (personal land parcels) were made by native tenants for lands in this region, when the first fee-simple ownership of land was granted to Hawaiians by the King in 1848.

By the 1870s, Walter M. Gibson, had secured fee-simple interest in most of the lands of this region, with the exception of the native kuleana lands. Gibson's business efforts focused on ranching, and most of the native families came to be employed by him, in various capacities, such as cowboys, fence and water-men, and as captains or boat-hands for shipping operations between Lanai and Lahaina. Until the late 1890s, nearly all of the residents on the island were Hawaiian, with a few Caucasian managers and land owners.

Kingdom Survey Map.
Portion of Kingdom Survey Map of 1877, Depicting the Coastline of the
 Keomoku Vicinity with Historic Settlement and Features.
(Hawaii State Archives)

In 1899, W.M. Gibson's daughter, Talula, and his son-in-law, Fredrick Hayselden, entered into a partnership, and formed the Maunalei Sugar Company. They developed larger communities along the coast, imported Japanese laborers, cleared the lands, developed a narrow gauge railroad between Keomoku Village and Kahalepalaoa, and planted sugar cane, irrigated by water from Maunalei Valley. Within three years, the venture failed, and the plantation was closed.

Keomoku Sugar Map.
Map of the Maunalei Sugar Company Plantation and Keomoku Village as the plantation existed in ca. 1904. (Sketched by the late Reverend Daniel Kaopuiki, Sr.; Courtesy of Kupuna M. Lei Kaopuiki Kanipae)

Lanai Ranch Operations