The history of Lāna‘i is rich and diverse and provides many lessons in attempts, both successful and not successful, in living sustainably.
Archaeological evidence indicates that Hawaiians have lived on the island of Lāna‘i for the past 800 to 1,000 years. According to ancient Hawaiian tradition, the island of Lāna‘i was not habitable to humans in the earliest of times, as it served as home to Pahulu (the god of nightmares) and his ghostly subjects. But then Kaululā‘au, a young Maui chief was banished to Lāna‘i because of many mischievous misdeeds and left to survive or die by his wits. In short order the young chief tricked and killed Pahulu and his followers, reformed his ways, and returned to Maui to inform his people that they may safely settle on the island. The Kaululā‘au genealogy is believed to date back to around 1400 A.D.
Early Lāna‘i settlers soon learned to live “within their means” and the culture, beliefs, and practices of these ancient Hawaiians mirrored the natural environment around them. Their material culture reflected the resources found naturally on and around the island, and their material goods were made from available resources: stone, wood, bone, fibers/plants, shells and feathers. Knowledge was handed down by word of mouth in traditional times and often animated through mele (chants) and hula (dances).
Today, remnants of ancient Hawaiian villages, ceremonial features, dry-land agricultural fields, fishponds, and a wide range of cultural sites dot the shoreline of Lāna‘i at places like Honopū, Keone, Kaumālapa‘u, Kaunolū, Māmaki, Kapalaoa, Kapiha‘ā, Hulopo‘e, Mānele, Kamaiki, Naha, Kahemanō, Lōpā, Kahalepalaoa, Kahe‘a, Keomoku, Ka‘a, Hauola, Maunalei (including a wet land taro field system in the valley), Kahōkūnui, Kaiolohia, Awalua, Polihua and Ka‘ena.
In the uplands, vestiges of significant traditional settlements can be seen at Ka‘ā, Kō‘ele, Kihamāniania, Kamoku uka, Kalulu uka, Kaunolū uka, Keālia Aupuni and Keālia Kapu, and Pālāwai.
Similarly, Puhi-o-Ka‘ala, Hālulu, Pu‘u Pehe, Kalaehī, Pōhaku Ō, Ke-ahi-a-Kawelo, Kānepu‘u, Ka‘ena iki, Nānāhoa, and Ha‘alele Pa‘akai are places that commemorate many important traditions, beliefs and practices of the ancient residents of Lāna‘i.
Through the early 1800s foreign influences grew and the native population declined. By the middle 1800s, large parcels of land fell under western ownership. While native subsistence practices continued, ranching interests expanded – generally under the direction of western land owners – beginning in 1850 and spanned the next hundred years.
Ruins of Ancient Lo‘i Kalo (Taro Pond Fields) in Maunalei Valley (Dole Collection, 1912)
The Last Hawaiian thatched house on Lāna‘i at Pālāwai (Dole Collection, 1912)