In Hawaii, it’s not just the land that is changing but who owns it too. Given Hawaii’s small size and unique ethnic makeup, it is not surprising that foreign land ownership is high.
But among the owners are some who have never set foot on this island Japanese investors, often looking to diversify or wanting a vacation home.
Understanding how much land is owned by foreigners helps to go back to the beginning.
We can split the property owners into 3 big groups:
- Native Hawaiians,
- Non-native Hawaiians,
- Haoles, and Japanese.
The term “Hawaiian” implies a direct descendant of the aboriginal Polynesians, the original inhabitants, and owners of the Hawaiian Islands.
This term does not include “haoles” from Europe, Asia, and other American states and has become naturalized citizens by changing their allegiance from their original countries to Hawaii.
The haole, or foreigner, is the largest single block of landowners in Hawaii.
The term “haole” denotes Caucasian rather than white. Most holes are proud of their multicultural heritage and do not subscribe to being identified with any one nationality, religion, or color.
They consider themselves Americans because that’s what was required by law to become citizens of Hawaii.
Hawaiian natives, on the other hand, are descendants of the Polynesians who made up the original population of these Islands.
They had no nationality and were strictly tribal in their loyalty and affiliations.
This has been changing lately, with some Hawaiians asserting their right to be called Hawaiian Nationals and demanding that others accept them as such.
The term haole is considered an ethnic slur by haoles and others who do not appreciate haoles constantly being reminded that they are not native to Hawaii.
This feeling of resentment is primarily due to the historical background of land ownership in Hawaii, which, as will be discussed further on, has been almost entirely in the hands of original Hawaiians until just a few decades ago.
The second-largest group of landowners in Hawaii, after haoles, is composed of non-native Hawaiians who are not descendants of the Polynesian aborigines from Tahiti and other Pacific Islands who were the first inhabitants of these islands.
They are people from many different nationalities and colors who have settled in Hawaii from other parts of the world.
This category includes many Japanese who have been in this country for many generations and whose racial heritage is Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, and Korean.
Since the early 1800s, traders from these countries came to the Kingdom of Hawaii; this group has been expanding.
As a result of this continuing migration, there are now more non-native Hawaiians than native Hawaiians residing in these Islands.
In contrast to this group, both haoles and Japanese have moved out of Hawaii for years to seek better opportunities elsewhere. As a result, the present population of native Hawaiians outnumbers non-native Hawaiians.
The third group of landowners in Hawaii are the Japanese. The Japanese are the most prominent Asian landowners group in Hawaii, with about 14% of residents being Japanese or descendants of Japanese.
The Japanese who own land here are descendants of the plantation workers brought to Hawaii from Japan between 1900 and 1920 to contract labor on sugar plantations.
Most of these people became independent farmers, growing sugar cane, pineapples, coffee, and rice.
Some leased their land, while others bought it outright when they had saved enough money.
Many of them also opened small retail stores that sold groceries and other necessities to their fellow Japanese and plantation workers in the rural areas.
They reside mainly on Oahu, where their influence is most visible in Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. Similar concentrations also occur in Hilo and the other large towns of the Island of Hawaii.
Japanese land ownership does not match this concentration in numbers since about 90% of this property belongs to non-Japanese individuals and corporations primarily residing on the U.S. mainland.
This accounts for most of Hawaii’s tourist industry, restaurants, department stores, hotels, and airline traffic that has made Japan, its people, and products are so well known to the rest of the world.
The fourth-largest landowners in Hawaii are the Filipinos; 23% of the Hawaiian population is Filipino or has Filipino descendants.
The Filipinos who own land here are descendants of those Filipino plantation workers who came to Hawaii, as contract labor, between 1905 and 1935.
Japanese immigration had more political reasons than economic ones. Filipinos were brought here mainly because they were needed during World War II.
Although some Filipinos stayed on after the war and became citizens of the United States, the majority returned to their own country.
The Filipinos who own land here are descendants of those who stayed on after the war to work in agriculture or other businesses.
They reside mainly on Oahu, where their influence can be seen chiefly through Filipino cuisine and culture visible in Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. Similar concentrations also occur in Hilo and the other large towns of the Island of Hawaii.
Filipino land ownership does not match this concentration in numbers since about 90% of this property belongs to non-Filipinos individuals or corporations primarily residing on the U.S. mainland.
The fifth is the Koreans, whose combined numbers are not more than 2% of the total population. Their primary concentration is in Honolulu, where they are engaged chiefly in small businesses and domestic work.
Next, come the Hawaiians with less than 2%. A sizable number of them, along with most haoles, reside on the Island of Hawaii, which has about one-quarter of all these Islands’ inhabitants.
Other minorities who own property in Hawaii include, among others, Chinese and Portuguese. These two groups are of equal size and together comprise about 1% of the total population.
They live primarily on Oahu, where they own homes and businesses as many other minorities do throughout these Islands.
Who owns most of Hawaii?
The State of Hawaii owns much of the land within the State.
The other proprietors are the United States Government, Kamehameha Schools, and Parker Ranch. You may view the complete list here.
There are also Japanese owners, but they own no more than any other ethnic group.