Nana I Mua

Looking Back

As we embark on the next evolution of community life at Makena - to refresh and remain cognizant of the values, traditions and relationships that served as the foundation, we will connect with the Makena of yesterday...

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Before Mid 1800s


Makena of yesterday exemplifies the proper balance of people, land and ocean resources. Dry land agriculture and aquaculture lived and thrived in this place and allowed for hale and halau settlement structure walls, which supported many of the early residents. Despite a somewhat rocky appearance, periodic droughts and times of famine, the people of Makena were able to utilize their resources and innovation to further develop Hawaiian dry land agricultural methods or mala. Following the lava flows that occurred in the 1790s, residents did not move away, but instead dug deep holes in the lava and transported soil from the uplands to fill them. The earth was dug up and the soil passed in baskets from hand to hand along a row of people to fill the “garden holes” in the lava. The use of “garden holes” in the lava fields was an innovated agricultural practice in Makena. 

The rich fishing practices in Makena have been extensively documents, and the knowledge passed down to generations of Hawaiian families that continue to have a presence in Makena today. Fishing methods included hukilau and palu. Hukilau was a family or communal fishing technique for akule (scad fish). It was common fishing practices. Palu utilized the fragrance of the ink sac of the octopus to attract fish. Using coconut milk wth the ink sac, that had been well-broiled over a charcoal fire, enabled fishermen to bring back their lauhala bags filled to the brim with kala (surgeonfish) and kole (surgeonfish). Heʻe (octopus) was likely a favorite of the region as numerous heʻe lures have been found in the waters of Makena. 


Mid 1800s – Mid 1900s

Plantation & Paniolo

Makena of today embodies the period when western influence changed the lifestyle and landscape with the establishment of the sugar, cattle and resort industries. Sugar cultivation was initiated in the mauka elevations surrounding ʻUlupalakua. The first land transaction noted during this era was the government lease to M.J. Nowlein and S.D, Burrows. In their lease agreement with Kamehameha III in the 1841 (subsequently turned over to Torbert in 1845), there was a stipulation for grinding the cane of the king and chiefs on adjoining lands for the six years at an annual rental of $800 per year.

By 1858, Torbertʻs economic problems resulted in the conveyance of the remainder of his holdings to James Makee who ran the lands as Rose Ranch until his death in 1879.  Makee continued to grow and mill sugar at the estate, established a diary farm and expanded the ranching operations. During the American Civil War, Makee also contributed large shipments of sugar molasses to the cause of the Union.  To facilitate shipment of the increased yields, Makee launched a breakwater project to Makena and further developed the harbor.

From 1900 until 1922, the Raymond family completed the change from crop farming to cattle ranching. Between 1922 through 1963, the ranch was owned and operated by the Baldwin family.  In 1963, C Pardee Erdman purchased Ulupalakua Ranch from the Baldwin family and the Erdman family has operated it since.  Today, Ulupalakua Ranch operates approximately 18,000 acres – 16,00 acres of fee simple land and 2,000 acres leased from the state of Hawaii and private individuals. 


Mid 1900s - Today

Resort Era

Much of the ranching nature of the past has made way for hotel, residential and recreational uses. In 1973, the Seibu Corporation acquired 1,800 acres of land from Ulupalakua Ranch and starts construction on a 18-hole golf course and unveils plans for a resort. In 1986, the Seibu Corporation completes construction on the 310-room Maui Prince Hotel and tourism becomes the primary economy in Makena.

Whether it is the development of unique dryland cultivation methods and fishing traditions, participation in various agricultural endeavors and ranching activities or opening businesses to meet the demands of the time, native residents of Makena have endured and persevered.