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Way of the West--Hawaiian Style : Homesteading Gives Islanders Chance to Improve Lives

Charles Hillinger's America

September 01, 1985|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

KAMUELA, Hawaii — Ethel Andrade, 52, stood in the lush green pasture of her 305-acre ranch on the northern slopes of Mauna Kea dressed in blue jeans, cowboy shirt and cowboy hat, her face beaming as she surveyed the surroundings.

"When I work my cattle on horseback, I feel like a homesteader of the Old West. I feel I am part of the American dream come true--Hawaiian style," said the Big Island rancher. "Homesteading opened the American West to pioneers in the 1800s and early 1900s. Homesteading today is giving native Hawaiians a chance to do something positive with their lives."

Andrade's den is filled with trophies and blue ribbons testifying to the success of her cattle operation: Outstanding Rancher of the Year, Island of Hawaii; 50th State Soil Conservation Award; Reserve Champion Brangus Bull, and so on.

"My husband and I never have had the kind of money it would take to buy a spread like this," explained the petite paniola (Hawaiian cowpoke).

Because her husband, Alfred, a heavy equipment operator, is French Portuguese and thus not eligible for Hawaii's homestead program, the 99-year homestead lease is in Andrade's name. A full-time rancher, she runs 200 head of beef cattle, feeding, branding and helping cows deliver calves. Her husband works the ranch in his spare time.

Back to King Kamehameha

Andrade has documents tracing her ancestry to Hawaii's King Kamehameha the Great, who was born in the Kohala District of the Big Island where her ranch is located. By 1810, Kamehameha I united all the Hawaiian Islands, launching the Kamehameha dynasty.

Although a direct descendant of royalty one time had title to all the lands of the Hawaiian Islands, none of it remained in her lineage by the time Andrade came along.

She applied for a homestead ranch in 1951. Six years later 48 ranches--averaging 300 acres each--were awarded on the Island of Hawaii in a lottery of several hundred names selected at random. Ethel Andrade was the 15th name called. She pays $1 a year to lease the land.

To be a homesteader in the Islands, applicants must be at least half native Hawaiian. Andrade is 1/4 Chinese and 3/4 Hawaiian and a descendant of the race inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778--as required by the homestead act.

On the islands of Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu there are 4,346 homesteaders like Ethel Andrade and their families living on 3,549 homestead residential lots, 727 homestead farms and 70 homestead ranches.

For Arlon Richardson, 33, a state probation officer for the island of Kauai, June 30 was "a banner day in my life. I had been waiting 10 years for it, ever since I applied for a homestead when I was in college. It finally came through."

Because real estate is at a premium in Hawaii, Richardson said he would have had to pay at least $500,000 for his six-acre homestead farm on a bluff overlooking the Pacific at Anahola.

"I knew some day it would pay off to be Hawaiian," said Richardson, a bachelor who is 5/8 Hawaiian, 1/4 Chinese, 1/8 Irish. He and two friends, Jim Olsen, 42, a school teacher, and George Hennessey, 64, a retired security officer, were taking a breather after spending the morning staking out part of the farm for a warehouse and barn they would be constructing in coming weeks.

Richardson plans to grow taro and raise hogs on his land to supplement the $18,000 a year he earns from the probation department.

He has a 99-year lease on the land at $1 a year. The land is tax exempt the first seven years. Richardson's homestead, at the foot of the spectacular Makalena mountains, is one of 44 farm lots that have gone to native Hawaiians this year at Anahola, located on the northeast coast of Kauai.

Low Interest Rates

The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, administrator for 203,500 acres of land set aside for homesteading, spent $2 million constructing roads, installing irrigation and domestic waterlines and electrical power for development of the 44 Anahola farm homesteads ranging for three to 16 acres. Homesteaders also may borrow money at low interest rates from the department for agricultural improvements and home construction.

When Ethel Andrade received her homestead in the 1950s it was by luck of the draw. Today homesteads are given out according to the date of application on island-wide waiting lists.

If qualified--at least 21 years old and half or more Hawaiian--a person may apply for a residential, farm or ranch homestead and get his or her name on the appropriate list.

It was concern for the plight of the native Hawaiian people that prompted the homestead program. The number of full-blooded Hawaiians dropped from 142,650 in 1826 to 22,600 in 1919.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act was signed into law July 21, 1921 by President Woodrow Wilson after being passed by Congress for the stated purpose of "rehabilitating the Hawaiian race."

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