Modern Lana`i

Lana`i from above

For the past one-hundred and sixty years, one person — or the business entity he controls — has owned almost all of Lāna‘i. Walter Murray Gibson’s accumulation of most of Lāna‘i’s land in the 1860’s (accomplished under the ultimately false cover of the Mormon Church) made David Murdock’s purchase of Lāna‘i in the 1980’s possible and continued what amounts to virtually total control of 98% of Lāna‘i’s 140 square miles — and the island’s economic life.

With the exception of a smattering of government (state teachers, county police/fire and road workers) and a few small privately-held commercial operations, a single person, through his privately controlled LA-based corporation has single-handedly dominated the state of the island’s economic health for the past twenty five years.

Although much of the modern history of Hawaii was dominated by large corporate concerns, for most Hawaii residents the “plantation lifestyle” and “plantation mentality” has little day-to-day meaning. But for Lanaians, it continues to be a defining framework for their lives.

In the pineapple days, the overwhelming majority of Lanaians got up to the Company’s work whistle, left their Company-owned home and walked to the Company’s labor yard where they boarded the Company’s trucks and were driven out to the Company’s pineapple fields.

At pau hana (end of work), after eight hours picking the Company’s pineapples, they were driven back to the Company-owned town and dropped off. If they shopped, it was with a privately-owned business but in a Company-owned building. When they showered, they would bring precious water into their homes via Company-built wells, pumps and pipes. When they turned on the lights, their electricity came from a Company-owned power station. If they had children, those kids were expected to spend their summers working for the Company.

Today, only the source of work has changed. Instead of going out to work in the fields, Lāna‘i residents go to one of the two Four Seasons hotels — both owned by David Murdock.

And Murdock’s tight control of the island’s economy — the plantation town –has always had a much greater significance than just dollars and cents. Imagine if you, or your son, or your husband worked for the largest employer in your community. Or if you lived in a home owned by that employer. It might give you great pause when speaking out against that company; a sense of impending intimidation is very pervasive on Lāna’i.

At a recent Murdock-sponsored community meeting regarding the proposed wind power plant for Oahu, one speaker said what was clearly permeating the room – that many of the residents of this small island (population of 2800) were, “…too intimidated to speak their minds.” In response, a state representative from the agency charged with smoothing the way for this Oahu power plant project, stated “No one has told me they’re intimidated”, thereby revealing a complete lack of understanding of what it means to live in a Company town. What he failed to grasp is that to speak out against “the Company” is to put oneself and one’s family at great risk. Loss of job could easily mean loss of home, or increased rent, or restricted access to Company land.

In the 1970’s, when the Company first announced its plans to convert Lāna‘i to a resort destination (those plans were shelved at the time, but came back under David Murdock), several of the community’s younger residents, with long-time family roots on Lāna‘i, began speaking out against the development. They were cautioned time and again to not do so; told in clear terms that they were threatening their potential employment and economic security of their families.

3 Comments

  1. Having lived childhood years’ on Lana’i, I do know the “plantation” indoctrination in a lifestyle beyond the memory of many modern islanders’. I don’t understand the reticence to not offer information to what has been proposed for the island-like the sale of Lana’i … when the news of impending sale broke-it was a shock … to lose the ability to voice precedent land ownership rights … give the islander community at large a strategic chance for battling the coveting lineup; anonymously would have been picked up and looked-inquired into. What is being proposed to support energy needs to a centric locale is abominable course of solving an issue ~ overly observed silence has never served the interest of the “silenced”!

  2. Aloha! I’m doing a project for my American Studies class and I wanted to know more information on the Windmill project taking place on the island of Lana’i. I understand that most of the community is against it but I was wondering if there was a statement made by the new owner that purchased Lana’i, Larry Ellison. Do you have any knowledge of how he feels about this project now that he is the new owner of the island? Also there have been statements made by Larry Ellison that he sees Lana’i as a project for sustainability. He stated in a recent interview that Lana’i would be a “laboratory” for projects such as conversion of sea water into fresh water and the production of organic farms to export goods as well as sustain the island of Lana’i. Is there discussion about this as well? I would love to hear some feed back :) Thank You!

    P.S: I’m the daughter of Jarrod and Shelly Barfield

  3. Finally the truth is revealed. Mahalo for your courage.

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