Kuleana are rights and responsibilities, both based in relationship to land. Kuleana also refers to particular parcels of land. Prior to 1850, kuleana were:
Under Hawaiian land tenure, families could stay and pass this ʻāina to their descendants, even as ruling aliʻi changed, as long as they cared for it well. When the land was privatized in 1850, less than 1% of all ʻāina in Hawaiʻi, called kuleana, were awarded to Hawaiian makaʻāinana families who lived on and tended the land. Less than 28% of the eligible population of adult males was awarded.
Extensive information was recorded about these kuleana parcels including family and place names, information on surroundings, hydrology, and cultivation. These lands are house sites, taro patches, some fish ponds, or salt pans and often contain iwi (bones).
Places where Hawaiian families continue to care for and live on ʻāina in the same areas as their ancestors are increasingly rare. Those families which continue to hold kuleana and other family lands on the island of Kauaʻi are finding they no longer can due to rising property taxes tied to exorbitant area sales prices, forced partitions by family members or others who acquire one of many shares, debt, and focused efforts at acquisition by realtors and surrounding property owners.
Many families no longer own or live on their properties but continue to gather there, fish, teach children and grandchildren, care for family parcels and surrounding area, visit burials and seek ways to maintain presence and connection while fulfilling kuleana to their home.
Kīpuka Kuleana nurtures contemporary models of relationships to place rooted in kuleana as:
plots of land given, by the governing aliʻi of an area, to an ʻohana or an individual as their responsibility without right of ownership
[Pūkuʻi & Elbert, 1975]
authority and obligation based in interdependence and community
[Goodyear-Kaopua 2011, 131]