Amidst angry shouts of “hewa!” (wrong!) and “illegal sales”, four parcels of land surrounded by the 700-acre estate of the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, were auctioned Friday on the island of Kauai.
In a surprise twist, the bidder backed by Zuckerberg won just three of the parcels, while a rival group prevailed on the fourth.
In a contentious transaction, attorneys bid on behalf of their clients. On the one side was a group led by several members of the Rapozo family; on the other was another relative, the retired Hawaiian studies professor Carlos Andrade, who his relatives charged had the financial backing of Zuckerberg.
A commissioner read parcel numbers as the attorneys quietly called their bids until all four parcels were sold: parcels numbers 19, 25, and 26 went for $300,000, $460,000, and $300,000 respectively to Andrade.
Parcel #17 was purchased for $700,000 by De Costa, on behalf of his clients, the Rapozo family. Both Andrade and the self-described “holdout Rapozos” are descendants of Manuel Rapozo, a Portuguese citizen who emigrated from the Azores Islands to Hawaii in 1882.
“A family against a billionaire. That’s what this is. It’s one family against a billionaire. Having to bid for our own property!” shouted one of the kuleana owners, Alika Guerrero, dressed in a black t-shirt reading “Culture, Heritage, Ohana (family)”.
The four land parcels, called kuleana in Hawaiian, range from as small as 5,200 sq ft to 1.59 acres and are entirely surrounded by Zuckerberg’s property. They were ordered to be auctioned by fifth circuit judge Kathleen Watanabe in an attempt to resolve a dispute that has pitted relatives and neighbors against one other.
Even before the midday auction, family and community members protested outside the courthouse, holding Hawaiian flags, ceremonial ti plant leaves, and handmade signs bearing slogans like “Mark you Zuck!” and “Study Kuleana Zuckerberg!”
Angry members of the holdout Rapozos marked Zuckerberg as absent, even as he was being schooled in the complex world of traditional Hawaiian land ownership.
Andrade did not attend the auction or respond to earlier requests for comment, but he did make his case for quiet title in an op-ed column today in Kauai’s Garden Island newspaper.
Andrade maintains he alone cleared, surveyed, and maintained the parcels, planted crops, paid taxes, and built a dwelling on the remote, undeveloped land.
Cecilia Rapozo Inanod, Andrade’s cousin long thought he had been a good steward of the land, but had shut out other family members, even changing locks on gates to keep people away. “As a university professor of Hawaiian studies, he should be worried about putting Hawaiians on the land the selling it to billionaires,” she said.
For his part, Zuckerberg has not engaged directly with neighbors on his adopted island home in the Pacific, where the largely undeveloped estate sprawls along a high bluff with sweeping views of the central Pacific.
Today’s auction stems from what had previously been an obscure Hawaiian law called the Kuleana Act of 1850 that granted plots of land to Native Hawaiians and other residents.
But the relatively little-known quiet title gained notoriety in late 2016 after Andrade threatened to take his relatives to court to gain ownership.
Zuckerberg’s involvement with Andrade sparked accusations of being a neocolonial settler on an island with a long history of overthrow, occupation, displacement, and marginalization of Kanaka Maoli – Native Hawaiians – by foreigners.
In 2017, pushback in the community led Zuckerberg to write a guest column in the local newspaper explaining that he was abandoning his quiet title actions and would “work together with the community on a new approach”.
The tech mogul, with an estimated fortune of $65bn, once again found himself issuing a public apology.
But the quiet title was carried on by Andrade with suspected support from Northshore Kalo, a front company for Zuckerberg.
This week the Garden Island published accounts of new claims that “deceitful, high-pressure sales tactics” had been used against kuleana owners in a bid to coerce them to sell their land.
Oahu resident Healani Sonoda-Pale, who owns kuleana land on Molokai, flew to Kauai to support the Rapozo family and described the disputed land parcels as mele inoa – the “song of our name”. She is also monitoring four separate bills related to quiet title as they move through Hawaii’s state legislature which, she said, is a positive step.
“Unfortunately, you have to take somebody like Zuckerberg to come here and start doing this,” said Sonoda-Pale, adding: “It’s very complex, our land systems here, so if you’re going to come here to Hawaii, please do your research and actually have respect or the people here,” she said.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Guerrero, who lives on Maui, said he wants to raise awareness of what he called the “abusive use” of quiet title law in the hopes of inspiring other families in Hawaii to avoid situations in which one relative sues other family members for the sale of the property.
Before the bidding began, Guerrero said that no matter what happened today, “to me, we’ve won in the sense that we’ve [raised awareness] to anybody that you cannot come to Hawaii, find one of our relatives, convince them to sue the rest of the family, and get away with it.”