Lanai should be the very picture of tropical tranquillity, the kind of Pacific island where Gilligan set ground. Just 3,135 people live on its 141 square miles. There are no traffic lights, movie theaters or bakeries. There is just one gas station and three main roads. It is ringed with vast and empty beaches, accessible only by four-wheel drive. A visitor can roam its hills for hours without encountering another living being.

Yet for all its seeming serenity, Lanai — a privately owned island in easy sight of Maui’s western shore — is torn these days by economic and cultural conflict, struggling with its identity and an uncertain future after its reclusive residents learned that their island had been sold to the reclusive billionaire owner of a software company.

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