Ancient Hawaiian Land Planning: the Ahupua‘a

graphic of ahupua'a

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The most important unit in the ancient Hawaiian system of land division was the ahupua‘a.  Shaped by island geography, each ahupua‘a was a pie-shaped area of land running from the uplands to the sea, following the natural boundaries of the watershed.

Each ahupua‘a contained the resources the human community needed;  salt and ocean resources,  taro or sweet potato farmed on the fertile mid-lands, to koa and other trees growing in the mountain areas.  The coastal boundaries were marked by an ahu, a stone foundation supporting a carved image of a pua‘a, or pig—symbolizing the payments made to the high chief of the island by the lesser chiefs or konohiki, in charge of each ahupua‘a. The ahupua‘a provided the resources to sustain a community; access to upland forest timber, lowlands for growing crops, fishing and gathering along the coast.

Although there was no private ownership of property, land tenure of the maka‘ainana (commoners) was stable. They paid weekly labor taxes and annual taxes to the konohiki, or local overseer, who collected goods to support the chief and his court. The konohiki supervised communal labor within the ahupua‘a and also regulated land, water and ocean use.

Stewardship of the land and its resources was formalized through the kapu system. The kapu administered and enforced by konohiki and kahuna, or priests – placed restrictions on fishing certain species during specific seasons, on gathering and replacing certain plants, and on many aspects of social interaction as well. In this way, the community maintained a sustainable lifestyle.

Through sharing resources and constantly working within the rhythms of their natural environment, Hawaiians enjoyed abundance and a quality lifestyle with leisure time for recreation during the harvest season of the year. This lifestyle also encouraged a high level of artistic achievement. Many crafts, including Hawaiian kapa and featherwork, were the finest in the Pacific. Hawaiians devoted themselves to competitive sport and martial arts as well as expression through dance and chant, creating rich traditions that continue today.

This traditional system ended in 1848 when Kamehameha III was persuaded by foreigners to institute the Great Mahele (division), which allowed land to be bought and sold. In modern times, ahupua‘a holds both the traditional meaning and a broader one of environmentally responsible land use.

Source:      Pamela Frierson

4 responses to “Ancient Hawaiian Land Planning: the Ahupua‘a

  1. Pingback: How the Hawaiian Islands Were Treated – Humans and Nature in Modern World History

  2. Hi,
    Thanks for this writeup.
    Do you know where I can find (online) a map of all ahupuaa that would include the area from about Honomu to Ninole?
    thanks,
    Ken

  3. Shelley Stephens Mahi-Hanai

    aloha. I wanted to inform you that the titles to the ahupua’a whose chiefs are named or even a sovereign example Lota Kapuaiwa (King Kamehameha V) for 7714 L.C.Aw for Hilea is still valid title. …subject to rights of native tenants….or a government ahupua’a (Hawaiian Kingdom Government) is still the “Allodium” of the kingdom….any so called “sale” only stopped any more of a “right of commutation” but did not release the allodium outside of the kingdom….a three way moiety division with chiefs, sovereign, and hoaaina kanaka……all lands are subject to appurtenant rights….water, hale, customary rights….1/4 acre per house….1/4 acre taro….extra 1/4 acre kona side….please see OHA documents with expired leases by sugarcane companies….lands now available for hawaiian rehabilitation through the land-as Prince Kuhio wanted …sugar cane lands have royal patents…kuleana etc. still valid title under HRS 172-11 …..send questions to Native Tenant Protection Council PO Box 711498 Mt. View, HI. 96771 Mahalo -Maka’ala Nakoa

    From the blogmaster: This comment does not necessarily reflect the views of the County of Hawai`i or the Planning Department.

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