In ancient Hawai'i, a system of land tenure and management, centered on the ahupua'a, evolved that mirrored the natural landscape of the islands. This management system was so integral to the well being of the native population that nature itself was personified and deified. The islands -- indeed, every facet of the ecosystem -- were believed to be alive and the elder relatives of the Hawaiian people.
By around the 16th century, the native system of land management, which was the basis of historic land and resources management in Hawai'i, was formalized. In that system, the moku puni (islands; literally, land or region surrounded by water) were subdivided into land units of varying sizes. The largest division was the moku-o-loko (district; literally, interior island). On O'ahu, six of these inner districts were established: Kona, 'Ewa, Wai'anae, Waialua, Ko'olau-loa, and Ko'olau-poko. The latter district of Ko'olau-poko extends from Ka-lae-o-Maka-pu'u (Maka-pu'u Point) in Waim‚nalo, to Ka-lae-o-ka-'oi'o ('Oi'o Point) in Kualoa, and inland bounded by the ridgeline of the Ko'olau mountain.
Like the five other large districts on O'ahu, Ko'olau-poko was further divided into manageable units of land -- these are the ahupua'a. Their natural resources and place in the larger ecosystem defined the boundaries of these land divisions. They were the most significant subdivisions of land, and usually were marked by an altar with an image or representation of a pig placed upon it (thus the name ahu-pua'a or pig altar). The ahupua'a generally may be compared to pie-shaped wedges of land that stretch from the ocean which fronts the land unit, to the islands' interior.
Environmentally, Ko'olau-poko was quite possibly the richest district of O'ahu. Situated on the ko'olau (windward) side of the island, it had ample rainfall, rich forests, hundreds of streams, sheltered valleys, broad flat lands,
protected shores, and rich estuarine environments supporting nearshore fisheries. All of these natural resources, like the gods and deity upon which the Hawaiians called, provided life to the people who tended the land. In Ko'olau-poko, there were eleven ahupua'a: Waimanalo, Kailua, K‚ne'ohe, He'eia, Kahalu'u, Waihe'e, Ka'alaea, Wai‚hole, Waik‚ne, Hakipu'u, and Kualoa (Figure 1)
Like the larger land units, the ahupua'a were divided into smaller, more manageable parcels, and were defined by their natural resources. These small land units, such as the 'ili, 'ili lele, lo'i kalo, kÓhapai, mala, ko'ele, mo'o, kuaÓwi, and loko were inhabited or managed by the maka'‚inana (people of the land, or commoners) and their extended families. Many of these land unit terms are defined in a presentation on ahupua`a by the Ho`okipi Network. As long as sufficient tribute was offered and kapu were observed, the common people who lived in a given ahupua'a had access to most of the resources from mountain slopes to the ocean. Entire ahupua'a, or portions of them, were generally under the jurisdiction of appointed konohiki or lesser chief/landlords, who answered to an ali'i-'ai-ahupua'a (chief who controlled the ahupua'a resources). The ali'i-'ai-ahupua'a in turn answered to an ali'i 'ai moku (chief who claimed the abundance of the entire district); thus ahupua'a resources also supported the royal community of regional and/or island kingdoms. This system of land and resources management was integral to the native Hawaiian way of life. The legacy of the mountain-to-sea ahupua'a system remains a significant element today in the lives of all Hawai`i residents, whether of native Hawaiian heritage or otherwise.
SOURCE: Modified from Marine Corps Base Hawaii - Kaneohe. 1998. Mokapu: Manual for Watershed Health and Water Quality, Section 3.2.1 [NEXT PAGE]