August 12, 2012
Field Report: The Ahupua'a of Hawaii
I am writing this blog post from lovely Kona on the island of Hawaii, where I am in town for the next week for the wedding of two good friends. And, as luck would have it, I happened upon an interesting land use topic on my first full day here. The National Historic Park Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau, also known as Place of Refuge, was a designate piece of land where law breaking civilians, or warrior during times of war, could come and seek protection from the penalty of death.
The park, which also include royal grounds adjoining the Place of Refuge, crosses over three Ahupua‘a, traditional Hawaiian land divisions that run in narrow pie-shaped tracts from the ocean to the mountains. A number of these separate tracts would be under the control of an individual chief, and each Ahupua’a was ruled by a designated subordinate. The boundaries of the Ahupua’a were shaped by streams or other natural features. Each Ahupua’a was designed to be a self-contained area, which provided access to the sea for fishing and salt, to arable land for crops, and to the forests and mountains for resources. The sizes of Ahupua’a would vary to ensure provision of adequate resources, resulting in wider tracts in less plentiful areas.
The Ahupua’a were largely split through land redistribution in the nineteenth century, but some remained intact under private ownership for some time. In addition to being a system of land division, the Ahupua’a provided for cooperative use of the land and an emphasis on carefully protecting resources needed for survival. Some contemporary groups are seeking to retrieve elements of the Ahupua’a system in the interests of sustainability and localism.
According to a Park Ranger I spoke with, it is believed that the Ahupua’a system was derived from Polynesian methods of land and social division. I have heard of similar methods of dividing land into narrow tracts providing access to a range of resources in places including parts of Guyana and West Africa.
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Nice post, John. When I was doing some land use work in Hawaii awhile ago, I found Gawan Daws "Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands" a fascinating read that discusses how the Native Hawaiians used the ahupua'a prior to statehood, and also the importance of how the concept became applied at the time of statehood. If you're still in the "aloha" spirit, I'd check it out!
Posted by: Stephen R. Miller | Aug 14, 2012 6:00:47 PM