The Kanaka Maoli respect the environment, or ‘Aina, and hold it in high regard as the origin of all life (The ‘Aina is explained more under the Worldviews tab). Being generally confined to an island archipelago lead to unique sustainable agricultural practices, and a close understanding of the cycles and needs of the ‘Aina. As such, the Kanaka Maoli practice 5 principles of stewardship towards the ‘Aina, in order to sustain its well being.
One of the most important is the Ahupua’a, the Kanaka Maoli unit of resource management. An Ahupua’a “runs from the sea to the mountains and contains a sea fishery and beach, a stretch of kula or open cultivable land and higher up, the forest”(McGregor, pg. 107). The shape of the Ahupua’a is triangular, with the wide base stretching past the coast and fish ponds out into the reefs, the tip being a mountain peak, and the edges running along ridge lines. This type of vertical zonation gives residents the best of every environment along the changing altitudes. This vertical zonation is similar to other indigenous practices around the world, such as the Enka/Inca in South America.
This system was believed to first have been written into law in the kingdom of Hawaii between 1400-1500, though it had existed in less formal terms some time before. This established land based created a sedentary life style among the Kanaka Maoli. Each sustained several extended families, or ‘Ohana. Each slice of land, from ocean to mountain top, could sustain its residence. Fishing/foraging outside of one’s own Ahupua’a was strictly forbidden, and if items from another region were needed they were traded for.
Ahupua’a can also be understood as a watershed. Fresh water was/is very important to Kanaka Maoli and the word for it, wai, is doubled to produce the word for wealth, waiwai. The water that flowed from the mountains is diverted into aqueducts, streams, and man made ditches that equally distribute the water to the taro crops, forest, lowlands, and sea. Fresh water poring into the ocean would create fish ponds, as the coral would retreat from the stream mouth, and fish would flock to it to consume the minerals and riches brought down from the mountains and fields.
The connection between people and their Ahupua’a is more than just for food. The land also provides for all medicinal plants and earths, community centers, places for spiritual connection, and a live-in classroom. Knowledge of the land and life cycles of each Ahupua’a is passed on from generation to generation.
Above all it is important to note, that though Hawaii has become a tourism hotspot, and the traditional culture is appropriated to feed a consumerist industry, this knowlege has not been lost. Many Kanaka Maoli people’s still live in the Ahupua’a of their ancestors, and teach their children how best to grow taro or use banana sap as medicine. These places exist largely within the Federally protected Hawaiian Homelands, and using the knowledge that has been fought for and preserved there is hope for developing a more sustainable living arrangement with and on the Earth.
“An analogy which conveys a sense of the significance of these areas (Hawaiian Homelands) can be found in the natural phenomenon in the volcanic rainforest. Botanists who study the volcanic rainforest have observed that eruptions which destroy large areas of forest land, leave oases of native trees and plants which are called kipuka. From these natural kipuka come the seeds and spores for the eventual regeneration of the native flora upon the fresh lava. Rural Hawaiian communities are cultural kipuka from which Native Hawaiian culture can be regenerated and revitalized in the contemporary setting.” -McGregor, pg. 110
Video: Restoring Ahupua’a