What is an Ahupuaʻa?
What is an Ahupua‘a?
An ahupuaʻa is a land division system consisting of tracts of land, usually extending from the highest regions of the uplands to the seashore which also extended into the ocean and also defined by varying geographic boundaries, similar to a pie shape. The meaning of ahupuaʻa is derived from the boundary marked by a heap (ahu) of stones surmounted by an image of a pig’s head or because a pig – or other tribute – was laid on the alter as tax to the chief.
What was a 15th Century Ahupua‘a?
The “ Konohiki ” or chief steward(s) of the land division an ahupuaʻa had the demanding responsibility of implementing the edicts of his superiors to produce the maximum potential of each land division, while mobilizing the populous of commoners from small scale micro projects to larger macro initiatives like engineering water irrigation waterways. The division of labor to maintain anywhere from 5 acres up to a 1,000+ acres of land within an ahupuaʻa required social order and ascribed a common set of values and principles of communal reciprocity defined by varying sets of behaviors and privileges. Those of the aliʻi or chiefly royal class and that of the makaʻāinana or commoners.
See the table below for the Chiefly structure and their Responsible Stewardship over Land Division.
Hierarchy of Chiefs and their Authority over Land Divisions
Chiefly Rank and/or Title
Responsible Stewardship of Land Division
Mō‘ī (Sovereign King/Queen)
Governance and authority over entire Kingdom
Ali‘i Nui and/or Ali‘i of various high rank and title
Governance, authority, & responsibility over a moku or district land division
Kālai‘āina or Kālaimoku (General Executive or Prime Minister of Land Stewardship or carver of land)
Responsible for oversight of chiefs and the equitable distribution of lands, water, and natural resources
Kahuna (Professional class of priests and experts)
Responsible for rituals and ceremonies, provides guidance to the Alii Nui, Kalaiaina, Kaukau Alii, and Konohiki regarding fortuitous omens and signs
Kaukau Ali‘i (War chiefs, chiefly servant to Alii Nui)
Responsible for oversight of Konohiki and the equitable distribution of lands, water, and natural resources
Konohiki (Chief Land Steward of an ahupua‘a)
Governance, authority, & responsibility over an Ahupua‘a or multiple ahupua‘a, and the equitable distribution of lands, water, and natural resources for the makaainana or commoners and taxation to the hierarchy of ranking chiefs
Societal Structure in Ancient Hawai`i
The Kapu system was based on similar principles and enforceable regulations to modern democratic governance models of land and natural resource management disciplines in most developed countries. For example, fresh water uses for drinking, cooking, and farming as well as the oversight of its distribution for public consumption is a regulatory natural resource by local to regional municipalities. How water, and land, as resources are allocated, distributed, and accessed in contemporary Hawaiʻi continues to vary by government counties, geographic region, and community demand(s).
What is a 21st Century Ahupuaʻa?
Hawaiʻi and other Pacific Island Nations are ground zero as a result of these climatic challenges and the need for leadership, progressive solutions, and innovative technologies to save our island archipelago, pristine natural landscape, and unadulterated Pacific Ocean are critical for humanity’s existence in the 21 st century and future generations.
A 21st century ahupuaʻa embraces sustainable stewardship practices and the co-existence of human civilization with the earth’s biosphere in a manner that provides for a balanced environment with minimal exploitation of resources to sustain the world’s nations, peoples, and their economies. Sustainability challenges as well as long term goals strive for equilibrium or balance between the coexistence of humanity and natural environment while preserving such ecosystems in perpetuity.