Hawaii’s historic land administration system
(Picture credit score: StevenGaertner/Getty Photographs)
The ahupua’a system of land improvement, in observe for greater than 1,000 years, has the potential to indicate the world a brand new path to sustainability.
Strolling the paths of Limahuli Backyard & Protect, my jacket soaked by by the regular rain attribute of Kauai’s lush north shore, I bent over placards introducing Pritchardia limahuliensis, a local fan palm endemic solely to this Hawaiian valley, and breathed within the candy scent of the white hibiscus koki’o ke’oke’o, as soon as thought extinct.
However whereas I got here to Limahuli desperate to see rarities like these preserved on this 17-acre Nationwide Tropical Botanical Backyard, I used to be quickly captivated by one thing much more fascinating: intricate layers of historic rock-walled terraces that climbed the valley and vanished into the dense highland forests above. Proven by carbon courting to be greater than 1,000 years previous, they’re a part of an historic ahupua’a, a complicated land-management and food-production system that after allowed Hawaii’s remoted and densely populated pre-contact communities to be totally self-sufficient.
Pre-contact, Kauai had greater than 50 ahupua’a, with tons of and even hundreds extra all through the opposite Hawaiian islands.
Described by Hawaiians as extending from mauka (mountains) to makai (ocean), every ahupua’a had its slender start line excessive within the inland volcanic peaks, after which widened, like a pie slice, to incorporate a stretch of shore and the fishing grounds as much as a mile out to sea. Channels diverted stream water to irrigate lo’i kalo (lowland taro pond fields), which had been engineered to flow into water from pond to pond and forestall stagnation. The consequence: per-acre yields 5 instances that of dryland farming.
Every ahupua’a ran from the inland mountains to the ocean, taking in a stretch of shore and ocean fishing grounds (Credit score: Hunter Dale/Getty Photographs)
The place the freshwater streams met the ocean, elaborate rock-walled fishponds blended the nutrient-rich water from the taro ponds with tidal circulate, creating ideally suited circumstances for fattening fish captured by sluice gates. The uplands, thought-about wao akua (the realm of the gods), had been off limits to all however these with information of forest stewardship.
“The factor in regards to the ahupua’a that’s vital to grasp is that water is the organising precept,” mentioned Davianna Pōmaikaʻi McGregor, professor of ethnic research and director of the Middle for Oral Historical past on the College of Hawaii, Manoa. “Our phrase for water in Hawaiian is wa’i, and our phrase for wealth is wa’i wai, as a result of when you had an abundance of water then your land was wealthy and also you had an abundance of meals.”
In the neighborhood of Hā’ena at Kauai’s distant north-western tip, many years of effort to protect and restore one of many final remaining examples of an entire ahupua’a are paying off. Limahuli Backyard & Protect, which is a part of Hā’ena, has now restored 600 acres of agricultural terracing. Hui Maka’āinana o Makana, a grassroots group group that features many descendants of Hā’ena’s unique households, has rebuilt taro ponds and revitalised conventional mountains-to-sea land administration whereas additionally creating the primary state-sanctioned, community-based marine fishery.
Within the course of, Hā’ena has change into a mannequin for efforts to protect present ahupua’a all through the islands and restore others way back destroyed by pineapple plantations and cattle ranches.
“The apuhua’a system was very holistic, desirous about the ecology of the entire watershed and the agricultural land and fisheries as one place,” mentioned Lei Wann, director of Limahuli Backyard & Protect, who’s descended from one of many unique households of Hā’ena. “That is the best way we managed our sources for tons of of years, and now we’re coming round to see how properly they understood and cared for his or her atmosphere by what’s left to us at present.”
Limahuli Backyard & Protect has restored 600 acres of agricultural terracing (Credit score: Joel Zatz/Alamy)
Throughout the islands, daring and various coalitions of group activists, scientists and environmentalists are working with the state authorities, the parks service and personal landowners to re-establish conventional sustainable practices. And thru efforts which have introduced them worldwide prominence, they’re translating them to the trendy atmosphere – a key objective in a US state that now infamously imports 85% of its meals.
“The ahupua’a is the information map to taking a look at Hawaii from a totally conventional Hawaiian viewpoint, taking you again hundreds of years and providing you the ideas of the individuals who have lived there and been stewards of the land all this time,” mentioned Sam ‘Ohu Gon, senior scientist on the Biocultural Initiative of the Pacific, a project of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “It’s the doorway to accessing all that past knowledge that is completely applicable today.”
In fact, Gon says, the ahupua’a system, also called moku, could model a way to feed and provide for the Earth’s rapidly growing population in the face of climate change. “With these intensively managed farming and fishing systems, Hawaiians were able to maintain a remarkably small ecological footprint, using less than 15% of their terrestrial ecosystem, while supporting several hundreds of thousands of people with no external inputs,” he explained.
Traditional fishponds were part of the ahupua’a system, providing local communities with aquacultured seafood (Credit: Travel Pix/Alamy)
Scientists used spatial distribution models of these ahupua’a to calculate their potential past production and distribution capacities, then evaluated their future potential factoring in contemporary land use and a range of future climate scenarios. They found that those production levels could meet the demands of Hawaiian consumption today. In 2018, the United Nations selected Hawaii to become a Local2030 Sustainability Hub, an honour that recognises the strength of the state’s community-led organising efforts and their potential to be a model for others.
On every Hawaiian island, projects are underway to restore native species, reforest uplands decimated by grazing, reclaim estuaries, rebuild taro fields and fishponds, and protect ocean fisheries. While in most areas, development prevents the recreation of an entire ahupua’a system, new signage projects are marking the boundaries of historic ahupua’a, raising awareness of the holistic system.
“We’re identifying communities with longstanding relationships to the land and sea, then working with them to combine the best of science and the best of local community methods,” said Gon. “Hawaiian culture was actively suppressed, so finding those enclaves where that traditional knowledge is still alive is always a joy.”
A prime force in this knowledge-sharing is Oahu-based non-profit organisation Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA), which functions as a grapevine linking grassroots indigenous and local natural-resource management initiatives throughout the islands. Through coalitions like Hui Malama Loko I’a, a network of fishpond restoration practitioners, KUA helps organisers share methods, strategies and ideas.
“The idea is that once you have core communities that are doing these projects, people begin to see the positive impacts and they want to bring those changes to their own communities,” said KUA director Kevin Chang.
Travellers can head to Waimea on the western side of Kauai to see to a respected ahupua’a restoration (Steve Burns/Getty Images)
KUA’s highest profile successes have resulted from efforts to establish Community Based Subsistence Fishing Management Areas (CBSMA) that give coastal communities primary responsibility for setting fishing rules, which may exclude commercial fishing. This is a movement that has rapidly gained momentum in recent years. “There are traditions and practices in each unique community around how they fish and manage their fishery, and we know that the management of natural resources is more effective when local power is given to the people who directly rely on and understand the resource,” said Chang.
While some might not think of ocean fishing as an element of land management, it was exactly that in the ahupua’a, according to Wann. “Caring for the land means that your ocean will be healthier, and part of the ahupua’a included practices of using resources to make the ocean more abundant, and that’s what we’re still doing today in the 21st century – we never stopped.”
Terrestrial initiatives are gaining ground as well. One of Gon’s favourite examples is the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project, a cooperative between the local community and one of Maui’s largest ranching families, which since 1997 has been working parcel by parcel to reforest uplands on the slope of Haleakalā volcano destroyed by cattle grazing. “It started as one small unit surrounded by blasted grassland, and now it’s been so successful you can see the forest from space,” Gon said.
Visitors can learn about the ahupua’a renaissance at a growing number of parks, botanical gardens and reserves. Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park, on the east side of Oahu, preserves a 5,300-acre swath from the 2,670ft crest of the Ko’olau mountains all the way to Kahana Bay. Waimea Valley, a park best known for its thundering waterfall, is also home to a respected ahupua’a restoration. On the island of Hawaii, the Amy B H Greenwell Ethonobotanical Garden preserves archaeological remnants of ahupua’a terraces.
Since 2019, only 900 visitors per day can hike the famous Kalalau Trail along Kauai’s Na Pali Coast (Credit: Cavan Images/Getty Images)
“There’s a new generation that are seeing the importance of doing that kind of cultivation and reclaiming their legacy from their ancestors,” said McGregor. “A lot of has come as the students are learning our Hawaiian language again, and they want to reinforce their connection through the stewardship of the land.”
Visitors to Hawaii also have an important role to play in the ahupua’a renaissance, Wann said, with initiatives creating new ways for visitors to learn about traditional agricultural and fisheries management, as well as limiting access to protect resources. In Hā’ena, for example, a new permitting system initiated in 2019 restricts the number of visitors to Hā’ena State Park and the Kalalau Trail to 900 a day, requiring advance reservations for entrance.
“Oftentimes people think of the ahupua’a system as something of the past, but we’re definitely becoming more and more cognizant of it as something that can be part of our Hawaiian society today,” Wann said. “We’re creating an ahupua’a for the 21st Century.”
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