Traveling through the Kona district centuries ago, you would have seen a flourishing landscape. Starting at the sea you would have first found the kula, or lowland dry plains. Moving up the mountain you found the kala ‘ulu, an agroforest with a canopy of ‘ulu and kukui. Farther up was the apa‘a zone, where kalo and ‘uala were cultivated. Finally came the ‘ama‘u, where plants were planted in the understory of native forest. This was the Kona Field System and it was a perfect example of aloha ‘āina in action, says Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln.
“I see aloha ‘āina being expressed through these field systems in how the Hawaiians approached it really through a reciprocal relationship.” For example, ask any Hawaiian what their favorite starch is, says Lincoln, and they’ll typically tell you kalo, ‘uala and ‘ulu in that order. And yet, he says, that’s not always what the land is willing to provide—and to have aloha ‘āina is to respect that. “In Kona they conceded in that very young volcanic landscape it’s better to grow breadfruit, the land is more willing to supply that. To acknowledge these desires of the land and to work with them is one of the core aspects of aloha ‘āina. It is a true recognition of the land as something that may have its own desires.”