The incredibly complex and productive agricultural systems that the Hawaiians developed necessitated a highly sophisticated system of land management. And that’s exactly what the ahupua‘a system was. Here is geographer Dr. Kamana Beamer explaining just what an ahupua‘a is.
“An ahupua‘a is a division of resources that makes best use of an ecosystem and really is aligned to the social system and structures of that place. So an ahupua‘a is not just a division, it’s not just a boundary, it really is this system that allows humans and the natural world to thrive.”
There were some 1,625 ahupua‘a in ancient Hawai‘i. Some ran from land to sea, some from sea to sea, some were completely landlocked. Some were narrow and skinny, some were huge and broad. All were defined and managed to create maximum abundance. The Hawaiians lived lives that were deeply attuned to the natural environment. They followed the daily paths of the sun and the stars, named the winds and rains and clouds. They drew upon their intricate knowledge of these islands to codify their system.
“It’s an incredibly ordered system, difficult to even map with modern cartographic tools because it was so complex—and it was all about maximizing the abundance of each place and providing for the people.”