Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln will never forget the moment he first saw the Leeward Kohala Field System. The specialist in indigenous crop systems had trudged up Pu‘u Kehena in the wind and when he turned around a massive agricultural system popped out at him, he says, like a 3D picture. The ancient system, an agricultural network covering some twenty-five square miles, is today hidden in pasture grasses but from the summit of Pu‘u Kehena it all came into view—and with it, says Lincoln, came a Eureka! moment.
“For me it just really hit home what was going on here in Hawai‘i before Europeans, and it wasn’t this aboriginal small culture as we like to think of it but it was a highly organized, politically complex system, huge labor force, huge population. There’s simply no other way that a massive system like that could be built and sustained over time.” The agriculture being practiced by Hawaiians was, says Lincoln, highly advanced—not because of its technology or tools, but because of its deep understanding of the intricacies of the land and the ways in which that understanding was used to grow crops. “They were very much maximizing the ability of the land to produce for them, and in a lot of ways the science is really only catching up to this knowledge that the Hawaiians had.”