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TRADITIONAL WAYS OF KNOWING: Shoreline Habitats

What is the Ancient Hawaiian Ahupua‘a management system of watersheds?

How did this system protect the shoreline areas? 

In ancient Hawai‘i, a system of land tenure and management evolved that mirrored the natural landscape of the islands. This land division system, called an ahupua‘a, consisted of strips of land that generally extended from the mountain to the sea. However, the ahupua‘a management system went beyond modern watershed management systems in that they involve ecological management by integrating natural resource concerns with cultural, human, and spiritual resources. The ahupua‘a system allowed ancient Hawaiians to cultivate and utilize resources from the environment, while preserving the natural dynamics of the watershed ecosystem. Land resources in the ahupua‘a system included taro (kalo) grown under both “upland” conditions (kalo malo‘o, where the fields are rain fed or irrigated, but not flooded) and “wet” taro (kalo wai, grown under frequently or constantly flooded conditions). Taro was, and is a vital part of the cultural and agricultural traditions of the Hawaiian people. The coastal sea, including the intertidal region, was also a part of the ahupua‘a system. Salt-water fish ponds (loko i‘a) were used for fattening and storing fish for food. Fish ponds provided a source of fish when weather and surf conditions prevented fishing on the open waters of the sea. The ahupua‘a not only provided resources in traditional Hawai‘i, they also provided protection for the shoreline and intertidal areas. Ancient Hawaiians recognized that actions taken on one part of the ecosystem affected other parts of the ecosystem. Managing the entire ecosystem, rather than a single part of the ecosystem, ensured that the ecosystem as a whole remained healthy and sustainable.

<p>Fig. 1. A depiction of the different regions of an ahupua'a system.</p><br />

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Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.