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Traditional Ways of Knowing: Influences on Ahupua'a

The Hawaiian Ahupua‘a

The chiefs of old Hawai‘i divided the land into sections generally running from the mountains to the sea. These sections were called ahupua‘a. Hawaiians realized that within the ahupua‘a there were three different areas that were important: the mountains, the plains and the sea. They knew that together these three areas contained the materials people needed every day for food, clothing and shelter. For example, the forests were used to make tools and crafts, and they grew and collected food from the land and sea.

Since there were no stores, people needed to catch fish, grow vegetables, and build houses and canoes for themselves. Food and other products were exchanged among the families within the ahupua‘a. There were fishermen, farmers, craftsmen, foresters and others who would then share each others’ products. Sometimes products were traded with people in other ahupua‘a. An ahupua‘a that grew a lot of kalo but caught only a small amount of fish might trade their kalo for fish.

Great care was taken not to pollute the fresh water in the streams which flowed down from the mountain waterfalls through the valley and out to the sea. People bathed only near the mouth of a stream. It was kapu or forbidden to bathe anywhere else. Farther up the stream was the place set aside for washing calabashes and utensils. Above that dams were constructed for the ‘auwai, or ditches, carrying water to the taro fields. The cleanest water was above the dams. This water was reserved for drinking only and was carried in gourds to their homes.

The people knew they couldn’t over fish or hunt too many animals in their ahupua’a or future generations would have nothing. They needed to take care of the resources to survive. The ahupua’a system was used for many generations.

<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.