3. Malama Ahupua’a*: A Background of Native Resource Management

Natural Resource Management

To take care of and be taken care of by the land, by that which sustains you.

MALAMA: The closest literal translation for the word Malama in English would be stewardship. The Hawaiian Dictionary by Mary Kawena Pukui translates Malama as follows:

To take care of, tend, attend, care for, preserve, protect, beware, save, maintain; to keep or observe, as a taboo; to conduct, as a service; to serve, honor, as God; care, preservation, support, fidelity, loyalty; custodian, caretaker, keeper. **

AHUPUA’A: Ahupua’a Model of Resource Management: From the mountain to the ocean

The Ahupua’a are traditional Hawaiian systems of land division and resource management. Most ahupua’a reach from the mountain to the sea, providing the whole scope of available resources to each ahupua’a, so as to avoid unnecessary competition. The ahupua’a all ranged in acreage, as the primary goal was to allocate fair resource supply, not to profit or amass land holdings. In nutrient and resource rich areas, the ahupua’a will be smaller, as seen in the picture below on the northern portion of the island. In areas where the climate is far drier, where agricultural and gathering capabilities are more difficult, the ahupua’a will be much larger in order to accommodate these variables, as seen in the ‘Ewa district of the map below.

This map demonstrates, how the Ahupua’a were divided on the island of O’ahu, where it is estimated that the island supported close to 1 million people prior to European settlement.

The Moku are larger districts, which oversaw the management of the ahupua’a and ‘ili (smaller land divisions)

Each Ahupua’a was governed by a Konohiki. The Konohiki was chosen for their abilities to properly manage the water, food, and sacred resources of the ahupua’a. These Konohiki were held to a high standard by the Maka’ainana (citizens, people that tend to the land) that lived in the area. Should the Konohiki fail, the Maka’ainana were able to demand improvement or altogether replace the Konohiki.

Each Moku was governed by an Ali’i (chief), and each island was in turn, governed by an Ali’i Nui. Though a system of chief-hood was the established mode of formal governance, each ahupua’a had a great sovereignty with regards to how they managed the ‘aina (land, literally: that which feeds).

Each Ahupua’a paid a form of taxes to the Ali’i Nui, which is where the term Ahupua’a comes from. Ahu means an alter, a sacred space and Pua’a means pig. Every year, when Makali’i (Pleiades) rises in the dusk sky, the time of Makahiki commences. Makahiki is a time of peace, where there is no war and no excessive work. Makahiki is marked by the playing of traditional games and large feasts. A procession for the Ali’i Nui marches, with large white kapa cloths across the island gathering gifts from each Ahupua’a. Each Ahupua’a is demarcated by an Ahu on either side, where the district meets the ocean. Upon this Ahu is placed pua’a (pig), kalo (taro), ‘uala (sweet potato), and any other number of offerings for the Ali’i Nui and furthermore as offerings to the god, Lono – the god of fertility and agriculture.

* In order to make the text viewable to all students and due to compatibility restrictions on most computers, many grammatical notations that are specific to ‘Olelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian Language) have been omitted.

** Pukui, Mary Kawena and Elbert, Samuel. H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian. (University of Hawai’i Press) 1986.


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