Kikokikona Hawaiʻi
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Chap. 3 ʻUmi Divides the Land (Pages 9-29)
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     ʻUmi Divides

     the Land

        As time went on the number of people grew and grew. The best places to live became crowded.

Different areas of each island were ruled by different chiefs. ʻUmi, son of the great High Chief Liloa, was one of the ruling chiefs on the island of Hawaiʻi.

                In the late 1400s, through warfare and alliances with other chiefs, ʻUmi gained control of the rest of Hawaiʻi. ʻUmi made himself the aliʻi nui, or high chief, for the whole island.

                ʻUmi divided his island into separate moku, or districts. These moku were subdivided into smaller sections called ahupuaʻa.


Map showing the traditional names

of the moku, or districts, of Hawaiʻi

Moku on Kauaʻi
KonaMoku on Oʻahu
Island of NiʻihauWaialua
The entire island is aWaiʻanae
moku of Kauaʻi.
Island of Lānaʻi
The entire island is a
moku of Maui.
Island of Kahoʻolawe
The entire island is a
moku of Maui.


Moku on Maui
Kā ʻanapaliWailuku
KaupōIsland of Molokaʻi
The entire island is a
moku of Maui.


                ʻUmi's system of dividing his island was copied by chiefs on the other islands. Like Hawaiʻi, the mokupuni, or islands, of Kauaʻi, Maui and Oʻahu were divided into moku.

                The small islands of Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi and Molokaʻi became moku of Maui. The small island of Niʻihau became a moku of Kauaʻi. These moku were then subdivided into ahupuaʻa.

                Still smaller sections within an ahupuaʻa were called ʻili, strips of land worked by an individual or a family. They often, but not always, lived right on their ʻili.



                Thus was born the most important of the land divisions within Hawaiʻi—the ahupuaʻa—a section of land most often running from the mountains to the sea.

                Ahupuaʻa varied in size and shape. A typical ahupuaʻa was a long strip of land, narrow at its mountain summit top and becoming wider as it ran down a valley into the sea to the outer edge of the reef. If there was no reef then the sea boundary would be about one and a half miles from the shore.



                Each ahupuaʻa had its own name and carefully fixed boundary lines. Often the markers were natural features such as a large rock or a line of trees or even the home of a certain bird. A valley ahupuaʻa usually used its ridges as boundaries.

                People living in one ahupuaʻa were free to use whatever grew wild in that ahupuaʻa. But a resident of one ahupuaʻa could not take anything from another ahupuaʻa. Boundaries were important and people carefully learned their locations.


                Why did the chiefs divide the land into sections running from the mountains to the sea? They realized that within these sections were three different areas important to life in early Hawaiʻi: upland, plain and sea. They knew that together these three areas contained the range of products and resources their people needed to survive.



                Uka: Mountains and Uplands

                >From the uka came many resources needed by early Hawaiians. Koa wood was used for canoes, houseposts and images of spirits. Kauila hardwood provided spears and tools. Pliable stalks of ʻūlei were used as rims for fish nets and for the musical bow, ʻūkēkē.

                The olonā plant made the strongest cordage for fish lines, fish nets and network for feather cloaks. Plants and herbs such as koʻokoʻolau and moa had medicinal uses.

                Maile vines made fragrant lei and decorations for the hula altar. The strong roots of the ʻieʻie vine were woven into carrying baskets and fish traps.



                Māmaki bark was used for kapa. ʻIliahi, or sandalwood, when ground or shaved, supplied a sweet scent for bathing and scented containers used for storing clothing.

                Colorful birds provided the feathers for the cloaks and helmets worn by aliʻi and for kāhili, the feather standards used as symbols of chiefly rank.


                Wao is the general term for the inland forest region. Wao kanaka is the most accessible of the forest areas and the one most valued by the early Hawaiians. Wao kele is the rain forest where tree ferns and other ferns and giant trees grow. Lands higher in the mountains were known as wao akua, forests of the spirits, where Hawaiians believed only these spirits resided.


             Kula: Plains and Fields

                Kula were the flat and sloping lands between the uka and the kai. Many useful products were made from plants growing in the kula area. Kukui trees provided nuts used for oil and lighting. Wauke trees offered bark for the finest kapa. Pili grass for thatching houses grew here.

                Bamboo was used for fishing rods and as stamping tools for patterning kapa. Gourds became containers and musical instruments. leaves were used for food wrappings, rain capes, sandals and thatching. Other plants offered many of the ingredients used in Hawaiian medicines or beautiful flowers for decorations.



                Food plants in great variety were raised in the kula. There were bananas, dry-land kalo, sugar cane, sweet potatoes and yams. Loʻi kalo, or ponds for wet-land taro, were built near the kahawai, "the place having fresh water."

                Poi, the most important food of the early Hawaiians, was made from kalo. All the parts of the kalo plant were prepared as food in one fashion or another and eaten.

                ʻUlu fruit was another primary starch food. In addition to getting food from the fruit, wood of the ʻulu plant was used for hula drums, poi-pounding boards and surfboards.


             Kai: The Sea and the Lands Nearby

                The third major division of an ahupuaʻa was the kai, the sea and the area nearby. From the kai came fish and life-sustaining salt and a wide variety of other seafoods. The kai provided a medicine used for such ailments as dizziness, fever, nausea and stomach ache. The sea water itself was the medicine.

                Pure salt was extracted from the sea water through evaporation. This Hawaiian salt, paʻakai, was used as medicine, for preserving food, in religious ceremonies and as a seasoning.

                Hawaiians gathered and ate many kinds of algae and seaweeds, or limu. Limu was a major source of vitamins and minerals in their diet.


                Growing along the shore was the tree for which Hawaiians had found more uses than any other plant they knew—the coconut tree. Its trunk provided bowls, drums, small canoes and spears. Leaflets became brooms, fans, game balls and lei-making needles. Fibers from the husk surrounding the nut itself became cordage. Shells from the nuts were made into small bowls and knee drums. At different stages of development the nut provided various forms of food and drink.


                Hau was another tree growing in the near-ocean lowlands. Its tough-but-light wood was used for adze handles, massage sticks, and outrigger canoe booms and floats. Milo trees grew only along the beach, not in the uphill forests. Its rich brown wood was prized for food bowls. Noni was a near-shore shrub whose fruit was used for medicine and whose inner bark was the basis for a yellow dye.

                So it was that by dividing islands into districts running from the mountains to the sea, the aliʻi made certain their people would be well-supplied with the different products of the uka, kula and kai.


                The word ahupuaʻa is made up from "ahu," which means altar, and ʻpuaʻa," which means pig. People built an altar of stones where the ahupuaʻa boundary intersected, or crossed, the main trail circling the island. That altar was dedicated to Lono, the spirit of fertility, peace and rain.

                An image of a pig's head, carved out of kukui wood and stained with ʻalaea, red dirt, was placed upon the altar. Lono was believed to reside within this image.



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