The Ahupua'a concept: relearning coastal resource management from ancient Hawaiians

Isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii was one of the last areas to be reached by "western" explorers; as a consequence, some ancient traditions were preserved in Hawaii well into the 19th and 20th centuries, providing an opportunity to learn from a surviving indigenous culture. An account is given of the division of the islands into various units and their exploitation. The smallest major divisions were the "ahupua'as," which spread out at the base along the shore and were self-sufficient units. In this way the ancient Hawaiians recognized the relationship between the land and sea, rainfall and vegetation, nutrients and runoff and preserved the integrity of the delicately balanced ecosystem of which they were a part and upon which they relied for their every need. Modern parallels to this ancient system are broken and irregular; the reorganization of the "ahupua'a" system marked the beginning of the decline of Hawaiian ecosystems. Although steps are being taken to remedy the present situation, Hawaii now ranks among the highest in the nation for its levels of pollution, endangered species and disappearing habitats. More and more, the model for improved management is being sought in the revival of ancient traditions.


Smith, M.K., Pai, M. (1992)
NAGA 15 (2): 11-13