Oahu Districts And Ahupuaa


The Islands of Hawai’i are divided by districts. On the island of Oahu there are 7 districts. Each district is further divided like a pie from the top of a mountain outward to the sea. These divisions are called Ahupuaa. However, there is one exception, the Mokapu peninsula on the island of Oahu. The peninsula is itself an Ahupuaa which does not extend to the top of a mountain range. Mokapu is a world meaning “sacred land” and is derived from Hawaiian moku, meaning: “division”, and kapu, meaning: “sacred.” The Ahupuaa is considered sacred for Ulupau crater (Kaneohe Marine Base), which is the site where the 4 major Hawaiian gods created man.

In old Hawaiʻi, ahupuaʻa was the common subdivision of the land. It consisted most frequently of a slice of an island that went from the top of the local mountain (volcano) to the shore, following the banks of a stream. Ahupuaʻa varied in size depending on the economic means of the location and were meant to support roughly equal numbers of people.

Ahupuaʻa is derived from Hawaiian ahu, meaning: “heap” or “cairn”, and puaʻa, pig. The boundary markers for ahupuaʻa were traditionally heaps of stones used to put offers to the island chieftain, which was usually a pig.

There may have been two reasons for this kind of subdivision:

  • travel: in many areas of Hawaiʻi, it is easier to travel up- and downstream than from stream valley to stream valley.
  • economy: having all climate zones and economic exploitation zones in each land division ensured that a sudden drought or overfishing would not starve any ahupuaʻa or make one dependent on another.

Rule over an ahupuaʻa was given out by the ruling chief to subordinate members of the ʻaliʻi. On the larger mountains of Maui and Hawaiʻi, smaller ahupuaʻa extended up to about 6,000-8,000 feet elevation, while the higher elevations of an entire district would be included within a single large ahupuaʻa. These ahupuaʻa, such as Kaʻohe, Keauhou, Kapāpala, Keaʻau, Keʻanae, Puʻu Waʻawʻa, and Humuʻula, were highly valued both for their size and because they allowed control over items obtainable only from high-elevation areas, such as high-quality stone for tools and ʻuaʻu (Hawaiian Petrel) chicks. They were given to high-ranking ʻaliʻi, or often retained by the high chief personally.

Mokapu Peninsula

This Hawaiian History Moment Brought To You By:
Ohana Walking Tours with special thanks to Richard Wong

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