At about the same time of Christopher Columbus crossing the Atlantic to America, ʻUmi-a-Liloa (ʻUmi) from Waipiʻo, son of Liloa, defeated Kona chief Ehunuikaimalino and united the island of Hawai‘i. He then moved his Royal Center from Waipi‘o to Kona.
At about the time of ʻUmi, a significant new form of agriculture was developed in Kona; he is credited with starting it. Today, archaeologists call the unique method of farming in this area the “Kona Field System.”
The Kona Field System was planted in long, narrow fields that ran across the contours, along the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai. As rainfall increases rapidly as you go up the side of Hualalai, the long fields allowed farmers to plant different crops according to the rainfall gradients.
General zones within the area were: Kula (plain, open country, Coast–500 feet – sweet potato, wauke;) Kalu or Kaluʻulu (luxuriant, 500–1000 feet – breadfruit, wauke and sweet potato;) ʻApaʻa (dry zone, 1000–2500 feet – taro, sweet potato, sugarcane, ti and banana;) and ʻAmaʻu or ʻAmaʻumaʻu (upland/fern zone, 2000–3000 feet – banana and fern.) (Allen)
Fast forward 300-years … Kamehameha, who had resided on Oʻahu since 1804, moved to Kamakahonu in 1812 at what is now known as Kailua on Hawaiʻi Island. He built Ahuʻena Heiau on the foundation of an older heiau (the former probably dating back to ʻUmi and his father Liloa.) (Kirch)
According to John Papa ʻIʻi, in addition to Ahuʻena Heiau and other structures associated with his court at Kamakahonu, Kamehameha “…built another house, a hale nana mahinaʻai, on the seaward side of Keawe a Mahi’s residence from which to observe the farm lands.”
“Facing directly upland toward Kuahewa, this house was like an observation post, for the site he first been built up high with stones. It was located on the west side of Ahuʻena, a heiau that stood beside Kamakahonu, on a spot where canoes could be seen coming from South Kona and from the vicinity of Kailua in North Kona.” (Ahuʻena)
Kuahewa (huge, vast) was Kamehameha’s farm situated above Kailua, (probably between the ahupuaʻa of Lanihau and Keopu.)
“Kuahewa is a place from which one obtains an unobstructed view. All the surrounding country, extending down to the seashore, is visible when one looks from there. The cold, gentle breeze (Kehau) and the rain are its drawbacks.” (Toketa Journal)
“(W)e entered the bread fruit plantations whose spreading trees with beautiful foliage were scattered about (3-miles) from the shore along the side of the mountain as far as we could see on both sides.”
“Here the country began to assume a pleasant and fertile appearance through which we continued our ascent for about two miles further, surrounded by plantations of the esculent roots and vegetables of the country, industriously cultivated, till we came to the uppermost village consisting of a few scattered huts.” (Menzies, 1792)
Kamehameha himself worked as a farmer at Kuahewa and he enacted the law that anyone who took one taro or one stalk of sugarcane must plant one cutting of the same in its place. (Rechtman)
John Papa ʻIʻi, who as a boy of 12, was a member of the royal court when Kamehameha returned to Kona in 1812. This was at a time of famine according to ʻIʻi, and members of the king’s household were supervising the clearing of Kuahewa, “a huge farm” located in the ʻamaʻumaʻu fern belt above Kailua Bay.
ʻIʻi lived here for a while, helping in the work by cutting fern fronds and clearing underbrush by hand. Taro cuttings for planting at Kuahewa were brought from the uplands of ahupua’a of Puaʻa. (Kelly)
Kuahewa was “about five miles in the rear of Kailua village, and at an elevation of about fifteen hundred feet on the western side of the volcanic mountain, Hualalai, where they thought the temperature as favorable as that of Hilo.”
“We found it very rurally situated, near the native huts on one side, and the forest on the other, and in the midst of plantations of sugar cane, bananas, potatoes, squashes, and melons, and upland kalo, where vegetation was unusually luxuriant.”
“The temperature was agreeable: the mercury in Farenheit ranged from 59° to 74°, the average for two months being 68°, or ten degrees lower than at Kailua, Lahaina, and Honolulu, at the same time.”
“The land breeze by night, and the sea breeze by day, were pleasant and refreshing. The latter brought to our ears the roar of many waters, as from the sea they dashed their surges upon the shores, from five to eight miles distant”. (Hiram Bingham, 1827 – Bingham’s distance estimate is probably over estimated.)
“This field was famous for its great extent and the fact of its being away in the uplands. Ten divisions of land were included in this field of Kuahewa. (Ualakaʻa was another famous field belonging to Kamehameha, so noted on account of its great size and bountiful production of potatoes. It was located up in Manoa, Oʻahu.) (Fornander)
Kuahewa passed to Kuakini. In his youth, Kuakini had been a close companion of Kamehameha, and after the return to Hawaiʻi Island, served the king as his representative in meeting foreign ships that came to Kona. He continued in that capacity for Liholiho.
In 1822, Kuakini undertook the clearing and replanting of Kuahewa, which apparently had been in fallow for some time. Under Kuakini’s supervision, in two days a company of some 40 men cleared eight ʻili sections of the farm for the planting of taro. (Barrere)
“We prepared to go to cultivate the field known as Kuahewa, a naturally fertilized field (Mahakea) formerly used by Kamehameha. Kuakini is undertaking to cultivate this field for the first time. They (Kuakini and his people) have long intended to cultivate this field, but have only now begun.”
“Hawaiʻi’s principle subject of discussion, day and night, is farming. The only salvation of the people is to continue farming, but to do the work half-way means death, as there is no other source of livelihood.”
“The people of Hawaiʻi are very strong, and cultivate the land industriously. Other countries dare not challenge Hawaiʻi in farming. Farming on the lava, (ʻaʻa) is persisted in. The subject most talked about by the people is farming.” (Toketa Journal)
The Thurston drawing, ‘View of the Country Back of Kailua,’ depicts what appears to be a large walled farm in either the upper portion of the ʻapaʻa, or in the lower ʻamaʻu zone. This may be the site of the Kuahewa gardens.
The site is unusually large compared with other gardens. It is unique in that it is walled, oriented laterally, and appears to contain two houses within its walls. In general, it seems to be a special place, which indeed Kuahewa was. (Kelly)