Terraces for the irrigated cultivation of taro once occupied a significant area within every major stream valley on O‘ahu. Taro pondfields (lo‘i kalo) were particularly numerous in Kailua and Kāne‘ohe ahupua‘a (traditional land divisions) in Ko‘olaupoko District, on the windward side of the island.
Both of these ahupua’a were of central importance to early rulers: Kailua had once been the capital of O‘ahu; and Kāneʻohe was so favored by Kamehameha I that he retained the land division as his personal property when other conquered lands were distributed to his soldiers and retainers in 1795. (Allen)
Unbeknown to many, land within the loop in the off-ramp road from H-3 connecting to Likelike Highway holds evidence of an inland component of the prehistoric settlement in Kāneʻohe.
This area is a small part and representative example of what constitutes the most extensive early wetland agricultural complex known on Oʻahu and has evidence of a long period of continued use.
The ‘ili (a smaller land division within an ahupuaʻa) of Luluku, located in the ahupuaʻa of Kāneʻohe, district of Koʻolaupoko, is where these numerous agricultural terraces are located. The site is currently inaccessible to the public.
Luluku is one of five upland ‘ili (Luluku, Punalu‘u Mauka, Kapalai, Pa‘u and Kea‘ahala) that are within the traditional boundaries of Kāneʻohe.
The terrace system in Luluku followed the stream channels and utilized all of its tributaries to irrigate the various loʻi kalo (taro,) forming a continuous mosaic of lo‘i from the inland slopes to the lowlands along the coast.
The buried field systems at Luluku predate AD 1600 and the period of state development. The majority of the terraces at Luluku were almost certainly under cultivation by the fifteenth century; their cultivation may have figured importantly in the development of the ahupua‘a socioeconomic system. (Allen)
The upstream and downstream surface terrace sets in Luluku were awarded to different people during the mid-nineteenth-century redistribution of lands in fee simple: the upstream set belonged to Kekane (or Kikane), the downstream set to Makaiohua. Both men claimed taro lo‘i. (Allen)
The evidence from Luluku and some surrounding areas suggest that:
1) lo‘i cultivation in windward O‘ahu began in areas at the forest edge, where both forest and agricultural products could be collected for exchange.
2) agricultural production became standardized in some upland areas as early as AD 1000, suggesting developing centralization and involvement in a redistributive economic network.
3) agricultural construction and production in areas along major streams were coordinated at a broad level by A.D. 1400, probably predating and contributing to the emergence of the ahupua’a system of land division and administration.
4) production of taro surpluses by A.D. 1400 reflects the centralized control of agriculture not only for economic reasons but to ensure that a support base existed for administrators in an elaborated political hierarchy; and
5) coordination of elaborate water distribution networks that used water from main streams for agricultural purposes is reflected before A.D. 1500 and probably contributed to the development of the ahupua’a system, predating the development of the state system of government and codification of the Hawaiian legal system. (Allen)
As late as 1940, especially in the lowland terraces, Kāneʻohe ahupua’a was still one of the most active communities in planting commercial taro.
In modern times, uplands were planted in bananas and papaya; lowlands were planted with rice and taro.
I remember this upland area known as the “Banana Patch.” Large-scale banana plantations began in 1930s; rice and taro farmers also planted bananas in areas unsuitable for their main crop. (There’s even a “Banana Patch” boat design from this area.)
The lo‘i kalo complex of agricultural terraces were initially divided by the construction of the Likelike Highway. The terraces were further impacted by the construction of H-3 and are now located within the Kāneʻohe Interchange.
As part of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) Highways Administration and H-3 Cooperative Agreement, Hawai’i Department of Transportation and Office of Hawaiian Affairs are undertaking a project that would preserve and interpret the cultural resources at the Luluku Terraces in Kāneʻohe.
To date, an Interpretive Development Plan has been prepared, a Hālawa-Luluku Interpretive Development Working Group has been formed, and mitigation measures and actions are identified. These efforts will restore a small portion of the once extensive loʻi kalo in Kāneʻohe.
The vision of the program is, “The Luluku Agricultural Terraces shall be restored through the perpetuation of culturally appropriate science, engineering and agricultural practices.”
“Research will be demonstrated through the planting of primarily native Hawaiian kalo using ancient and contemporary techniques in water resource management and sustainable agricultural practices.”
“The relationship between the land and its people are of both historical and cultural importance in the context of interpretations which emphasizes Luluku’s ability to feed many people in the Kāneʻohe district and areas beyond.”