Typically, we think of ahupuaʻa in the general context of the modern day watershed – from the mountains to the sea (ridges to reefs,) affording occupants access to the various climatic and resource zones.
Ahupuaʻa served as a means of managing people and taking care of the people who support them, as well as an easy form of collection of tributes by the chiefs. Ultimately, this helped in preserving resources.
Shaped by island geography, ahupuaʻa varied in shape and size (from as little as 100-acres to more than 100,000-acres.)
Each ahupuaʻa had its own name and 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 and peaks as boundaries.
In ancient Hawaiian times, relatives and friends exchanged products. The upland dwellers brought poi, taro and other foods to the shore to give to kinsmen there. The shore dweller gave fish and other seafood. Visits were never made empty-handed but always with something from one’s home to give.
Ahupuaʻa contained nearly all the resources Hawaiians required for survival. Fresh water resources were managed carefully for drinking, bathing and irrigation.
A typical ahupuaʻa was a long strip of land, narrow at its mountain summit, 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 one-mile from the shore.
However, there are several ‘anomalies’ to this conventional ahupuaʻa layout.
Some include multiple parts, even skipping over water. Others do not have contact with the ocean, nor reach a mountain peak. Another includes portions of a couple of mountains. Here are some examples (there are others, as well.)
On the island of Hawaiʻi, the ahupuaʻa of Kīʻao in the moku (district) of Kāʻu is land-locked and doesn’t reach the ocean. (Paman) In addition, it doesn’t reach a mountain summit.
Also on the Island of Hawaiʻi, the ahupuaʻa of Humuʻula starts at the summit of Mauna Loa, crosses the saddle between the two mountains and skirts along the side of Mauna Kea and eventually runs down to the ocean along the Hāmākua coast.
This traversing along a relatively similar contour on the side of Mauna Kea is unique; in addition, in doing so, it essentially cuts off the numerous ahupuaʻa along the South Hilo, North Hilo and Hāmākua coasts to the Mauna Kea summit.
Interestingly, the entire island of Kahoʻolawe is part of the Honuaʻula moku (district) across the ocean on Maui. Kahoʻolawe is not its own ahupuaʻa; rather, it is divided into ʻili (smaller land units within ahupua‘a.)
Historically, a “cloud bridge” connected Kahoʻolawe with the slopes of Haleakalā. The Naulu winds brought the Naulu rains that are associated with Kahoʻolawe (a heavy mist and shower of fine rain that would cover the island.)
Heʻeia on the windward side of Oʻahu runs from the mountains to the sea, but also crosses over a portion of the water in Kāneʻohe Bay and includes a portion of a Mōkapu peninsula across the Bay.
The Waiʻanae ahupuaʻa also has an un-typical shape – it is sometimes referred to in two parts: Waiʻanae Kai, on its western side, runs from the ocean to the Waiʻanae Mountains (like a typical ahupuaʻa – this portion of Waiʻanae runs from the mountain to the sea.)
From there, however, the section referred to as Waiʻanae Uka continues across Oʻahu’s central plain and extends up into the Koʻolau Mountains – extending approximately 15-miles from the Waianae Mountains to the Koʻolau Mountains and ends up overlooking the windward coastline. (Each section is within the same ahupuaʻa.)
Waimānalo is another Oʻahu ahupuaʻa that is ‘anomalous’ to the ‘ridges to reefs’ characterization of the ‘typical’ ahupuaʻa.
Waimānalo extends from the ridge behind Keolu Hills, around Makapuʻu and ending at Kuliʻouʻou Ridge (Koʻolaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club;) it essentially wraps over the Koʻolau range from the windward coast to the leeward coast Oʻahu.
Waimānalo incorporates what was once the large fishpond of Maunalua, now known as Hawaiʻi Kai. Kamakau notes, “The ahupuaʻa of Waimānalo, including the fishpond at Maunalua and the travelling uhu of Makapuʻu, belonged to Mauimua (First-Maui.)” (Koʻolaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club)
The image shows a map of the Islands with some of the anomalies to the typical’ ahupuaʻa.