Ahupuaʻa are land divisions that 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.
A typical ahupuaʻa (what we generally refer to as watersheds, today) was a long strip of land, narrow at its mountain summit top and 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.
Ahupuaʻa contained nearly all the resources Hawaiians required for survival. Fresh water resources were managed carefully for drinking, bathing and irrigation.
Mauka lands provided food, clothing, household goods, canoes, weapons and countless other useful products. Within the coastal area and valleys, taro was cultivated in lo‘i; sweet potato, coconut, sugar cane and other food sources thrived in these areas. The shore and reefs provided fish, shellfish and seaweed.
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.
Some ahupuaʻa were further subdivided into units (still part of the ahupuaʻa) called ʻili. Some of the smallest ahupuaʻa were not subdivided at all, while the larger ones sometimes contained as many as thirty or forty ʻili, each named with its own individual title and carefully marked out as to boundary.
Occasionally, the ahupuaʻa was divided into ʻili lele or “jumping strips”. The ʻili lele often consisted of several distinct pieces of land at different climatic zones that gave the benefit of the ahupuaʻa land use to the ʻili owner: the shore, open kula lands, wetland kalo land and forested sections.
The gift of land to Hiram Bingham, that later became Punahou School, had additional land beyond the large lot with the spring and kalo patches where the school is situated (Ka Punahou) as part of the initial gift – the land was an ʻili lele.
Punahou included a lot on the beach near the Kakaʻako Salt Works (‘Ili of Kukuluāeʻo;) the large lot with the spring and kalo patches where is school is situated (Kapunahou) and also a forest patch on the steep sides of Manoa Valley (ʻIli of Kolowalu, now known commonly referred to as Woodlawn.) (Congressional Record, 1893-94)
‘Ili of Kukuluāeʻo is an ‘ili lele (before the reclamation of the reefs, it was on the mauka side of the beach trail (now Ala Moana Boulevard) on the Diamond Head side of the Kakaʻako peninsula). Included with this were the fishing rights over the reef fronting the property.
In addition to this makai, coastal property, there was an associated larger lot with a spring and kalo land, and another piece of forest land on the slopes of Mānoa Valley.
In 1829, the land was given to Hiram Bingham – who subsequently gave it to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) – to establish Punahou School.
The ‘Ili of Kukuluāeʻo was bounded on Honolulu side by “Honolulu;” the mauka by “Kewalo;” and “Koula;” the Waikīkī side by “Kālia” and extended seaward out to where the surf breaks (essentially the edge of the reef.) It included fishing grounds, coral flats and salt beds.
The land was owned by the King (Kauikeaouli – King Kamehameha III) and was originally awarded to the King as LCA 387, but he returned it to the government.
It’s not clear how/when the makai land “detached” from the other Punahou School pieces, but it did and was given to the ABCFM (for the pastor of Kawaiaha‘o Church.)
Testimony related to the land noted: “The above land was given by Boki to Mr. Bingham, then a member of the above named Mission and the grant was afterwards confirmed by Kaahumanu.“
“This land was given to Mr. Bingham for the Sandwich Island Mission by Gov. Boki in 1829… From that time to these the S. I. Mission have been the only Possessors and Konohikis of the Land.”
“The name of the Makai part is Kukuluāeʻo. There are several tenants on the land of Punahou whose rights should be respected.”
Interestingly, there are two other ʻili lele, with ʻIli Lele of Kukuluāeʻo, that make up what is now known as Kakaʻako, ‘Ili Lele of Ka‘ākaukukui and ʻIli Lele of Kewalo.
‘Ili Lele of Ka‘ākaukukui was awarded to Victoria Kamāmalu, sister of Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V. This was on the Honolulu side of Kakaʻako and the associated fishing area included in this ʻili makes up most of what is now known as Kakaʻako Makai (the Kakaʻako peninsula.)
Kaʻākaukukui held Fisherman’s Point and the present harbor of Honolulu; then kalo land near the present Kukui street, and a large tract of forest at the head of Pauoa Valley.
ʻIli Lele of Kewalo was awarded to Kamakeʻe Piʻikoi, wife of Jonah Piʻikoi (grandparents of Prince Kūhiō;) the award was shared between husband and wife. The lower land section extended from Kawaiahaʻo Church to Sheridan Street down to the shoreline.
The ʻIli Lele of Kewalo had a lower coastal area adjoining Waikīkī and below the Plain (Kulaokahu‘a) (270+ acres,) a portion makai of Pūowaina (Punchbowl) (50-acres, about one-half of Pūowaina,) a portion in Nuʻuanu (about 8-acres) and kalo loʻi in Pauoa Valley (about 1-acre.)
The image shows the three portions of the ʻili lele initially given to Hiram Bingham; the buff outline notes the present boundaries of the school and the blue background notes the three properties included in the initial gift. This helps to illustrate the nature and benefits of ʻili lele – makai resource land, kalo land with water source and mauka forest land.