In discussing ancient land divisions, we typically hear of Mokupuni (island,) Moku (district,) Ahupuaʻa (generally watershed units) and ʻIli (strips of land.) Kalana and ʻOkana are often less-heard-of land divisions.
“In very ancient times, the lands were not divided and an island was left without divisions such as kalana, ʻokana, ahupuaʻa, and ʻili, but in the time when the lands became filled with people, the lands were divided, with the proper names for this place and that place so that they could be known.” (Kamakau)
Each of the larger divisions of this group, like Hawaiʻi, Maui and the others, is called a mokupuni (moku, cut off, and puni, surrounded.)
Six districts on the islands of O‘ahu and Hawai‘i, and the system of developing smaller manageable units of land became formalized by the early 1600s, in the reigns of ʻUmi-a-Līloa and Māʻilikūkahi. (Maly)
“The island (moku that is surrounded by water) is the main division, like, Hawai’i, Maui and the rest of the island chain. (Islands) were divided up into sections inside of the island, called moku o loko, like such places as Kona on Hawai’i island, and Hana on Mäui island, and such divisions on these islands.” (Malo)
Over the centuries, as the ancient Hawaiian population grew, land use and resource management also evolved. The moku puni or islands were subdivided into land units of varying sizes.
Each island was divided into several Moku ʻĀina (moku-o-loko (district – literally: interior island)) (Moku) or Districts. The Moku and Kalana (similar to the Moku) were divided into ʻokana (divisions within a Moku or Kalana) and Ahupuaʻa.
There sections were further divided into subdivision called ʻokana, or kalana. On the intermediate level, some kalana/moku were subdivided into ʻokana, some ʻokana were apparently independent of any moku/kalana, and moku and kalana were not always synonymous but appear in some cases to have been units nested within each other. (Beamer)
“(A) poko is a subdivision of a ʻokana. These sections were further divided into smaller divisions called Ahupua’a, and sections smaller than an Ahupua’a were called ‘ili ‘āina.” (Malo)
There is a district called Kona on the lee side, and one called Koʻolau on the windward side of almost every island. On Maui there are some sub-districts called ʻokana, of which there are five in the Hana district, while Lahaina is termed a Kalana. (Alexander)
Despite the diversity and complexity of the system, it appears that the ahupua’a became the most important division in the resource administration of the Hawaiian Kingdom, both as a unit and as a reference for the location of smaller properties. (Beamer)
Ahupuaʻa are subdivisions of land that were usually marked by an altar with an image or representation of a pig placed upon it (thus the name ahu-puaʻa or pig altar.)
In their configuration, the ahupua‘a may be compared to wedge-shaped pieces of land that radiate out from the center of the island, extending to the ocean fisheries fronting the land unit.
Their boundaries are generally defined by topography and geological features such as pu‘u (hills), ridges, gullies, valleys, craters, or areas of a particular vegetation growth.
The ahupua‘a, like the larger districts they belonged to, were also divided into smaller manageable parcels. Among the smaller land units that were identified by the ancient Hawaiians were the: ‘ili lele and ‘ili kupono. (Maly)
A peculiarity of the ‘Ili, on Oʻahu at least, is that it often consists of several distinct sections of land in different parts of the Ahupua’a, which are called lele, i.e. ‘jumps.’
Thus many lands in Waikiki have their corresponding patches of taro land and forest in Waikiki and Manoa valleys. The taro lands of Wailupe are found in Palolo valley. In Kalihi, and also in the district of ʻEwa, are ʻili which consist of eight or ten scattered lele apiece, included under one title. (Alexander)
ʻIli were detached parcels with resources in various environmental zones; kihāpai, both lo‘i (pond fields) and dry gardens; māla, dryland agricultural systems; and kōʻele, agricultural parcels worked by commoners for the chiefs.
These smaller parcels were inhabited and managed by the makaʻāinana (people of the land) and their extended families. In each ahupua‘a—from mountain slopes to the ocean—the common people were generally allowed access to all of the various natural resources within a given ahupua‘a. (Maly)
Land Divisions include, generally:
• Mokupuni – The island groups (such as our current county system)
• Moku – The major districts of each individual island
• Kalana – The significant divisions within each Moku
• ʻOkana – Division of the Moku or Kalana
• Ahupua‘a – Individual watershed regions within each Kalana
• ʻIli – functional subdivisions of an Ahupua‘a