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“Ke‘anae lies just beyond Honomanu Valley (Maui). This is a unique wet-taro growing ahupua‘a… It was here that the early inhabitants settled, planting upland rain-watered taro far up into the forested area. In the lower part of the valley, which is covered mostly by grass now, an area of irrigated taro was developed on the east side.”

Settlement in the watered valleys along the Koʻolau coast consisted primarily of permanent residences near the shore and spread along the valley floors. Residences also extended inland on flat lands and plateaus, with temporary shelters in the upper valleys.

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Ancient Agricultural Production Intensification

According the research and reporting by noted archaeologists, there were three main technological advances resulting in food production intensification in pre-contact Hawai‘i: (a) walled fishponds, (b) terraced pondfields with their irrigation systems and (c) systematic dry-land field cultivation organized by vegetation zones.

The general term for a fishpond is loko (pond), or more specifically, loko iʻa (fishpond). Loko iʻa were used for the fattening and storing of fish for food and also as a source for kapu (forbidden) fish. Terraced pondfields (lo‘i) and their accompanying irrigation systems (‘auwai) intensified cultivation of wetland taro (kalo.). Systematic cultivation of dryland crops in their appropriate vegetation zones was exemplified by the Field Systems in Kona, Kohala, Kaupō and Kalaupapa.

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Wailau (“many waters” – the largest along the coast) is on Molokai’s North Shore. The sea cliffs that surround Wailau on the island’s north shore were formed by the ‘Wailau Slide,’ in which a portion of the volcano collapsed into the ocean, leaving a swath of debris strewn across the ocean floor. Four major valleys span the coastline, from Hālawa (at the east end of the island of Molokai) westward toward Kalaupapa: from east to west they are Pāpalaua, Wailau, Pelekunu and Waikolu.

This area is accessible by boat and trails into the valleys; there are no roads through North Shore Molokai. Wailau is made up of a smaller broad valley on the east and a deeper valley on the west, with two major streams flowing down through them – Kahawai‘iki Stream and Wailau Stream. Wailau was a major area of taro production from the pre-contact era until the 1930s, when the valley was abandoned due to a combination of factors, including flooding and unfavorable economic conditions.

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Luluku Agricultural Terraces

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.

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. 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. 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. In modern times, uplands were planted in bananas and papaya; lowlands were planted with rice and taro.

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Farming in the Time of Kamehameha

“The flat land along shore is highly cultivated; taro root, yams, and sweet potatoes, are the most common crops; but taro forms the chief object of their husbandry, being the principal article of food amongst every class of inhabitants. The mode of culture is extremely laborious, as it is necessary to have the whole field laid under water; it is raised in small patches, which are seldom above a hundred yards square these are surrounded by embankments, generally about six feet high, the sides of which are planted with sugar-canes, with a walk at top the fields are intersected by drains or aqueducts, constructed with great labour and ingenuity, for the purpose of supplying the water necessary to cover them.”

“The plants are propagated by planting a small cutting from the upper part of the root with the leaves adhering. The water is then let in, and covers the surface to, the depth of twelve or eighteen inches in about nine months they are ready for taking up; each plant sends forth a number of shoots, or suckers, all around. This mode of culture is particularly laborious, and in all the operations those engaged are almost constantly up to the middle in the mud. Notwithstanding this, I have often seen the king working hard in taro patch. I know not whether this was done with a view of setting an example of industry to his subjects. … The potato and yam grounds are neatly inclosed by stone walls, about eighteen inches high.” (Archibald Campbell)

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