Pa o ʻUmi is the small point of land in Kailua Bay between Kamakahonu (King Kamehameha Hotel) and Huliheʻe Palace, near the middle of the Kailua Seawall in Kona on the Big Island.
It marks the location of the Royal Center of the ruler ʻUmi-a-Līloa (ʻUmi) (ca. AD 1490-1525) and where famed King ʻUmi landed when he first came to Kailua by canoe from his ancestral court at Waipiʻo.
On this point of rock, King ʻUmi ordered his attendant to dry his treasured feather cloak (ʻahuʻula) (so this promontory is sometimes referred to as Ka Lae o ʻAhuʻula.)
Over the years of widening Aliʻi Drive and adding on to the seawall, this point has been almost completely covered.
ʻUmi from Waipiʻo, son of Līloa, defeated Kona chief Ehunuikaimalino and united the island of Hawai‘i. He then moved his Royal Center from Waipi‘o to Kailua.
ʻUmi’s residence was near the place called Pa-o-ʻUmi.
At about the time of ʻUmi, a significant new form of agriculture was developed in Kona; he is credited with starting this in Kona.
Today, archaeologists call the unique method of farming in this area the “Kona Field System.”
This intensive agricultural activity changed farming and agricultural production on the western side of Hawai’i Island; the Kona field system was quite large, extending from Kailua to south of Honaunau.
In lower elevations all the way to the shore, informal clearings, mounds and terraces were used to plant sweet potatoes; and on the forest fringe above the walled fields there were clearings, mounds and terraces which were primarily planted in bananas.
In the lower reaches of the tillable land, at elevations about 500-feet to 1,000-feet above sea level, a grove of breadfruit half mile wide and 20 miles long grew.
Sweet potatoes grew among the breadfruit. Above the breadfruit grove, at elevations where the rainfall reached 60-70 inches or more, were fields of dry land taro.
The field system took up all the tillable land and cropping cycles were frequent. Agriculture supported the thriving and growing population of Kona.
The Kona Field System (identified as Site: 10-27-6601 and including multiple locations) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 28, 1977.
When it was nominated to the National Register, the Kona Field System was described as “the most monumental work of the ancient Hawaiians.”
The challenge of farming in Kona is to produce a flourishing agricultural economy in an area subject to frequent droughts, with no lakes or streams for irrigation.
The Kona Field System was planted in long, narrow fields that ran across the contours, along the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai.
As rainfall increases rapidly as you go up the side of Hualālai, the long fields allowed farmers to plant different crops according to the rainfall gradients.
This traditional farming system disappeared by the mid-19th century and now coffee farms cover much of the land that once comprised the Kona Field System (we now call this mauka region the “Coffee Belt.”)
The photo shows Pa o ‘Umi, taken in 1928 from the area of the Kailua Pier – Huliheʻe Palace and Mokuaikaua Church in background. The little girl sitting on the left is my mother; the woman sitting in the middle (wearing a hat) is my grandmother.
Pa O ‘Umi was included as a Point of Interest in the Royal Footsteps Along The Kona Coast Scenic Byway. We assisted Kailua Village BID in the preparation of its Corridor Management Plan. We are honored that the project was awarded the 2011 “Environment / Preservation” award from the American Planning Association – Hawaii Chapter; “Historic Preservation Commendation” from the Historic Hawaiʻi Foundation and the 2011 “Pualu Award for Culture & Heritage” from the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.