Ku ka moku i Kahiki; o Kahiki nui ka moku
i olelo ia ilaila i poohina ai ka makani.
The district that resembles Kahiki, is to Kahiki-nui, the district which is said to be made silvery by the winds (descriptive of the winds bearing salty sea-spray from the ocean.) (Ka Hoku o Hawaii, March 11, 1915; Maly)
Archaeologists and historians describe the inhabiting of these islands in the context of settlement which resulted from voyages taken in canoes, across the open ocean. Some believe the first Polynesians to arrive at Hawaii came ashore at Kahikinui.
They have proposed that early Polynesian settlement happened with voyages between Kahiki (Tahiti – the ancestral homelands of the Hawaiian gods and people) and Hawai‘i, with long distance voyages occurring fairly regularly through at least the thirteenth century.
It has been generally reported that the land-sources of the early Hawaiian population – the Hawaiian “Kahiki” – were the Marquesas and Society Islands. The moku (district) of Kahikinui is named because from afar on the ocean, it resembles a larger form of Kahiki, the ancestral homeland. (Maly)
Some suggest place names illustrate the historical ties between Kahikinui (Great Tahiti) and the islands of Tahiti. Some believed there were navigational ties between the two places and that they had ancestral ties to Tahiti.
Other place names in Kahikinui include: Manawainui (The big water/river) for a big gulch where a lot of water is generated there during heavy rain; Kanaloa for a place where Kanaloa may have landed: Manamana which refers to spiritual powers: and Mahamenui which refers to Mahame trees, a hard wood, and probably prolific through the area at one time.
Some believe that along Kahikinui were given names that referred to Hawaiʻiloa, an ancient navigator. These included fishing koʻa, and astronomical and navigational sites on the mountain. (Matsuoka)
There are eight named subdivisions within Kahikinui (ahupuaʻa and/or ʻili;) from west to east, these named land units are: Auwahi, Lualaʻilua, Alena, Kāpapa, Nakaohu, Nakaaha, Mahamenui, and Manawainui. Most maps indicate that the eastern boundary of Kahikinui was Wai‘ōpai Gulch. (Pacific Legacy) However, today, most of these get joined together into a single reference to Kahikinui.
The first written description of the region was made by La Pérouse in 1786 while sailing along the southeast coast of Maui in search of a place to drop anchor:
“I coasted along its shore at a distance of a league (three miles) …. The aspect of the island of Mowee was delightful (Hāna to Kaupō.) We beheld water falling in cascades from the mountains, and running in streams to the sea, after having watered the habitations of the natives, which are so numerous that a space of three or four leagues (9 – 12 miles) may be taken for a single village.” (La Pérouse, 1786; Bushnell)
“… the sea beat upon the coast with the utmost violence, and kept us in the situation of Tantalus, desiring and devouring with our eyes what it was impossible for us to attain … After passing Kaupō no more waterfalls are seen, and villages are fewer.” (La Pérouse, 1786; Bushnell)
Then, as they passed Kahikinui, “We saw no more waterfalls, the trees were fairly sparsely planted along the plain, and the villages, consisting only of 10 or 12 huts, were quite distant from each other.”
“Every moment made us regret the country which we were leaving behind, and we only found shelter when we were faced with a frightful shore, where the lava had once run down as waterfalls do today in the other part of the island.” (La Pérouse, 1786; Kirch)
Handy observed that, “In … Kahikinui, the forest zone was much lower and rain more abundant before the introduction of cattle. The usual forest zone plants were cultivated in the lower upland above the inhabited area.”
Kahikinui was arid along the coast but well-forested above the cloud line. Fishing was good along its rugged shores. Hawaiians lived in isolated communities on the broken lava, scattered from one end of the district to the other close to the sea or slightly
inland, wherever potable water was found in a brackish well or a submarine spring offshore.
The Hawaiians of Kahikinui developed garden holes also, but their primary cultivation area was upland, just below the forest zone and where the rainfall was plentiful. There, they developed upland plots or dry taro and other edible plants. (Handy; Matsuoka)
“From…Kahikinui … the sweet potato was the staple food for a considerable population, supplemented with dry taro grown in the low forest zones. This is the greatest continuous dry planting area in the Hawaiian islands.” (Handy; Maly)
“The district was populated largely by makaʻāinana, common folk, who were derided by officials of the nineteenth-century Hawaiian Kingdom as ‘ili ulaula, “red skins,” a reference to their sunburned bodies, reflecting long hours of toil in the sweet potato patches.” (Kirch)
The ocean off Kahikinui is a wealth of marine resources that remain available for education, traditional practices, subsistence lifestyles and recreation. As its name implies Kahikinui means big Tahiti and points to ancestral directions and paths to ancestral places over the ocean. It is an important wayfinding place for places beyond the island chain. (DHHL)
“The fishermen along the coasts of Kahikinui and Honua’ula used to exchange their fish for sweet potatoes and taro grown by those living up on the kula; Hawaiian tradition gives ample evidence that the population of this now almost depopulated country was considerable…” (Handy; Maly)
As time went on, due to climate change, ranching, goats and other animals had caused the dry-land forest to recede far in-land. The Southside on Maui has now turned to mostly dust, cinder, invasive trees, cattle and a population of about less than a hundred people. Only 5% of the dry-land forest is left in the state, which can be found only on Maui and the Big Island. (KUPU)
Kahikinui is “most remote and undeveloped region;” it constituted an entire moku, an ancient political district, which had never suffered from the effects of Westernized ‘development’ … lacking in freshwater or rich soils, Kahikinui was spared the effects of sugarcane or pineapple plantations”. (Kirch)
Kahikinui is 7 miles long and 6 miles wide and ranges in elevation from sea level to 10,000-feet. Its slope at the 3,000-foot level in the forest reserve was greater than 20%, and between 10% to 20% closer to the shoreline. The land section contains several Puʻu (cinder cones.) (Matsuoka)
In 2012, the Auwahi Wind project (in the westernmost ahupua‘a of Kahikinui) installed an 8-turbine, 21-MW wind farm, with battery storage.