At one time, Hawai‘i had more than 400 fishponds throughout the islands; chiefs were considered wealthy if they had fishponds within their ahupua‘a (land divisions.) The greater the number of fishponds, the wealthier the chief was considered to be.
The Hawaiian walled fishpond stands as a technological achievement unmatched elsewhere in island Oceania. Hawaiians built rock-walled enclosures in near shore waters to raise fish for their communities and families. It is believed these were first built around the fifteenth century.
Only in Hawaiʻi was there such an intensive effort to utilize practically every body of water, from seashore to upland forests, as a source of food, for either agriculture or aquaculture.
The ancient Hawaiian fishpond is a sophisticated land and ocean resource management technique. Utilizing raw materials such as rocks, corals, vines and woods, the Hawaiians created great walls (kuapā) and gates (mākāhā) for these fishponds.
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.
Samuel M. Kamakau points out that “one can see that they were built as government projects by chiefs, for it was a very big task to build one, (and) commoners could not have done it (singly, or without co-ordination.)” Chiefs had the power to command a labor force large enough to transport the tons of rock required and to construct such great walls. (Kelly)
The ahupua‘a of Ka‘ono‘ulu is one of six major Kula land divisions which extend from the ocean to the upper reaches of Haleakala. Ka‘ono‘ulu is situated near the center of the Kula District, with Pulehunui and Waiakoa to the north, and Waiohuli, Keokea and Kama‘ole to the south.
The presence of fringing reefs along the shoreline of the Kihei area was one factor which permitted the construction of three, and possibly four, fishponds along the shoreline of the Kula District (Kula Kai,) Maui.
In building the sea walls men were stationed in long lines, passing stones by hand from the rocky sidehills miles away to the workmen laying the courses for the walls in the sea.
The trampings of so many people raised much dust, and workmen throwing dust at one another prompted the Konohiki to call them derisively, ‘Kanaka o Kalepolepo eku i ka lepo’ or ‘Men of Kalepolepo root in the dirt.’ (Wilcox)
The name Kalepolepo was used to refer to the general coastal area where three ponds were located. (Kalepolepo Park is on South Kihei Road between the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and the Menehune Shores condominium.)
Ko‘ie‘ie Loko I‘a (fishpond) (also called Kalepolepo Fishpond) is the smallest and northernmost of three documented ponds that were present in Kula Kai. Immediately south of Ko‘ie‘ie is Waiohuli Kai Pond, and Keokea Kai is south of that.
The presence of these fishponds would have significantly increased the economic potential of the coastal Kula area, which received relatively little rainfall (average of 12 inches annually.) In general, the Kihei area was not particularly well suited for intensive traditional agricultural.
It was, however, well suited for aquaculture, and with proper maintenance, the fishponds would have provided quantities of fish species such as ‘ama‘ama (mullet) and awa (milkfish;)
Like many other Hawaiian fishponds first use of Ko‘ie‘ie is associated in oral tradition with the menehune, a mythical race of people who were the first occupants of the Hawaiian Islands.
Restoration work on the pond was conducted under the direction of three prominent chiefs who were overlords of either all Maui lands or all Hawai’i Island lands (ʻUmialīloa, Kekaulike, Kamehameha and Hoapili.)
Another important historic figure, who saw first-hand the contrasts between tradition and westernization, is associated with Kalepolepo. David Malo, who was among the first generation of Christian ministers, lived there as overseer of the pond and as the religious guardian of the place and its people.
Malo expended considerable energy in improving the local community. He was an industrious individual who quickly learned western technology and put it to practical applications.
He planted cotton and had it spun and woven, and used to make his own clothing. He planted sugar cane and manufactured an excellent quality of Molasses
Malo was either living at Kalepolepo, or frequently visiting from Keokea during a ten year period (1843-1853.) He built Kilolani Church, completed in 1852. Malo died in 1853 and his body was returned to Lahainaluna for burial.
Associated sites adjacent to the pond included western trading interests at Kalepolepo between c. 1850 and 1860 of John Halstead and other American traders that settled there.
These focused on the whaling and maritime trading industries, and co-existed with the continued traditional activities that focused on fishing and maintaining the ponds.
Halstead built a large Pennsylvania Dutch style house entirely of koa next to the south wall of the pond, and opened a trading station on the lower floor. Whalers came ashore to buy fresh produce that was brought in by the farmers via the Kalepolepo Road.
Kula produce was also shipped out by Halstead to California during the gold rush era. During this period, Hobron’s interisland schooner, Maria, made regular stops (c. every 10 days) at Kalepolepo, on its route between Honolulu, Lahaina, Makee’s Landing (Makena) and Kawaihae.
This area was visited by Kamehameha III, IV and V between 1850 and 1870. Halstead’s house served as the social center during these visits. He moved upcountry to ʻUlupalakua in 1876 and died there in 1887. The koa house remained standing until it was burned down in 1946 by the Kihei Yacht Club.
The beach area at the northern end of the pond wall is now owned by the County of Maui, along with a small parcel fronting the central portion of the pond.
The County Park is the principal access area to the pond, although people may easily walk in along the shoreline from either side. The site is a popular fishing area, particularly for net throwing and catching small fry bait fish. The shallow, calm waters of the pond are used for swimming.
While I was at DLNR I was fortunate to have visited the Ko‘ie‘ie Loko I‘a during restoration efforts – Kimokeo Kapahulehua gave me an ‘Ao‘ao O Nā Loko I‘a O Maui t-shirt that I regularly wear. (It has a notation: Revitalizing a Wall, Revitalizing a Culture)
Follow Peter T Young on Facebook
Follow Peter T Young on Google+
Follow Peter T Young on LinkedIn
Follow Peter T Young on Blogger