At about the same time of Christopher Columbus crossing the Atlantic to America (he was looking for an alternate trade route to the East Indies,) exciting stuff was happening here in the Hawaiian Islands.
The political governance and land management system by Aliʻi-ai-moku, was expanding and developing after two centuries since its inception, and there was a wake of progress taking place on our shores.
It was a natural progression, which began with three brothers as the first Aliʻi-ai-moku in the 12th century; Kumuhonua on Oʻahu, Olopana on Hawaiʻi, and Moikeha on Kauaʻi, as grandsons of Maweke. (Yardley)
When they arrived from Tahiti with their new system, their first cousins were already serving as High Chiefs – “Laakona, High Chief of Ewa; Nuakea, Queen Consort of Molokaʻi; Moi, kaula (prophet) of Molokaʻi; and Hinakaimauliawa, High Chiefess of Koolau.” (Beckwith, Yardley)
Then, in the time of Columbus, the new Aliʻi-ai-moku were: Māʻilikūkahi on Oʻahu, Piʻilani on Maui, ʻUmi-a-Līloa on Hawaiʻi and Kukona on Kauaʻi.
Māʻilikūkahi - Oʻahu
Māʻilikūkahi is honored as the first great king of O‘ahu and legends tell of his wise, firm, judicious government. He was born ali‘i kapu at the birthing stones of Kūkaniloko; Kūkaniloko was one of two places in Hawai‘i specifically designated for the birth of high ranking children, the other site was Holoholokū at Wailua on Kauaʻi.
Soon after becoming aliʻi, Māʻilikūkahi moved to Waikīkī. He was probably one of the first chiefs to live there. Up until this time Oʻahu chiefs had typically lived at Waialua and ‘Ewa. From that point on, with few exceptions, Waikīkī remained the Royal Center of Oʻahu aliʻi, until Kamehameha I moved the seat to Honolulu.
Māʻilikūkahi is noted for clearly marking and reorganizing land division palena (boundaries) on O‘ahu. Defined palena brought greater productivity to the lands; lessened conflict and was a means of settling disputes of future aliʻi who would be in control of the bounded lands; protected the commoners from the chiefs; and brought (for the most part) peace and prosperity.
Fornander writes, "He caused the island to be thoroughly surveyed, and boundaries between differing divisions and lands be definitely and permanently marked out, thus obviating future disputes between neighboring chiefs and landholders."
Kamakau tells a similar story, "When the kingdom passed to Māʻilikūkahi, the land divisions were in a state of confusion; the ahupuaʻa, the ku, the ʻili ʻaina, the moʻo ʻaina, the pauku ʻaina, and the kihapai were not clearly defined.”
“Therefore, Māʻilikūkahi ordered the chiefs, aliʻi, the lesser chiefs, kaukau aliʻi, the warrior chiefs, puʻali aliʻi, and the overseers (luna) to divide all of Oʻahu into moku, ahupuaʻa, ʻili kupono, ʻili ʻaina, and moʻo ʻaina."
What is commonly referred to as the “ahupuaʻa system” is a result of the firm establishment of palena (boundaries.) This system of land divisions and boundaries enabled a konohiki (land/resource manager) to know the limits and productivity of the resources that they managed.
Piʻilani - Maui
According to oral tradition, Piʻilani unified the entire island of Maui, bringing together under one rule the formerly-competing eastern (Hāna) and western (Wailuku) multi-district kingdoms of the Island. In the 1500s, Chief Piʻilani (“stairway to heaven”) unified West Maui and ruled in peace and prosperity. His territory included the six West Maui bays, a place he frequented.
Piʻilani's prosperity was exemplified by a boom in agriculture and construction of heiau, fishponds, trails and irrigation systems. Famed for his energy and intelligence, Piʻilani constructed the West Maui phase of the noted Alaloa, or long trail (also known as the King’s Highway.)
His son, Kihapiʻilani laid the East Maui section and connected the island. This trail was the only ancient pathway to encircle any Hawaiian island (not only along the coast, but also up the Kaupō Gap and through the summit area and crater of Haleakalā.)
Four to six feet wide and 138-miles long, this rock-paved path facilitated both peace and war. It simplified local and regional travel and communication, and allowed the chief’s messengers to quickly get from one part of the island to another. The trail was used for the annual harvest festival of Makahiki and to collect taxes, promote production, enforce order and move armies.
Missionaries Richards, Andrews and Green noted in 1828, “a pavement said to have been built by Kihapiʻilani, a king … afforded us no inconsiderable assistance in traveling as we ascended and descended a great number of steep and difficult paries (pali.)” (Missionary Herald)
Piʻilanihale Heiau in Hāna, Maui is Hawaiʻi’s largest heiau that is still intact. Standing over 40-feet high, the stone platform is 289-feet by 565.5-feet; Piʻilanihale Heiau is a stepped lava rock platform the size of nearly two football fields.
This wall contains the most unusual feature of the Heiau, the immense retaining wall that fills a gully between the two ridges comprising the Heiau foundation. According to Cordy, this wall is unique in Hawaii: “it is built of superbly fitted stones ..... and has four [terraced] steps up its face.”
In addition to serving as a heiau, some archaeologists believe this structure may also be the residential compound of a high chief, perhaps that of King Piʻilani. The royal compound probably would have included the king's personal temple. The literal translation of Piʻilanihale is "house (hale) [of] Piʻilani."
ʻUmi - Hawaiʻi Island
ʻUmi-a-Līloa (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 Kona.
At about the time of ʻUmi, a significant new form of agriculture was developed in Kona; he is credited with starting it. Today, archaeologists call the unique method of farming in this area the “Kona Field System.”
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.
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.
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 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 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.
Kukona - Kauaʻi
Kukona (7th aliʻi ʻaimoku of Kauaʻi,) whose name in Hawaiʻi became a symbol of the very highest ideals of chivalry in battle, was born in Kōloa and fought his defining battle at Poʻipū. He was born and led during the 1400s.
During the 15th century, an ambitious chief of Hawaiʻi who had already conquered three other islands, tried to seize Kauaʻi. He was accompanied into battle by the combined armies and chiefs of Maui, Molokaʻi and Oʻahu. The war is known as the War of Ka‐welewele. The much smaller forces defending Kauaʻi, led by Kukona and his son Manokalanipo, soundly defeated the invaders after leading them inland and then surrounding them at the shore.
Kukona captured all four chiefs of Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, Maui and Molokaʻi. He had the opportunity to kill them all and assume leadership over the islands. However, he preferred peace and allowed them to return safely home with a promise that they never again make war on Kauaʻi.
As noted by Fornander: “The war with the Hawaii chief, and the terrible defeat and capture of the latter, as well as Kukona's generous conduct towards the four chiefs who fell into his hands after the battle, brought Kauai back into the family circle of the other islands, and with an eclat and superiority which it maintained to the last of its independence.”
This peace lasted for four hundred years; the peace was called ka lai loa ia Kamaluohua (The Long Peace of Kamaluohua – named for the captured Maui chief who, while Kukona was sleeping, stated to the others, “Let us do no hurt to Kukona, because he has been kind to us. Here we are in his hands, but he has not put us to death. Let us then treat him kindly.” (Malo))
Peace lasted until Kamehameha I made his conquest attempts at the turn of the nineteenth century. In an effort to avoid bloodshed, in 1810, Kauaʻi King Kaumualiʻi negotiated a peaceful settlement of his unconquered kingdom to King Kamehameha I of Hawaiʻi.
Today, people of Kauaʻi proudly proclaim that their island was never conquered over the centuries, even when larger armies attempted to do so. Few of this world's monarchs can boast of so deep a concern for the welfare of their people as those demonstrated on Kauaʻi.
Several monumental actions were taking place in Hawaiʻi with a new form of land description, major infrastructure, an adaptive form of agriculture, and peaceful, chivalrous governance. At about the same time, Europeans made their ‘discovery’ of the American continents.
The image shows a map of the Islands from Lahainaluna Engravings (1837.)
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