Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Makawao (literally ‘forest beginning’) is an ahupuaʻa in Hāmākuapoko, Maui.  It’s an area with both wet and dry forests.

Growing here were koa, sandalwood and ʻōhiʻa lehua; maile and ferns thrived in these forests.  In the drier regions of Makawao, sweet potato was cultivated extensively, as it was in Kula.

The landscape began its transformation following the gift of (and subsequent kapu on killing) cattle and sheep from Vancouver to Kamehameha in 1793.

The cattle numbers increased, in places to the point of becoming a dangerous nuisance.  Roaming wild cattle destroyed gardens, scared the population and were a general nuisance.

Then, on June 21, 1803, Captain William Shaler (with commercial officer Richard Cleveland,) gave Kamehameha a mare and a stallion at Lāhainā.   Soon the horses, like the cattle, were roaming freely across the Islands.

Kamehameha I employed “a varied crew with unsavory reputations who had immigrated to the islands to escape their pasts” as bullock hunters to capture the animals.  (DLNR)  The earliest Hawaiian bullock hunters hunted alone, on foot, and used guns and pit traps.  (Mills)

Most histories credit Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) with the idea of hiring vaqueros to manage the cattle.   Joaquin Armas arrived in Hawai‘i on April 4, 1831 and stayed in Hawai‘i at the bequest of the King.

Armas had grown up in Monterey, where undoubtedly he learned how to rope cattle and process hides.  He and others began working for the Hawaiian monarchy and teaching the Hawaiians their techniques.  (Mills)

Hawaii's cowboys became known as paniolo, a corruption of español, the language the vaquero spoke. The term still refers to cowboys working in the Islands and to the culture their lifestyle spawned.

Missionary Hiram Bingham noted, “several striking exhibitions of seizing wild cattle, chasing them on horseback, and throwing the lasso over their horns, with great certainty, capturing, prostrating, and subduing or killing these mountain-fed animals, struggling in vain for liberty and life.”

By the 1800s, agriculture in the region had transitioned from a subsistence activity to a commercial one.  A market was developed to supply whalers who stopped to replenish their supplies; Upcountry Maui provided vegetables, meat and fruit.

In the early days only sweet potatoes had been obtainable at the Islands, but after 1830, if not sooner, cultivation of the Irish potato was taken up and during the 1840s and 1850s became of great importance.

It was shortly before 1840 that Irish potatoes were first grown in Upcountry, which proved to be so well adapted to them that it soon came to be called the ‘potato district.’ (Kuykendall)

“I had here the first glimpse at the extensive Irish potatoe region. It ranges along the mountain between 2,000 and 5,000 feet elevation, for the distance of 12-miles. The forest is but partially cleared, and the seed put into the rich virgin soil.  The crop now in the ground is immense.”  (Polynesian, July 25, 1846)

Despite claims that “the soil in this area of Maui grows rocks” due to the many areas of exposed bedrock and scattered boulders and gravels in the surrounding fields, crop production expanded exponentially in the first half of the nineteenth century with sweet potato, potatoes, corn, beans and wheat.  (DLNR)

In addition to the changing landscape, there were changes in land tenure.

Kameʻeleihiwa stated that Makawao District was the first area in Hawai‘i to experiment with land sales. In January 1846, land was made available for eventual ownership to the makaʻāinana (commoners.)

Makawao land was reportedly sold for $1-per acre; this would mark the beginning of land grants. Experimental lots purchased by Hawaiians ranged from 5 to 10-acres, with a total land area of approximately 900-acres of grant lands purchased in Makawao.  (DLNR)

Today, Makawao continues the Paniolo tradition and proudly proclaims its community as Paniolo Country.

The community participates in an annual Independence Day rodeo and parade (2015 will be its 50th annual parade and 60th annual rodeo celebrations.)  Likewise, there are regular ‘Makawao Third Fridays on Baldwin Avenue, closed between Brewer Road and Makawao Avenue.

The image shows a street scene in Makawao.  In addition, I have included more related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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