Before the first Europeans arrived, there was no concept of individual land ownership in Hawai’i. Early Hawaiians adhered instead to an efficient and sustainable land management system called Ahupua’a—wedge-shaped land sections that usually ran from the mountains to the sea. Each was carefully designed to provide within its borders the natural resources a community required to meet its own needs.
When the first Europeans arrived, the Hawaiian Kings and Chiefs, having no concept of permanent land ownership, gifted much of the land, and the waters around it, to the care of these visitors, in gratitude for services and knowledge—especially in medicine.
Even so, between 1780 and the 1840s, land stewardship in Hawaii changed forever. The Great Mahele of 1848 formalized how Hawaiian lands were to be owned and used. This event, brought about by the Hawaiian kings under the guidance of newcomers, profoundly impacted Hawaiians back then, and impacts land ownership in Hawaii still.
Today, however, Hawai’i is returning more and more to the ancestral uses—and names—of the land and the waters around it. A few of the ahupua’a systems remain much as they were in ancient times, and many others are being restored to their former purposes through the efforts of dedicated individuals, community groups, and local and state governments.
This means that more than ever, successful navigation of Hawaii’s ever-changing real estate landscape must be conducted with the knowledge of long-held customs and beliefs; it requires a deep respect for local ways—and how they impact modern land use laws and regulations.
The Island of Kaua’i recognizes five great land divisions, or Moku. These Moku are named Ko’olau, Puna, Kona, NaPali, Ni’ihau and Halele’a.
On the North Shore, is the Halele’a moku, which stretches from the top of Waiʻaleʻale through the steep canyon following the Hanale’i River to the ocean, and includes what is known today as Princeville, Wa’inini, and about a quarter of the Hanale’i Beach.
The North Shore’s largest ahupua’a is the Hanale’i ahupua’a—always considered to be one of the most beautiful places on the Hawaiian Islands—and possibly the entire Pacific Island region.
Each Ahupua’a is further divided into individual plots of land, or kuleana, which loosely means “responsibility”: We have a kuleana to care for and respect our land. In return, the land has the kuleana to feed, shelter, and clothe us. It is through this relationship that we maintain balance within society and with our natural environment.*