Ahupua'a : Changes
Hawaiian settlers changed their new island home to suit their needs: the kula (lowland mesic forest) was cleared for agriculture, valley slopes were terraced, the muliwai (estuary) was used for fishponds, the wao akua ( wet forest) provided building materials, firewood, and medicinal plants; and birds were hunted for food and feathers.(Kirch) In this section we examine the impact of the first humans on the native ecosystems.
relies extensively on Feathered Gods and Fishhooks, by archaeologist Patrick V. Kirch. In addition, the paintings of Herb Kane give life to Polynesian voyaging and arrival throughout the Ahupua'a section.
Petroglyph sail photo by David Boynton
Hawaiian native plants and animals developed over many millions of years with no defense against large ground predators like man, or his domestic plants and animals. The first canoe carried perhaps up to thirty types of crop plants, and pigs, dogs, and chickens. Also on board were stowaways like the Polynesian rat, geckos, landsnails, and weeds. (Kirch)
Readying the Canoe painting by Herb Kane

A major change was habitat alteration for agriculture. As the population grew, more and more of the lowland mesic forest was cleared and used to grow food. Other areas were burned to encourage the growth of pili grass, used for covering their houses. The wao akua was less affected, yet it was logged for woods like koa and 'ohi'a.
(Patrick V. Kirch)

To the left, a rare sight these days - a large, straight koa tree for a canoe.

A Tree for a new Canoe painting by Herb Kane.

As in most of the Pacific islands, many species of endemic birds became extinct after the arrival of man . A least forty endemic species disappeared - large flightless geese, ibises, rails, owls, a hawk, an eagle, ravens, and many songbirds. The cause of these extinctions was not only hunting for feathers and food, but also the introduction of the Polynesian rat, wild pigs, and destruction of the kula habitat.
(Patrick V. Kirch)

To the right, a photograph of pre- fossil bones from some of these extinct bird species, exposed in the dunes.

Bird Bones photo by David Boynton
Here is a startling look at the change in native ecosystems from pre human contact until today. In the before picture, each color represents a distinct ecosystem - as changing elevation and moisture determine the dominant plants. The lack of color in the today picture indicates an ecosystem disturbed by humans.
Kaua'i before man. Image courtesy of Sam Gon III, Hawai'i Natural Heritage Program, and The Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i.
Kaua'i today. Image courtesy of Sam Gon III, Hawai'i Natural Heritage Program, and The Nature Conservancy of Hawai'i.
Pacific Islands are very susceptible to any changes in their ecosystems. By adapting the ahupua'a of Nawiliwili Bay to suit their needs, Hawaiians began to change their new home. However, these changes would be
insignificant when compared to those occurring after European contact. Next, how did the Hawaiian planter manage his land?
Created June 2001