Plantation: Land

In this section we will examine the effects of the mahele (land division and privitization) on the ahupua'a of Nawiliwili Bay. Once the land was in European hands, what did they do with it. How were the native ecosystems at Nawiliwili Bay affected?
Plantation Land uses the wonderful archival archaeology of Carol Silva's report in Archaeological Investigation of Hule'ia National Wildlife Refuge Ha'iku, Niumalu, Kaua'i to describe the history of Kaua'i in the 19th century. Another historical observer is Ethel Damon in Koamalu. The quote about the vandalizing of Lihu'e forests is from The Hawaiian Journal of History.
European contact accelerated the changes in the native ecosystems of Nawiliwili Bay. The greatest early effects were from introduced grazing and browsing animals - especially feral (wild) cattle, goats, and sheep. By 1850, some of the lo'i in Hule'ia were not cultivated due to depredation (damage) by cattle. The total in the Hule'ia herd in 1846 was 265. In 1847, the government entered into a 10 year contract to control these cattle. (Carol Silva)

Around 1860, many lo'i were converted into rice paddies. This resulted in a shortage of poi, which is considered a famine by Hawaiian standards. These lo'i also carried their water rights with them when converted to rice. (Carol Silva)

Besides being damaged by wild cattle, the forests had also been cut for firewood and sandalwood. Once sugar cultivation and ranching began, more large areas of kula lands were converted for agriculture, and even more firewood was cut to run the mill.
(Ethel Damon)
One observer noted about the hills above Lihu'e: "The country was undergoing the process of denudation. Non-resident landlords, large landholders, have in most cases leased out their lands by long leases to vandal-like tennants, who are making the most of their time and their bargain by cutting down the forests, and supplying the sugar mills, shipping, and even Honolulu with wood....sixteen years ago, where beautiful kukui groves gladdened the scene is now a barren plain." (Hawaiian Journal of History)

When rain falls, water that runs off the surface into streams is quickly lost to the ocean. Water that percolates(slowly filters) through the soil into the ground water is a resource that slowly recharges water in the stream. The role of the forest in this process is to slow down the run off of rain and allow it to percolate into the groundwater. In this way, forests help to sustain the water resource

photo by David Boynton, pilot Casey Riemer of Jack Harter Helicopters
Hahai no ka ua i ka ulula'au
Rain always follows the forest
Knowing this, the Hawaiians hewed (cut)
only the trees that were needed.
Oleleo No'eau # 405
Finally realizing the connection between the loss of forests and shrinking stream flow, G.N. Wilcox, followed by Paul Isenberg, engaged in limited reforestation efforts with non-native trees at Grove Farm and Lihu'e Plantation.(Ethel Damon) It was not until 1903 that the government began its own reforestation program, with 50% of the trees planted being eucalyptus. Eucalyptus, however, was not the best choice. With its inefficient use of water and ability to stop understory (low ground plants below the canopy) growth, eucalyptus did not slow the surface run off of rain as well as the native forest.
Eucalyptus forest on Ha'upu Ridge at Kipu - planted at the beginning of the 20th century. photo by John Schlegel
Extensive rice cultivation after 1860.
photo courtesy of the Kaua'i Historical Society
The ahupua'a at Nawiliwili Bay maintained their agricultural production through the 19th century. Kalo, 'awa, and wauke cultivation gave way to pasturage, ranching, dairying, and some taro planting. These in turn shared the area with rice cultivation and large areas of sugar cane - the new market exports.
(Carol Silva)
Carol Silva - "The onset of large-scale rice and sugar cultivation in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries had definite impacts on land, water use and development in the valley. Rice cultivation and localized milling encouraged Chinese and Japanese to settle in Hule'ia. A steadfast Hawaiian population was sustained through time. They remained anchored to their lands by taro cultivation."

Carol Silva continues: "In addition, they were able to adapt to changing economics by cultivating rice and other truck crops, lei flowers and fruit trees for home consumption and market. They supplemented a diet of river fish and shellfish with domesticated animals. They were resourceful, hard-working and were able to culturally preserve a lifestyle with which they were comfortable."
Photo courtesy of the Baker Collection, Kaua'i Historical Society

Carol Silva continues,"Sugar cultivation had marginal effects on land use and more noticeable impacts upon water. As a result of water diversion by means of major ditches, water volume in the river decreased. Yet springs were so prolific in the valley (Hule'ia) that these always guaranteed a reliable supply for irrigation."
Pictured above, the growing town of Lihu'e would have an impact on the quality of Nawiliwili Stream. This shot is downstream from the mill, which is visible to the upper left. Rice St. would be to the right and above the houses.
As the population grew, there were more houses and activity along the Nawiliwili Stream. In the ahupua'a system of land management, the type of activity along a stream was determined by its effect on the water resource. From Native Planters - “Great care was taken not to pollute streams. There was a place for bathing (‘au ‘au) low down in the stream; a place up farther along the stream for washing utensils or soaking calabashes; still farther up were the dams for the ‘auwai; and above the dams was the place where drinking water was taken.”
"Land was vital, and water was vital, and neither one was of an avail (use) without the other."( Ethel Damon) The plantations knew this. How did they use and redirect the water resource?
Created June 2001