The Kula Makai Sign Project, aimed to raise awareness about Hawai‘i’s ancient land division system, will soon allow Maui residents to have a better understanding of the historical relevance of their neighborhoods. As part of the program, signs are in the process of being installed along South Maui’s roadways indicating which ahupua‘a and moku people are passing through. The first sign was installed following a blessing and groundbreaking before more than 100 Maui residents on Oct. 26 at Kenolio Park. While the initial signs are limited to Kula Kai area only, the long-term vision is to create and install signs for all 12 moku.
The concept of private property was unknown to ancient Hawaiians, but they did follow a complex system of land division. All land was controlled ultimately by the highest chief or king who held it in trust for the whole population. Each island was divided in smaller parts, called moku, the largest units within each island which were usually wedge-shaped and ran from the mountain crest to shore.
Each moku was divided into ahupua‘a, narrower wedge-shaped land sections that also ran from the mountains to the sea. The size of each ahupua‘a – a large, traditional socioeconomic, geologic, and climatic subdivision of land – depended on the resources of the area; poorer agricultural regions were split into larger ahupua‘a to compensate for the relative lack of natural abundance. Ahupua‘a also varied in size depending on the economic means of the location and political divisions of the area. Each ahupua‘a was ruled by an ali‘i and included a lowland mala (cultivated area) and upland forested region.
The Kula Makai Sign Project is a cultural heritage program funded by the County of Maui Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. It was designed to bring awareness and revitalize the traditional Hawaiian names of the ahupua‘a within the Moku of Kula, more specifically to Kula Kai (now known as Kihei or South Maui).
“Now that the sign project is on its journey eventually the entire Maui will have signs if the moku(s) chooses to,” said Vernon Kalanikau, the overall coordinator of this project. “The initial intent and purpose of the signs is to acknowledge, honor, preserve, educate and to stand and be proud as kanaka maoli.”
Photo courtesy of The Kula Makai Sign Project