Ka’u: Historical & Ecological
Perspectives
How has the environment
shaped human events?
Geological Stages
 Ancient older domes which can still be
seen at the north end of the island and
form the slopes of Kohala and hills of
Pahala
“Makanau and Pu’u ‘Enuhe” from which
flowed the basalt found beneath the deep
soil at Kamao’a and Ka Lae
 Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa which rise
over 13,000 feet above sea level
 The soil is almost entirely ash or pumice
dust from Mauna Kea laid on drifted dune
sands and basalt.
 Fertile soils that support diverse
ecosystem and later cultivated crops
Original Flora/Climate
 Endemic flora provided continuous cover of
forest and brush between spots of prairie
where grasses grew
 Good rainfall from winter storms, mist and dew
 Winds off the ocean over flank of mountains in
trade wind season (March-November)
 Cold mist laden breeze from snow covered
Mauna Loa (125 years ago snow covered ML
through July!)
Underground Water
 Percolation into and from lava tubes
which fed springs like Wai-o-Akukini and
deep rock pools such as Wai-aPalahemo near Ka Lae (South Point)
 Earthquakes and Eucalyptus trees have
changed these areas
Favorable Habitat
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Fertile Soil
Favorable Climate
Water Supply
Ko Kaha Kai (along shore) 8 endemic plants
Ko Kula Kai (on seaward slopes) 20 endemic
plants
 Ko Kula Uka (on upland slopes) 23 endemic
plants
 Ka Wao (upland forest) 50 endemic plants
Settlement
 Mary Kawena Pukui concludes that first
settlement occurred three thousand
years ago with settlers from Kahiki
(foreign land)
 Earliest settlement at Manuka (western
ahupua’a or district of Ka’u
 Adjacent areas of Kahuku and Pakani
are also know to have extensive
cultivation
 Towards to east is the Kamao’a district
 Kauwa (outcasts later used for sacrifice)
kept in an area like a reservation near
Ninole.
 Possible descendents of conquered local
group who resisted colonizing ali’I duriing
early settlement.
First Contact
Punalu’u
Ka’iliki’I west of Ka Lae
Ka’alu’alu north east of Ka Lae
All three open into the plains and valleys
of Kamao’a, Pakini and Waiohinu
 Honu’apo landing gave favorable access
into Na’alehu and Waiohinu
 All areas are plains, lower forested hills
and lush sheltered valley
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Polynesian Plants/Livestock
Introduced
 Taro, Sweet potato, yam, banana,
sugarcane, breadfruit, coconut, gourds,
ti, kukui, pineapple, awa, bamboo, kou,
hibiscus, hala, milo, hau, olona and
kamani
 Pig, edible dog, chickens
Impact of Settlement
 Pakani, Kamao’a and other areas were cleared
for cultivation
 Koa trees used for canoes and utensils
 In times of drought and famine fern tree cores,
edible ferns, weeds and nuts gathered. Whole
forests cleared in this manner.
 Livestock eat plants, roots and all. Many areas
cleared in this manner. Bird population also
reduced by both hunting and livestock.
Fishing!
 The great current, Ke Au a Halali’I swept
southwest from Ka Lae
 The au moana (ocean flow) came
together east to west and pushed by
tradewinds created great areas for deep
sea fishing;
 Ahi, aku, ‘a’u, ulua, mahimahi and opelu
 Area lacked reefs and few coves for
squid, mullet, shellfish and limu
Destruction of Cultivated
Areas
 Lava flows 1868,
1881, 1926 and 1950
Ka’u and impact of
colonization
 1841 French Catholic Marechal had 900
converts in three months
 1842 Presbyterian Rev Paris and settled
in Waiohinu
“I was taken up by a great strong native
dressed in a malo and tattooed from
head to foot”
Population Changes
 1833 census listed 56,000 residents of
Ka’u
 By 1866 the land
was considered
desolate
 How and why did this
happen?
Conflict and Cultural
Changes
 Kamehameha I conquered their native ali’i Keoua
Ka’u Makaha (ka’u the fierce) was humiliated and
many despondent
In 1820 Ka’ahumanu ordered the destruction of the
Ki’i and end to the ai’kapu
The abandonment of old cultural practices, its
reciprocal duties and benefits, its fixed seasons for
fishing, planting, harvesting, ceremonial and
warfare had a devastating impact on the people.
Introduction of Capitalism
 Under Kamehameha II new
ali’i lines who sought luxury
items were indifferent to the
needs of the ohana that they
administered on the
ahupua’a
 Demanded that everyone go
to harvest Sandlewood to
trade for needless luxury
items and alcohol
 Fields and Fishponds
abandoned and many began
to starve
 Warfare with its rigorous
disciplines ceased
 Lono no longer honored in
the great winter festival
Makahiki (athletic
competition and dancing)
 Kapus ignored causing
depletion of resources
(fishing etc)
 Venereal disease
(sterility) and alcoholism
became problems
 Measles, whooping
cough, fevers, TB
compounded physical
decline of population
already weakened by
lack of food and healthy
exercise
 Christian ideas about
nudity led to wool clothes.
Heavy sweating followed
by chills. Many died!
 By 1845
depopulation
reduced the number
of schools from 20
down to 12
Natural Disasters
 1830-31 and 1846-47 wildfires destroy large
areas of settlement and cultivation
 1867 Drought and Famine
 1868 Earthquakes and Tidal Waves destroy
villages from Punalu’u to Ka’alu’alu
 Earth opened and swallowed homes,
thousands of livestock and entire families
 Lava Flows cover Wai-o-ahu-kini
 Most unable to recover from these events and
relocate
Pulu Trade 1859-1885
 Rainforest of Mauna Loa
depleted of hairy down (pulu)
which encases the stems and
the young opening fronds of the
tree fern.
 Pulu used to stuff mattress in
Honolulu and California
 Further abandonment of
cultivated areas to work
gathering pulu. Continued
starvation
The Great Mahele 1848 &
The Rise of Sugar
 Land Division opened way for
foreign ownership of land and
ushered in the sugar plantation era.
 1870 near Na’alehu 225 acres was
purchased by Alexander Hutchinson
and John Costa which became the
first sugar cane plantation in Ka’u
 By 1879 there were three mills in
operation
 Many immigrants recruited from
China, Japan, Philippines, Puerto
Rico, Portugal and Korea to fill labor
demands
Population Change
 1872
 1884
1829/1865 were Native Hawaiian
1543/3483 were Native Hawaiian
Works Cited:
Mary Kawena Pukui
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Ka`u: Historical & Ecological Perspectives