Early Builders of the Fishponds

The second in a series.

By John Kaimikaua
Dispatch Archive April 1, 1992

When the early architects (Kahuna Kuhi Kuhipu’uone) of Moloka’i designed the fishponds, great amounts of stone were required for building material. Although there are stretches of rocks and boulders strewn across the lowlands and hills of east Moloka’i, those found there are of poor quality and unsuitable for use as building material. The early architects designed the fishponds to last for hundreds of years so as to provide a continuous means of obtaining fish for future generations. The only type of stone that met this requirement was the ‘ala (basalt), found in great quantities along the shoreline of Pelekunu and Wailau valleys on the north-side of the island.

To construct a single fishpond required tremendous work and organization. Because the ‘ala were found in great quantities on the north side, it took the help of thousands of people to form a human chain from the site of construction, over the mountains, and down to Pelekunu or Wailau to gather the stones. The ‘ala were passed from person to person, over the mountains, and then down to the building site. The effort of constructing a fishpond by the people of Moloka’i is astounding.

Another amazing fact of stone gathering by the ancients of the island was the season in which the ‘ala could be gathered on the north side. During the summer months when the ocean is calm on the north side, the waves bring the sand in, covering the rocky shore, and the ‘ala is unattainable at this time. Only during the winter months when the waves are high and wash the sand from the shore are the stones exposed and the builders are able to gather the ‘ala. Therefore, the gatherers contended with the rain and cold during the storms of the winter months, especially those who were alined in the mountains.

The building of the fishponds spanned over a period of 350 years. The first fishpond was constructed under the chief and priest Ka’olo’olo. The stones for this pond were gathered at Wailau valley and was a task never before accomplished on Moloka’i during that early period. Because of the great organization and support it took, under the keen direction of Ka’olo’olo, the whole ahupua’a that the first fishpond was constructed in front of was named Puko’o, meaning “Complete Support’, in commemoration of the great work required in building the first fishpond.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.