Reviving Hawaii’s `Aha Moku

A new bill proposes to manage local resources the old fashioned way

Reviving the practice and idea regional stewardship with which Hawaiians once managed their island resources has recently come one step closer to reality.   

On Friday, March 9, a bill to create `Aha Moku councils and to create an integrated system of natural resources management has passed its first hearing in the Hawaiian State Senate.  With origins on Molokai, the only non-private island with a population that is over 50% Native Hawaiian, the bill involved collaboration from kupuna (wise elders) of each island.

The bill would establish a Commission to assist in the formation of regional `aha moku councils, which would advise on all matters regarding the management of the state's natural resources.  It would require the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to seek advisory assistance from the `aha Moku Councils in developing a comprehensive set of practices to utilize, balance and sustain the resources of Hawaii.

The `Aha Moku councils are part of the traditional Native Hawaiian land management system named Ahupua`a.  This ancient land division system separated the land into strips that extended from the mountain to the sea and could sustain completely self-sufficient communities.  The Ahupua`a system acknowledges the natural contours of the land, the specific resources of those areas and the methodology necessary to sustain those resources and the community.

A return to the ’aha moku council system would re-empower Native Hawaiians by officially recognizing their knowledge and expertise.  Until the proposition of the bill, The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, (known as Wespac,) was the only governmental agency to fully support ahupua`a concepts and ecosystem resource management from a Hawaiian perspective.

"The creation of Aha Moku councils is important to the sustainability of Hawaii's ecosystem," said Representative Mele Carroll who authored and introduced House Bill HB 1948.  "For hundreds of years, Hawaii's natural resources were nurtured and kept alive for future generations by traditional Hawaiian practices.  Today we believe that these practices are not being adequately considered in the management of our land and natural resources, and that the Aha Moku councils can play a crucial preservation role in partnership with the state."

“DLNR support the concept of a formal process where traditional knowledge is blended with modern science,” commented Chairman Peter Young.   Speaking of his optimism towards the legalization of the `aha moku council, Young mentioned DLNR partnerships with TNC.  He said that “we all agree; we need to look at resources from the mountains all the way down to the sea and not look at any one component part.”

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have long recognised the value of native Hawaiian land management and based plans for their 2003 East Molokai Watershed Partnership upon the ahupua`a concept.

An ancient practice, the ahupua`a system began to decline in 1778 when contact with Captain Cook awakened a desire for Western goods and trading practices were set that gave massive advantages to the Europeans.

Less than a century later, abolition of the kapu system fatally impacted the ahupua`a system as land allotment changed in "The Great Mahele," of 1848.  Despite this, a few large ahupua`a remain nearly intact under single ownership because they were crown lands owned personally by the monarch.  These include Manukā, Pu`u Wa`awa`a, and Pu`u Anahulu on the island of Hawaii. 

Many local towns in Hawaii still maintain or are based upon the names of their ahupua`a, such as Honokōhau, Honolua, Kapalua, Nāpili, Kahana, Honokawai, Ka`anapali, Lahaina, and Olowalu in West Maui.

With such an impact on the modern world, it is hardly surprising that the bill has so many supporters.  In addition to the abovementioned agencies and a large number of concerned individuals, adherents of the Aha Moku revival included The Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, the Pacific Island Resource Management Institute, The Hawaii Nearshore Fishermen and The Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Bill SB 615, an amended version of HB1948, was introduced to the Senate by Senator J. Kalani English after clearance by the House of Representatives on March 1.  It has now been referred to the Water, Land, Ocean Resources & Hawaiian Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee.


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