This paper is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Trisha Kehaulani Watson, JD, PhD
U.S. Marine Protected Area Federal Advisory Board

In a traditional Hawaiian context, nature and culture are one and the same, there is no division between the two. The wealth and limitations of the land and ocean resources gave birth to, and shaped the Hawaiian world view. The ‘?ina (land), wai (water), kai (ocean), and lewa (sky) were the foundation of life and the source of the spiritual relationship between people and their environments.

– Kepa Maly, Cultural Practitioner


Hawaiian cultural landscapes are well-suited to support the emerging identification of maritime cultural landscapes (Westerdahl 1992) and historic sites across the United States due to the intrinsically holistic nature of Hawai‘i’s traditional cultural landscapes, which, as articulated in the quote above, were inclusive of the land, sea, and sky. This presentation discusses how traditional cultural landscapes contain a range of unique elements that significantly enrich the public’s ability to understand heritage areas and historic places. Through data sets enhanced by indigenous knowledge systems and engagement with native communities, the National Register eligibility determination process expands to better coordinate with other policies and regulations. It also potentially sees better efficacy in implementing historic preservation and environmental policies such that heritage resources are better preserved.

The concept of a maritime cultural landscape is critical to the development of a Hawaiian cultural landscape, as it illustrates that the notion of landscapes are ultimately fluid and dynamic. Maritime cultural landscapes thereby play an important role in creating opportunities for marginalized groups, like indigenous peoples, to insert their histories into formal, regulatory processes and the academic discourse.

Hawaiian Maritime Cultural Landscapes

Whereas archaeologists have historically focused on tangible elements of landscapes, indigenous peoples have additionally focused on spiritual and intangible elements of landscapes. Therefore, this paper will discuss both the tangible and intangible components of Hawaiian cultural landscapes, and why all of these elements are critical to the future of historic preservation. (For a new, comprehensive listing of Hawaiian wao that extend from the mountain peak to the deep sea, see Appendix A.)

For example, O‘ahu is split into six different moku or districts. In 800 A.D., the high chief, Ma‘ilik?kahi, developed a geopolitical land system called the ahupua’a[1] system (Kamakau 2010). He took the island, and then divided it into six districts. Within each district, he further divided into the ahupua’a system (Kamehameha Schools 1994). Each district is then further divided into pie-shaped wedges that extended from ridge out to the reef (Pukui, Elbert, & Mookini 1974). Each basically watershed system goes up all the way out and contains an ocean area. It was either one mile or to the fringing reef. This system, you can see, there are different divisions that essentially correlate with biomes that basically had a fully sustainable system (Minerbi 1999). What is rather amazing is this basically survived to today in various legal and policy forms. When we talk about a Hawaiian cultural landscape, I very much, as do others, think about this system.

Also, when I talk about a Hawaiian cultural landscape, I am going to talk about first settlement versus second settlement. First settlement was really the arrival of Polynesians to Hawai‘i. While we have talked about the impact of human settlement throughout these two days, I think it is important to remember that while there was human impact, it was nominal and very minimal, the human impact in the footprint that first settlement left compared to the second settlement, which is when foreigners came to Hawai‘i.

Unlike some of the tribes here, Hawaiians settled our islands much later and are therefore a younger culture. There is no evidence indicating we have submerged settlements to the degree other groups here may have. While we likely have some submerged sites, like traditional Hawaiian fishponds, we have record of most of these sites and the submersion of these historic features occurred comparatively contemporaneously. It is possible we also have some submerged voyaging canoes, but recoveries of those are unlikely. Most of our maritime cultural landscapes would therefore be associated with intangible cultural heritage features like spiritual vistas or sites of historic events.

The ahupua’a system basically is where you have the high waters that come down. They come and feed into the valleys of Hawai‘i. Water sources are highest up. Forest areas are also high up (Lyon 1918). Agricultural systems are further down. All these are what we call wao or realms (Malo 1951). You have the living area of people in the lower coastal areas, and then you have fishing villages along the coast.

We never really went up, in traditional times, into the highland areas. That is why when you look at images of or studies of ecological footprints along first settlements or the first

settlement period, you do not see that in upland areas. I think that is something important that we have not talked about is the fact that in traditional cultures, in sacred places, you will not necessarily see that there was human presence there. It does not mean that we did not value those places if you do not find evidence of material culture there. It meant that in certain cultures, to revere them, you did not go there. That was specifically because we valued the ecosystem services that came from certain places. We were not going to settle where our most valued water sources came from, for example.

In this example of Pu’u Kukui, in the mauka (toward the mountain) area, which is the mountain area, you can see the value of the water source versus what happens down makai (toward the ocean), which is equally valued, but is a far more habitable area, which is why you are going to find a lot more archaeological activity.

The primary maritime culture of Hawai‘i was the fishponds. This was a picture, a drawing from 1825, of a fishpond village in O‘ahu, actually from the district that I am from. In addition to extensive fishponds, we had over 400 originally at the time of the second contact, you had navigation (Baybayan & Kawahara 1996). You had salt ponds. All of the homes you can see at the bottom of the photo, that there were homes and different just regular human living along the coastal areas that were extensive.

A different area on the island of O‘ahu, illustrates it as well. You have these extensive landscapes that, even by the early 1900s, you still had of the earlier 400, 100 traditional Hawaiian fishponds that were fully functional throughout the state of Hawai‘i (Apple and Kikuchi 1975).

There is one area where you can see the different arrows pointing to all the different archaeological sites that are fishponds, heiau, which are religious sites, salt ponds, and different archaeological sites along the coastlines in just one district. Of 400, this is just one area where you had extensive mariculture activity throughout the Hawaiian Islands. This is not even the island where we had the most concentration of traditional Hawaiian fishponds.

What is important to remember, and I think an extensive challenge in Hawai‘i, is that these fishponds are still used. My company, for the last three years, worked on a project to restore, to work on programmatically restoring traditional fishponds throughout the state. For twenty years, traditional Hawaiian fishpond practitioners struggled, and I mean struggled, with just getting the permits to protect and restore fishponds. It took seventeen permits to be able to restore a fishpond and hundreds of thousands of dollars to be able to secure those permits. It took twelve different agencies, and these are community groups (Honua Consulting 2013). Even fishponds that, and you can see clearly, from the aerial photo on the left, are still there.

This was a twenty-year problem for the Hawaiian community. The EPA put a significant amount of money into looking at the problem, and it was a multi-faceted problem consisting of jurisdictional and administrative challenges. You had to go through many different agencies; challenges of doing this are discussed elsewhere in this collection.

We ultimately did a programmatic EA (environmental assessment), and we did also implemente a statewide program that now allows any community group to apply to a single state agency for authorization to use the statewide programmatic authorities. We proactively conducted the statewide programmatic assessments on these historic fishponds, inclusive of all the authorizations the community groups would need. We did an essential fish habitat study. We went through the ESA. We did the MMPA studies. We did everything. We brought everybody to the table. By doing that at an agency and state level where we looked at it as a system instead of looking at them as sites, we were able to create a comprehensive program where communities are able to now just come in to get approval under this programmatic approval that we received.

We basically did it under a nationwide permit with Army Corps. Then we did a master CDUP, which is a Conservation District Use Permit, at the state level. Communities are able to go in and use that to restore and protect and maintain these individual sites that way. Really, that was because we stopped looking at them as sites, individual fishpond sites, and looked at them as parts of systems that provide ecosystem services (Watson 2016).

When we work with communities, what is always really important is that indigenous communities do not always have a lot of capacity. For those who talk about working on a planner level, that is really hard for us, as Hawaiians, because Hawaiians do not think on a two-dimensional level. We do not even think on a three-dimensional level. We do not think just terrestrially. We think about depth. We have names for every point along the horizon. We go up into the sky. We are navigators. We have celestial maps. We think not only about the significance of a rock or an area or the depths of the sea or the stars in the sky. We also think about the spawning seasons. We think about moon calendars. Then we also think about the importance of ceremony. We think about the importance of individual gods. We also think about natural heritage, tangible cultural heritage and then the intangible cultural heritage.

When we are working with communities, we like to do baseline assessments that get communities to take stock of what they have along these different grids. When you can meet communities where they are from a traditional knowledge or ancestral knowledge standpoint, you will find that there is a tremendous amount to gain from these partnerships. Developing a quality relationship with the impacted community as early as possible is really the best way to reduce conflict. Communities have so much to offer a project. Too often, project leaders see the community as an impediment, but people need to remember that the community has to live with the project. They have the most to gain and the most to lose. Finding quality community partners, especially from indigenous communities, can add so much value to a project, because they often have so much understanding about an area.

As evident from the comprehensive nature of the listing in Appendix A, the Hawaiian traditional identification of sites within a cultural landscape were intricately intertwined with natural heritage features (i.e., mountains, reefs), vegetation, agriculture, natural elements, and intangible cultural features. When utilized, these physical spaces intersect with temporal features and historic events, truly engendering the need for further dialogue on how to revisit National Register criteria to account for the complex and holistic nature of indigenous landscapes. As the largest Native population in the United States, with over 500,000 individuals, Native Hawaiians are a large living culture with a huge cache of native language resources that remain grossly underutilized in our historic preservation activities (Nogelmeier 2010).

For this reason, we like to focus far more on capacity building and education. This is a program we are taking part in on L?na’i. For years now, we’ve been working with the students there, teaching them about archeology, teaching them how to restore their own landscapes (Maly, Watson, & Osorio 2014). This past summer students did a lot of building on the skills. They are actually doing the restoration currently, where they are restoring fishponds. They are restoring terraces. This was the third year of a three-year program, but we are getting additional funding to keep the program going. It demonstrates that you really can teach the next generation, and there is so much potential in the future of historic preservation.


We do all of this because we really, in the middle of the Pacific, recognize that the elephant in the room is the necessity to do renewable energy projects. We realize that climate change is a very, very real problem. We recognize the need to preserve historic preservation sites, but we also recognize that we have very, very close relations in the Pacific that are facing real challenges, as are we in Hawai‘i. It is just not about the individual sites, but cultures and nations that may be lost. We realize it is about much more than us, but about all the cultures in the Pacific that need us to find solutions to these very real problems.


[1] Ahupua‘a literally means pig altar (ahu being the word for altar and pua‘a being the word for pig) as this referenced the stone alter that served as the boundary marker for each ahupua‘a district. Traditionally a pig or another similar levy would be placed upon the ahu as duty to the government.


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Original Image by Matthew Kawaiola Sproat of Traditional Hawaiian Maritime Cultural Landscape with Some Accompanying Traditional Terms © 2016 Matthew Kawaiola Sproat, Not to be Reprinted or Replicated without Express Permission by Artist


































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