Blog: A taste of what you may find on Maui

The Ahupua’a Project

A number of years ago we started seeing new signs along various highways on Maui. Maybe you’ve seen them too. The signs are colorful, they have various graphics on them, and are not traffic-related. They are a part of the Ahupua’a Project.

The ahupua’a system

Before the Great Mahele (Great Land Division) of 1848 Hawai’i operated on a feudal landownership system. All land belonged to the kings. Each island was divided into several moku (larger sections) which typically ran from the top of the mountain to the shore. High chiefs governed the moku. The moku were subdivided into wedge-shaped ahupua’a (slices), reaching from the top of the mountains to the shore, often following a stream or drainage system. Chiefs governed the ahupua’a which were in turn worked by kanaka (commoners). Each wedge had access to the ocean, but also fertile soil and streams. The boundaries of the ahupua’a were typically marked with stone piles. The Great Mahele marked the abolishment of the feudal system and allowed for a ‘foreign’ concept of private land ownership. It is controversial as many believed Hawaiians were taken advantage of by foreigners.

Screen shot from the Maui Ahupua'a Project website 4/17/2024 showing the various moku and ahupua'a
Screen shot from the Maui Ahupua’a Project website 4/17/2024 showing the various moku and ahupua’a

The Ahupua’a Project started in 2017 to bring awareness to Hawai’ian history and names. Did you know? South Maui is part of the Kula moku, specifically known as Kula Kai. The new Kihei highschool is officially named Kulanihako’i High, even though it is nowhere near Kula.

Here are a few fun facts about the signs

  • at the top of the sign you find reference to the moku. South Maui’s signs all say Moku ‘o Kula (part of the Kula moku).
  • below it you see the name of the ahupua’a in bold letters.
  • you will also see graphics of two food or other resources that would have traditionally been fished, gathered or grown in that ahupua’a.

Now you know! Which ahupua’a is your condo located in? The way of life on Maui sure has changed since then.