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Hawaii History – The Kona Field System (Recognized by Early Western Explorers)

The Kona Field System was commented on by the earliest western explorers. The Hawaiians would often plant crops, such as sugar cane and the cloth plant wauke, on the kuaīwi walls transforming them into windbreaks. Presumably the “rock mulch” retained moisture and soil and nutrients facilitating the growth of these and other crops planted on or adjacent to the kuaīwi walls.

James Cook’s second-in-command Commander, James King, noted:

“…the plantain trees are mixed amongst the breadfruit trees and did not compose any part of the plantation except some in the walls: these walls separate their property and are made of the stones got on clearing the grounds; but they are hid by the sugarcane being planted on each side…” (Beaglehole Volume 1, 1967:521)

The surgeon David Samwell commented:

“As we ascended the hills we came among their plantations where saw a few houses, here is a rich soil tho’ I believe it is not here very deep, being no more than a layer of Earth over the lava of which I think it is probable the body of the island is composed. Their plantations are divided from each other by thick low walls built with lava. Here we found the breadfruit trees, plantains, Taroo (taro) root, sweet potatoes, ginger root and sugar canes…” (Beaglehole Volume 2, 1967: 1166)

To what extent this classic Kona Field System developed as a response to maximizing the use of rainfall and moisture in lands with generally porous and permeable substrates, and to what extent this is a response to a pattern of population growth with relatively dense coastal settlement, is still a matter of debate. The pattern of elongate, mauka/makai oriented traditional Hawaiian fields is still to be seen within landholding in Kona, Hawai‘i Island to the present (see Figure 2 below).

Figure 2

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