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History of the Kona Field System in Hawaii

The Kona Field System is understood as the largest of the pre-contact agricultural systems of ancient Hawai‘i, and has been estimated to cover approximately 139 square kilometers on the western slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai with the core area lying between roughly the present Keāhole Airport to the North and Honaunau to the South.

This non-irrigated agricultural system is actually quite diverse in the native planter’s use of micro-topography, but is most famous for the configuration of fields in the central Kealakekua area that have been regarded (somewhat erroneously) to be characteristic of the whole. While far from rectilinear, the Kona Field System utilizes long, low, mounded, inland/seaward running kuaīwi walls to form a network pattern of fields (Figure 5).


“Kuaīwi” is defined as “long straight stone wall” (Pukui and Elbert 1971:156). They are in fact rarely straight, but rather follow vagaries in the land – typically ‘a‘ā lava flows. Furthermore, they are typically more like long, low, linear mounds than walls. They are often constructed of earth, and pebble and cobble sized scoria (basalt clinkers) rather than the cobble and boulder-sized chunks favored for historic wall construction. Often, the width/height aspect ratio of kuaīwi walls is on the order of 10:1.

These inland/seaward (mauka/makai) running kuaīwi walls are generally much more pronounced than the cross slope walls, which may be more or less continuous (as shown in Figure 3), or may be in a pattern of short, discrete segments running more-or-less along a contour, bounding just a few fields. The long–axis of the fields runs down slope, which may seem counter to the logic of western, erosion-control-oriented, contour plowing in which the long axis of fields follows the contour.

Stay tune to read what Captain Cook’s second-in-command said about the Kona Field System and more.

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Beth Thoma Robinson R(B)

September 17, 2011

Sharon, I love learning about pre-contact Hawai’i. The land use patterns have much to teach us in our quest for sustainability. Thank you for this explanation! I will look at stone mounds and walls differently.

Beth Thoma Robinson R(B)

September 17, 2011

Sharon, I love learning about pre-contact Hawai’i. The land use patterns have much to teach us in our quest for sustainability. Thank you for this explanation! I will look at stone mounds and walls differently.

Sharon Brown R(S)

September 17, 2011

Thanks Beth, it really is quite fascinating, isn’t it? Such much detail went into the designing the field systems – and non-irrigated – talk about sustainability.

Sharon Brown R(S)

September 17, 2011

Thanks Beth, it really is quite fascinating, isn’t it? Such much detail went into the designing the field systems – and non-irrigated – talk about sustainability.

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