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A learning center project for leeward Oahu has just been announced that will follow an ancient path into Hawaii’s future. The project is being designed as an ahupuaa — the pision of land used by ancient Hawaiians. In those days, the islands of Hawaii were pided into wedges that ran from the mountains to the sea. Each ahupuaa allowed the people living there to have a slice of the island’s natural resources for fishing, farming and recreation.
One traditional ahupuaa remains intact on Oahu in Kahana State Park. The park includes archaeological sites, gardens and the Huilua Fishpond is on the National Register of Historic Places. (A hiking trail brochure is available at the orientation center if you’d like to explore on a Hawaii vacation.) However, in most areas of the islands, the ahupuaa concept has lived on only in the names of neighborhoods or communities.
More recently, several small projects have resurrected the idea that caring for the land includes caring for the people and their connectedness with the island. One such project, the Waianae Ecological Characterization, describes the ahupuaa attitude: “Ahupuaa are land pisions based on natural features such as mountain ridges and streams… that encompass the land, water and elements in the sky… ahupuaa management integrates natural resource concerns with cultural, human and spiritual resources.”
The big new project I mentioned undertakes this integration from a different starting point. Rather than a base in nature or ecology, the learning center begins with children and their families. The center will have resources for preschoolers to young adults and will be open to all children on the Waianae Coast, which has the greatest concentration of Native Hawaiians on Oahu. Plans call for the center to be situated on 70 acres that will include affordable homes and an educational complex with a library, media center, learning studios, dining hall and athletic fields.
Several state agencies and the Kamehameha Schools are involved in the project, made possible by the donation of land by developer Jeff Stone. Their common hope is that a modern-day ahupuaa can be created to reconnect the human community with the land, providing not only sustainability but also prosperity. It’s a long-term effort: the project will be built in phases over the next two decades.