’Āina: that which feeds; land.
Kama’āina: Child of the land
The relationship between the native Hawaiians and their land is a spiritual one. Our creation story says: the first child of Wakea (father sky) and Papa (mother earth) was stillborn. Placed in the earth, he sprouted as a kalo plant. His younger brother became the ancestor of the people. In this way the progenitors of all plants and all people are brothers. Native Hawaiians therefore look at all living things as being spiritually connected and thus our relationship with the land as being one of the ki’a’i or caretaker. The land belonged to Kāne and Lono, the nature gods who caused the land to be fruitful, and these lands were held in trust by the mō’ī (supreme chief), who even with his earthly status, never considered “owning the land”.
The basic land divisions were politically partitioned into districts under the supervision of the ali’i (high chiefs), who in turn divided them among their supervising agents, the konohiki, who in turn subdivided and awarded parcels to the maka’āinana (commoners) who cultivated the soil. Since the right of distribution of the land rested with the ali’i, each succession of leadership resulted in impermanency for the upper class, but beneath this, and in spite of it, there prevailed the stable and unchanging pattern of the people living on the land and rarely affected the planter who faithfully cultivated the acreage allotted to them. The tenants, however, had the option of leaving the land if the incoming regime treated them unfairly.
The major land divisions are the moku (island), which in turn was divided into ‘okana (districts), followed by the kalana (sub-districts). Within these sub-districts were the ahupua’a, a division that ran like a wedge from sea to mountain, usually along lines drawn down the valley ridges that extended far out to sea. This basic property should contain all the natural resources required to sustain the population living there-in. Within this valley, the land was further divided into many segments for use by the various ‘ohana (family) groups.
Allegiance to the land was the glue that held together Hawaiian society. Social and cultural moors were developed primarily around the kapu, a system of laws governing the use and preservation of the land. Land divisions were both politically and spiritually motivated. Hawaiians also had names for those lands that were held in perpetual conservation (wao akua) and lands that were dedicated to limited access (wao kanaka). The kapu were also placed on all manner of wild food stuffs, both from the land and the sea, to ensure the conservation and perpetuation of resources vital to life. The sharing of the fresh water in the ahupua’a resulted in the Hawaiian word for law, kānāwai, the equal sharing of water, or “belonging-to-the-water”. Ka wai ola loa, the life giving waters of the nature deity, Kāneikawai and Lonomakua.