Niihau and Kauai Mokupuni

SUBHEAD: An update on traditional Hawaiian land divisions on Kauai and our first presentation of those on Niihau.

[Author's note: Maps done at the time of this article have been updated. See these are the latest mapping efforts. Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaiian Land Divisions 1/30/12]

By Juan Wilson on 28 February 2010 for Island Breath -


Image above: Portion of moku and ahupuaa devisions on Niihau. Click on it to enlarge and download detailed file.  

Mapping our aina has been an ongoing project since 2007. We are seeking improvement and correction to the elements of this project as we go. If you have knowledge that you want to share of the place names and their locations on Kauai and Niihau, please let us know about it. We are hoping to add the bays, points, beaches and other physical features as we go.

You can contact me at:
Juan Wilson
PO Box 949, Hanapepe, 96716
phone: (808) 335-0733

Part of the motivation for attempting this mapping is to better understand how the Hawaiians were able to achieve a good measure of sustainability and maintain a rich culture that lasted many centuries without a written language and with essentially stone-age technology.

We feel that the use of ahupuaa as self-sustainable foodsheds and the use of moku as bio-regional administrative districts played a part in the Hawaiian success. As a result we have been more interested in the natural boundaries created by the shape of the land, the course of the water and the orientation to the weather. More so than in the battle lines, political districts, inherited leadership, or politics of specific people over time. For those unfamiliar with the terms a simple explanation is:

Mokupuni is a whole island.
Moku is a bio-regional division of an island [like windward (Koolau) and leeward (Kona)]. Ahupua'a is a division of a Moku similar to a watershed. It should be self-sufficient in food production.  

Niihau Mokupuni
After the last revision of the traditional land divisions of Kauai (reported here on 12/21/09) we were asked to map Niihau moku and ahupuaa by Jean Ilei Beniamina. Ilei is the Niihau representative to the Aha Kiole Advisory Committee. She has been a guiding force in our efforts since 2008. Note that the resulting maps of our effort are not intended to be cut in stone. We have used five primary sources for information to do our work on this project.
1) Hawaii state GIS data.
2) USGS maps and elevation contours.
3) GoogleEarth aerial photography and 3D modeling.
4) Online written and cartographic records.
5) Interviews with individuals having historic knowledge of Hawaii.  
For Niihau, as with Kauai, we first looked to see if there was GIS data from the state of Hawaii on moku and ahupuaa boundaries. We looked to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT). Many GIS layers are available at

There were no such layers for moku or ahupuaa on Niihau. We (Ilei Beniamina and myself) began our efforts on Niihau with the assumption that we would follow the 1837 Kalama map of Hawaii moku. It was the first map of Hawaiian bio-regions made by a kanaka maoli (native Hawaiian). It was the base map we used to determine the six (not state recognized 5) moku of Kauai. On Kalama's map Niihau had two moku located roughly located as Kona to the southwest and Koolau to the northeast. This aligns with the similar two moku on Kauai and makes logical sense in that Koolau translates to windward and Kona translates to leeward.

We did not have specific information on boundaries so we decided to look at what might be ahupuaa divisions to find those boundaries.We did download the DBEDT layer that included watersheds for Niihau. This had proved very useful in clarifying issues for the boundaries of ahupuaa on Kauai. It was our reasoning that the ahupuaa would relate to natural watershed boundaries. This was a point that the Aha Kiole Council accepted as well. We began the construction of Niihau ahupuaa boundaries by importing the DBEDT GIS layer for Niihau watershed areas.

We then used the internet for cartographic information of Niihau ahupuaa maps. The written record online is almost as poor as the cartographic one. In searching GoogleBooks for "Niihau ahupuaa" we did find references to the names of three ahupuaa located in the Kona moku of Niihau. There were five instances of this information stretching well over 100 years. All seemed to be the exactly same information dating back to 1848 publication of "A Supplement to the Stature Laws of His Majesty Kamehameha III". It partially listed the ahupuaa of Niihau including Pohueloa, Kaluohonu and Pauahula.

When trying to match these names with the watershed boundaries and their names on the Kona side of Niihau we found some likely candidates. Taking into account historic spelling inconsistencies, and likely typographic errors, Ilei concluded that "Pohueloa, Kaluohonu and Pauahula" were actually "Pohueloa, Kaumuhonu, and Puualala".

Utilizing these ahupuaa we had to divide on state watershed into two on a natural valley ridge line. That valley was Puhueloa. Using Ilei's recollection of island place names and history we divided some other state watershed boundaries (with multiple contour basins) into ahupuaa. We then assigned the ahupuaa into Kona and Koolau moku determined by windward and leeward orientation. The results can be seen on the map above.
Image above: Map of Kauai moku and ahupuaa. Click on it to enlarge and download detailed file.

 Kauai Mokupuni  

[Author's note: Since the release on 10/02/24 of revision 4.0.0 of Kauai we have made adjusted the vorder between Koloa and Weliweli ahupuaa so that Weliweli now contains virtually all of the Poipu area from the Sheraton Hotel and east. The new file is dated 3/3/10 and is revision 4.1.0. We believe this new alignment more closely follows the natural boundaries of the watersheds in question if the topological modifications of the Waita (Waikomo) Reservoir were never made to the landscape.] 

We (Jonathan Jay and myself) have made mostly minor adjustments to ahupuaa boundaries on Kauai now dated 2/24/10 as well. Most notably, we expanded the ahupuaa of Mahaulepu and the consequent reduction of Paa. The majority of adjustments were the fine tuning of ahupuaa borders to more closely follow ridge lines. There were some not insignificant changes to previous moku boundaries as well. The 1848 statute supplement of Kamehameha III indicated that what we designated Kamlomaloo was not in Puna, but actually in Koolau. We have made that change. 

There is some evidence that Kamalomaloo might have been then considered three ahupuaa named Kamalonaloo, Homaikawaa and Kaalula. That has not been implemented and we are still investigating the possibility. In addition, re-examination of the Kalama map of Kauai has convinced Jonathan and I that the the Mana moku needed to be set further clockwise on our mapping of ahupuaa boundaries. This meant that Pokiikauna (that includes most of Kekaha) is actually in Kona, not Mana, and that Kaawaike, Kauhao, and Makaha are not in Napali, but in Mana. 

This certainly makes some sense from the flow of ocean currents when navigating around the island. Click for below for maps of Kauai and Niihau at 2400 pixels wide suitable for up to 18"x24" reproduction at 1:108,000 scale (original suitable for 24"x36" at 1:72,000 available by request): 

 Island Breath: Kauai Mokuponi K-1 Revision 4.1 (6.1 mb .PNG) 
Island Breath: Niihau Mokupuni N-1 Revision 2.0 (1.1 mb .PNG)  

Kauai and Niihau on GoogleEarth  

Below is a GoogleEarth embedded window with a view of the features of the two islands. Zoom in for a 3D trat. Click anywhere on Kauai or Niihau to reveal the Name, Area, Perimeter, Moku and Mokupuni of any Ahupuaa. Note, the GoogleEarth application and a browser plug-in is needed to view GoogleEarth data from within your browser. If you do not have this setup already you will be prompted on how to get and install it. 

Even better, click on the link below to get a ZIP file for loading Kauai and Niihau Mokupuni into GoogleEarth: (  

Once you unzip this file, load it into GoogleEarth by double clicking on it. You can also use the GoogleEarth "Open" command to load the this linking file to retrieve the Kauai-Niihau data. All the features of the two islands will be observable and can be set up to reveal or hide any component. It takes about 15 seconds to load the online version of the database to GoogleEarth so be patient. Once open GoogleEarth will zoom directly to Kauai and Niihau.  

Before closing GoogleEarth remember to save the resulting map to "My Places" and/or to your computer hard drive for later viewing. If you master the GoogleEarth editing tools you will be able to create and edit elements of your own and export results that can be shared through email or other means.  

See also: 

Ea O Ka Aina: Big Island
Ea O Ka Aina: Maui Nei
Ea O Ka Aina: Oahu
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Nei

Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Aina Mapping 12/21/09  
Ea O ka Aina: Kauai on GoogleEarth 12/6/09 
Island Breath: Moku-Ahupuaa Divisions of Kauai 12/2/08 
Island Breath: Kauai Moku District Meeting 3/11/08 
Island Breath: Kauai Sustainability Land Use Plan 11/11/07


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