Article: Ancient Hawaiian Engineering, Kauai Auwai


Kauai Auwai

“Kiki-a-‘ola (Menehune Ditch) represents a prehistoric irrigation feature used to transport water to the taro fields on the western side of Waimea River in lower Waimea Valley.” (NPS)

On March 9, 1792, Captain Vancouver landed on Kauai … “By the time we had anchored, several of the natives visited us in the same submissive and orderly manner as at Woahoo, and appeared better provided.”

“Towards noon, the Chatham arrived; but the wind shifting about prevented her coming to anchor until sunset, when he moored a little to the westward of the station we had taken. Our boats, guard, &c. being in readiness, about one o’clock we proceeded to the shore.”

“Mr. Menzies accompanied me in the yawl, and Mr. Puget followed with the cutter and launch. The surf was not so high as to prevent our landing with ease and safety; and we were received by the few natives present, with nearly the same sort of distant civility which we experienced at Woahoo.”

“A man, named Rehooa, immediately undertook to preserve good order, and understanding we purposed to remain some days, caused two excellent houses to be tabooed for our service; one for the officers, the other for the working people, and for the guard, consisting of a serjeant and six marines.”

“Stakes were driven into the ground from the river to the houses, and thence across the beach, giving us an allotment of as much space as we could possibly have occasion for; within which few encroachments were attempted.”

“This business was executed by two men, whose authority the people present seemed to acknowledge and respect, although they did not appear to us to be chiefs of any particular consequence.”

“I made them some very acceptable presents; and a trade for provisions and fuel was soon established. Certain of the natives, who had permission to come within our lines, were employed in filling and rolling our water-casks to and from the boats; for which service they seemed highly gratified by the reward of a few beads or small nails.”

“Having no reason to be apprehensive of any interruption to the harmony and good understanding that seemed to exist, and the afternoon being invitingly pleasant …”

“… with Mr. Menzies, our new ship-mate Jack, and Rekooa, I proceeded along the river-side, and found the low country which stretches from the foot of the mountains towards the sea, occupied principally with the taro plant, cultivated much in the same manner as at Woahoo; interspersed with a few sugar canes of luxuriant growth, and some sweet potatoes.”

“The latter are planted on dry ground, the former on the borders and partitions of the taro grounds, which here, as well as at Woahoo, would be infinitely more commodious were they a little broader, being at present scarcely of sufficient width to walk upon. This inconvenience may possibly arise from a principle of economy, and the scarcity of naturally good land.”

“The sides of the hills extending from these plantations to the commencement of the forest, a space comprehending at least one half of the inland, appeared to produce nothing but a coarse spiry grass from an argillaceous foil …”

“… which had the appearance of having undergone the action of fire, and much resembled that called the red dirt in Jamaica, and there considered little better than a caput mortuum.”

“Most of the cultivated lands being considerably above the level of the river, made it very difficult to account for their being so uniformly well watered. The sides of the hills afforded no running streams …”

“… and admitting there had been a collection of water on their tops, they were all so extremely perforated, that there was little chance of water finding any passage to the taro plantations.”

“These perforations, which were numerous, were visible at the termination of the mountains, in perpendicular cliffs abruptly descending to the cultivated land; and had the appearance of being the effect of volcanic eruptions, though I should suppose of very ancient date.”

“As we proceeded, our attention w and at once put an end to all conjecture on the means to which the natives resorted for the watering of their plantations.”

“A lofty perpendicular cliff now presented itself, which, by rising immediately from the river, would have effectually stopped our further progress into the country …”

“… had it not been for an exceedingly well constructed wall of stones and clay about twenty-four feet high, raised from the bottom by the side of the cliff, which not only served as a pass into the country …”

“… but also as an aqueduct, to convey the water brought thither by great labour from a considerable distance; the place where the river descends from the mountains affording the planters an abundant stream, for the purpose to which it is so advantageously applied.”

“This wall, which did no less credit to the mind of the projector than to the skill of the builder, terminated the extent of our walk; from whence we returned through the plantations, whose highly-improved state impressed us with a very favorable opinion of the industry and ingenuity of the inhabitants.” (Vancouver, March 1792)

“The water (of the Waimea River) was used to irrigate cultivated lands located considerably above the level of the river. Because of this fact, there are several engineering factors that make this irrigation channel significant.”

“First is the problem if carrying the water at a high level above the water level of the river. The base of the causeway was then placed in the river by necessity which meant it was in constant threat of being eroded or washed away during period of flooding.”

"Another engineering factor was that the ditch had to transport water around the corner of a jutting cliff at river’s edge. The construction of the causeway is unique in the use of dressed and jointed stones.”

“Kiki-a-‘ola is the only example of jointed stone work and offers a unique example of this type of causeway construction.”

“Additionally, there are three types of joints represented, including double joint, square joint, and notched joint. The prehistoric appearance of the ditch wall would have been impressive with a 24-foot high faced wall of dress and jointed stones.”

“Today, the scale of the causeway is only suggested in the exposed upper two to three courses of stonework. The construction of the roadway in 1920 probably buried much of the structure and, therefore, the site still has a high research potential for defining the Hawaiian engineering technology and construction details.” (NPS)

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