Article: ʻĀina Mauna, A term used affectionately by Elder Hawaiians

ʻĀina Mauna, or mountain lands, reflects a term used affectionately by elder Hawaiians to describe the upper regions of all mountain lands.

In pre-Contact times, these upper forested lands were left relatively untouched, as they were integral to the functioning of the ahupua‘a due to the water they provided to the lowlands. These upland forests were considered wao akua (“realm of the gods”) and were therefore protected by kapu. (Iwashita)

Small cultivated areas were located primarily in the lowlands, which were extensively cleared for agriculture. Most permanent settlement initially was near the ocean and at sheltered beaches, which provided access to good fishing grounds, as well as facilitating convenient canoe travel.

Koa tree canoe logs were cut from the ʻĀina Mauna; it is estimated that it takes up to 125-years or more to grow a koa tree large enough for a voyaging canoe.

Traditional dwellings (hale pili) were constructed of native woods lashed together with cordage most often made from olonā. Pili grass was a preferred thatching. Lauhala (pandanus leaves) or ti leaf bundles, called pe‘a, were other covering materials used.

In addition, implements incorporated into hula were made of wood and other forest products. Weapons used wood products for spears, daggers, clubs, shark tooth and other wooden weapons.

With ‘Contact’ came changes to the ʻĀina Mauna.

In 1778, Captain Cook left goats and pigs. In 1793, Captain George Vancouver gave Kamehameha cattle (which he placed a kapu on to allow herds to grow.) In 1803, American Richard Cleveland presented horses ‐ a stallion and a mare ‐ to Kamehameha.

The goats, pigs and cattle started to have negative impacts on the Islands’ mauka lands.

On top of that, ʻiliahi (sandalwood) became first recognized as a commercial product in Hawai‘i in 1791 by Captain Kendrick of the Lady Washington, when he instructed sailors to collect cargo of sandalwood.

Trade in Hawaiian sandalwood began in the early-1790s; by 1805 it had become an important export item. Unfortunately, the harvesting of the trees was not sustainably managed (they cut whatever they could, they didn’t replant) and over-harvesting of ʻiliahi took place.

By 1830, the trade in sandalwood had completely collapsed. Hawaiian forests were exhausted and sandalwood from India and other areas in the Pacific drove down the price in China and made the Hawaiian trade unprofitable.

Through King Kamehameha III’s Act No. 2, Chapter III, Article I, Chapter VI, Section VII of April 27, 1846, ‘forestry’ began in Hawaiʻi.

“The forests and timber growing therein, shall be considered as government property, and under the special care of the minister of the interior, who may from time to time convert the products thereof into money for the benefit of government.”

By the late-1800s, the sugar industry had been lobbying for forest protection, as the cattle grazing and denudation of upland forests threatened the water supply critical to sustaining the sugar economy.

A lasting legacy of that era was the implementation of the Forest Reserve System, created by the Territorial Government of Hawai’i through Act 44 on April 25, 1903.

That year, on May 13, 1903, the Territory of Hawaiʻi, with the backing of the Hawaiʻi Sugar Planters’ Association, established the Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry. (HDOA) By 1930, a million acres of land – nearly 25% of Hawaii’s land area – were in the Forest Reserve System.

Forest reserves were useful for two primary purposes: water production for the Territory’s agricultural industries, and timber production to meet the growing demand for wood products.

The forest reserve system should not lead to “the locking up from economic use of a certain forest area.” Even in critical watersheds the harvesting of old trees “is a positive advantage, in that it gives the young trees a chance to grow, while at the same time producing a profit from the forests. (Ralph Sheldon Hosmer; LRB)

And, forests are not just about trees.

Virtually all our fresh water comes from the forest, also clean air, recreation areas, habitat for native species, plants for cultural practices and woods for fine arts are among the thousands of forest benefits.

Our forests present endless opportunities for both residents and visitors; Hawaii’s forests offer employment, recreation and resources – including ecological goods and services.

Ecological goods include clean air, and abundant fresh water; while ecological services include purification of air and water, plant and wildlife habitat, maintenance of biodiversity, decomposition of wastes, soil and vegetation generation and renewal, groundwater recharge, greenhouse gas mitigation and aesthetically pleasing landscapes.

Water, wildlife and wood are just a few of the products found in our forests.

A little side note related to the ʻĀina Mauna … we prepared the ʻĀina Mauna Legacy Program, its Implementation Work Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Hawaiian Homes Commission (they unanimously approved all.)

The ‘Āina Mauna Legacy Program is DHHL’s long‐range planning document geared to restore and protect approximately 56,000‐acres (about ¼-of all the DHHL lands in the Islands) of native Hawaiian forest on Mauna Kea that is ecologically, culturally and economically self‐sustaining for the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust, its beneficiaries and the community.

We were honored and proud when our planning document, the ‘Āina Mauna Legacy Program, received awards: the “Environment/Preservation Award” from the American Planning Association‐Hawai‘i Chapter and the “Koa: Standing the Test of Time Award” by the Hawai‘i Forest Industry Association. The image shows some forest of the ʻĀina Mauna.

© 2014 Hoʻokuleana LLC

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