OHA pursues its community-informed plans for managing Kūkaniloko and its surrounding Wahiawā lands
“Kahi i makemake nui ʻia e nā aliʻi o Oʻahu nei;
A place greatly desired by the chiefs of Oʻahu.”
– Kalanikuihonoinamoku, 1865
A place of chiefs
The Wahiawā Plateau is the vast central plain between the Koʻolau and Waiʻanae mountain ranges on Oʻahu. There, where the cooling Waikōloa and Waiʻōpua winds carry the fragrance of the forests from the Waiʻanae mountains, are many sacred sites, and most notable among them are the birthing stones of Kūkaniloko.
Kūkaniloko is believed to have been constructed almost a thousand years ago by Nanakaoko and his chiefess, Kahihikalani, in anticipation of the birth of their son, Kapawa. Imbued with the mana of generations of aliʻi, this most sacred of wahi kūpuna is considered the spiritual piko of Oʻahu. Kākuhihewa, who reigned in the 17th century and was of Oʻahu’s most celebrated chiefs, is the last aliʻi known to have been born at Kūkaniloko.
Of the aliʻi born at Kūkaniloko over half a millennium, Māʻilikūkahi is especially notable for his wisdom and leadership. Centuries after his passing, he is still remembered as an astute ruler whose revolutionary ideas and skillful land management ultimately impacted the entire pae ʻāina and subsequent generations of ʻŌiwi.
At just 29-years-old, Māʻilikūkahi was chosen to reign as aliʻi nui of Oʻahu at a time of great tumult and chaos. His notorious predecessor, Haka, had been deposed, leaving a legacy of disarray, mostly stemming from land disputes.
Māʻilikūkahi is credited for establishing Hawaiʻi’s system of land division. He divided Oʻahu into moku, ahupuaʻa, ʻili kūpono, and so forth, and developed a tiered structure of aliʻi, based on rank, to manage each land division. This geo-political system clearly defined kuleana for the land across all members of society, and was critical to maintaining order and settling long-standing land disputes. He is also thought to have created Hawaiʻi’s first code of laws, ensured freedom to makaʻāinana wishing to leave the service of unjust chiefs, and forbade human sacrifice.
Today, Māʻilikūkahi remains a role model for effective leadership and prudent land management for modern Kānaka Maoli.
In the 1800s, the forests which blanketed the slopes of the Waiʻanae mountains were decimated by the sandalwood trade and by the whaling industry, enabled by avaricious and unscrupulous chiefs seeking foreign wealth. This devastated the ecosystem and landscape of the Wahiawā Plateau.
But the most destructive impact to the environment resulted from the establishment of ranching and monocrop agriculture in central Oʻahu.
Ranching activities began in the mid-19th century, made possible by the Māhele of 1848. The 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom precipitated the conversion of Hawaiian Crown Lands into private landholdings, which, in turn, allowed for the establishment of massive sugar and pineapple plantations, and construction of a 14,400-acre military reservation by the U.S. Government on Hawaiian lands at Wahiawā.
Ranching and intensive monocrop agriculture on the Wahiawā Plateau necessitated the construction of irrigation systems and a dam near the north and south forks of Kaukonahua Stream. This formed the Wahiawā Reservoir, known today as Lake Wilson.
Due to rising labor costs, the last sugar plantation in Hawaiʻi shut down in 1980, while pineapple production slowed and eventually stopped in 2008. However, decades of monocrop agriculture had severely degraded the quality of the soil.
In 1882, George Galbraith, a rancher from Ireland, purchased 2,000 acres of land in Wahiawā, which included Kūkaniloko. To his credit, Galbraith was respectful of the site, fencing in the area to protect it from cattle and ranching activities.
Galbraith leased the lands encompassing Kūkaniloko to the Waialua Agriculture Company in 1900 for pineapple production. The plantation manager for the company continued to care for Kūkaniloko through 1918. Kuleana for the site then passed to the Daughters of Hawaiʻi, the Waialua Hawaiian Civic Club, and then in 1960, to the Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā (HCCW), which continues to play a critical role in caring for and maintaining this wahi kūpuna.
In 1973, Kūkaniloko was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1988 the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) acquired the approximately half-acre of land where the birthing stones rest by an executive order of then-Gov. John Waiheʻe, although HCCW continued to steward the site. In 1992, Kūkaniloko and a 4.5-acre buffer of surrounding land were designated a state park, expanding the parcel to its current size of 5 acres.
By the end of the 20th century, the remaining 1,732 acres of Galbraith’s estate represented one of the largest undeveloped plots of land on Oʻahu. For years, real estate speculators fancied the land for luxury homes; in 1992 a trustee of Galbraith’s estate proposed the development of an 18-hole golf course and 3,100 homes. However, that and other attempts at the sale and development of these lands were, providentially, unsuccessful.
OHA acquires 511 acres surrounding Kūkaniloko
After Galbraith’s trustees began dissolving his estate in 2007, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature set aside $13 million to purchase the land, partnering with the nonprofit conservation organization Trust for Public Land, who worked with various other collaborators, including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), to raise an additional $12 million. The Galbraith estate was purchased by the state in 2012 for $25 million.
The land was transferred to two public agencies: 1,200 acres went to the Hawaiʻi State Agribusiness Development Corporation, while 511 acres surrounding the 5-acre Kūkaniloko Birthstones State Monument were transferred to OHA.
OHA reached an agreement with DLNR to assume the kuleana for management of Kūkaniloko, and three years later entered into a formal stewardship agreement with HCCW to continue their decades-long kuleana as the caretakers of Kūkaniloko.
With the protection and management of Kūkaniloko secured, in 2016, OHA began a conceptual master planning process for the surrounding 511-acre parcel led by the agency’s land department.
Kūkaniloko is an extremely sacred place of great historical significance; it is a cultural kīpuka (oasis) and resource to Native Hawaiians and the larger community for current and future generations. But the lands surrounding Kūkaniloko are overgrown with invasive species, and the soil is degraded by decades of pineapple monoculture.
From the outset, OHA’s goal has been to manage the land in a culturally appropriate and pono manner by honoring and protecting the birthing stones, restoring the forest and watershed, exploring options for compatible agriculture, and contributing to Hawaiʻi’s food security.
The planning process began with OHA initiating a comprehensive community engagement effort which included interviewing thought leaders from within the Native Hawaiian community, engaging neighboring landowners, conducting extensive historical and cultural research, creating case studies, hosting multiple community meetings, and forming a 10-member Cultural Working Group (CWG) to help with the actual planning.
The CWG was comprised of individuals with expertise in cultural and natural resource management, agriculture, archaeology, business and marketing, education, Hawaiian culture, and environmental and property law.
Building on the initial round of community feedback, a kumupaʻa (foundation) for the planning work was established which reads, in part, “This place is a wahi kapu with mana that has existed since time immemorial and will exist for time eternal. It is an ecosystem of connectivity between ʻāina and kānaka.”
From this kumupaʻa, three conceptual values emerged: Hoʻomana (protection/sanctification); Hoʻonaʻauao (education/connection); and Hoʻoulu ʻĀina (agricultural/ecological rehabilitation/soil remediation). These values served as a filter for the entire planning process and continue to serve as the foundation for further development and implementation of the Conceptual Master Plan (CMP).
In all, the planning process took two and a half years.
OHA’s Conceptual Master Plan and vision for Kūkaniloko
In September 2018, the CMP was presented to OHA trustees who supported the long-term direction of the CMP and authorized ongoing efforts towards its implementation. The CMP focuses on “embracing the history and culture of Wahiawā by bringing community together through regeneration of the land, food security, cultural education and the design of desirable spaces” in a way that will “create a place of intimacy between ʻāina and kānaka.”
As a result of the planning effort, four programmatic outcomes emerged: Integrated Programming; Education Continuum; Hub & Spoke; and Vegetation Continuum (see below).
A key component of the vision for OHA’s 511 acres at Wahiawā is reforestation. This includes re-establishment of the native forest, as well as planting a native food (semi-managed) forest, and agro-forestry.
Planting native trees to recreate the native forest that was destroyed as a result of ranching and monocrop agriculture allows for the holistic restoration of the ecosystem, watershed and soil health. Tree species identified for the reforestation effort include ʻiliahi (sandalwood), koa, ʻōhiʻa lehua, lama and ʻohe (bamboo). It will take decades to transform the land from its current state (overgrown grasslands) back into a forest, so planting efforts have already started, but the availability of water remains an obstacle.
The plan also calls for establishment of a semi-managed native food forest that integrates native forest trees with trees/plants cultivated for specific medicinal or cultural uses, as well as food crops. The semi-managed native food forest will include ʻulu (breadfruit), ʻawa, maiʻa (banana), uhi (yam) and ʻōlena (turmeric). Puʻu o Hōkū Ranch on Molokaʻi is an example of this type of forestry. Like the native forest, the semi-managed forest is a high priority as it will take years to establish.
The planned agro-forest will be designated for food and medicinal crops, and for plants that are culturally important. This will help to ensure rapid growth for the fast revival of carbon, and provide plants that can be utilized to generate income, as well as plants for medicinal and educational purposes.
A significant portion of the land is also being designated for high-tech agriculture that incorporates cutting-edge agricultural methodologies and technologies such as hydroponics, aquaponics and greenhouse cultivation.
None of this will affect the 5 acres that protect the sacred stones of Kūkaniloko; the 5-acre parcel will be further buffered from other activities on the land by landscaping and native forests.
OHA also plans to establish a community space to be used as a gathering place for events and for on-site cultural programming where Hawaiian art and culture can be practiced, shared and taught. And, building on the legacy of leadership inspired by Māʻilikūkahi, as a center for ʻŌiwi leadership training.
“This is about creating leaders,” said CWG member Kukui Maunakea-Forth. “This is the place to strengthen our lāhui [with] leaders who are going to go back home, not going to the mainland.”
Added CWG member Tom Lenchanko, “Kūkaniloko can serve as an example of what could happen in your respective places. Experts in every field will be waiting here to train the future leaders of our nation.”
In addition to some initial planting of native trees by OHA staff members, and monthly meetings with the Kūkaniloko Advisory Hui, work on the plan to date has also included ongoing research in collaboration with an ʻŌiwi-led team of researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi on soil remediation and vegetation typography. Nearly 80 acres have already been cleared of invasive trees and grasses, and professional designers, along with members of the Wahiawā community, are helping to conceptualize spaces that will facilitate the re-vegetation and educational objectives of the CMP, as well as the protection of Kūkaniloko. OHA has also engaged a security contractor to protect the entire site from trespassing and vandalism.
Inspired by the culture and history of this sacred wahi kūpuna, OHA is collaborating with the community to create a place where Kānaka Maoli from keiki to kūpuna, can come together to learn and live our culture, where the legacy of the aliʻi born and trained at Kūkaniloko for leadership can be carried on by future generations of ʻŌiwi leaders, and where the natural environment and ecology of the Wahiawā Plateau is restored and can continue to flourish and enrich our lāhui in perpetuity.
Conceptual Master Plan Programmatic Outcomes
Integrated Programming ensures that the various activities planned for the land, from restoration of the land, to cultural activities, to agricultural initiatives to general management and access will work seamlessly together, fortifying the connection between our people and this place.
The Education Continuum promotes generationally integrated learning to provide our current and future generations access to the lessons learned by our kūpuna. This concept will be perpetuated through education and engagement programs that support a traditional model of reciprocal learning.
Hub & Spoke refers to the vision for Kūkaniloko to become a “hub” to connect other similar efforts on Oʻahu and across the pae ʻāina. It will bridge movements and leverage resources and initiatives so that people will gain knowledge at Kūkaniloko and take that ʻike back to their moku, ahupuaʻa and ʻili.
The Vegetation Continuum incorporates the full spectrum of vegetation planning strategies, from native forests to high-tech agriculture. By creating a diverse ecosystem, native trees will help to restore the watershed, which will feed the understory and, ultimately, feed the lāhui.
Kūkaniloko Conceptual Master Plan Cultural Working Group
- Leilani Basham, Ph.D., UH Mānoa Hawaiʻinuiākea, School of Hawaiian Knowledge
- Jesse Cooke, CPA, Ulu Pono Initiative
- Susan Crow, Ph.D., UH Mānoa, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
- Jo-lin Lenchanko Kalimapau, Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā
- Kuʻuipo Laumatia, Manaʻolana International
- Jonah Laʻakapu Lenchanko, Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā
- Thomas Joseph Lenchanko, Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā
- Noa Kekuewa Lincoln, Ph.D., UH Mānoa, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
- Kukui Maunakea-Forth, MAʻO Organic Farms
- Manulani Aluli Meyer, Ph.D., UH West Oʻahu Kūkaniloko Advisory Hui
Kūkaniloko Advisory Hui
- Kahealani Acosta, MAʻO Organic Farms
- Maka Casson-Fisher, Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā
- Jesse Cooke, CPA, Ulu Pono Initiative
- TJ Cuaresma, Office of Representative Amy Perusso
- Noelani Devincent, Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā
- Jo-lin Lenchanko Kalimapau, Hawaiian Civic Club of Wahiawā
- Kukui Maunakea-Forth, MAʻO Organic Farms
- Kawika McKeague, Group 70 International, Inc.
- Keola Ryan, UH Mānoa Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge
- Vi Verawudh, Group 70 International, Inc.