Ancient Hawaii: A Model of Sustainable Agriculture S18
Faust, Robert H.
Hawaii Bio-Organic Grower's Association Honaunau, Hawaii 96726
|The Hawaiian's agricultural skills were
impressive to members of the Cook expedition from their first visit to the islands in
1778. The success of Hawaii's agriculture is recorded by Dr. Menzies, naturalist of the
Vancouver party of 1793 who saw »the most exuberant fields.which for industry of
cultivation and agricultural improvements could scarcely be exceeded in any country in the
world.« The Hawaiians were self-sufficient and had a larger population on the island of
Hawaii than exists today. Since the Islands were discovered so late in history and
contained an intact »sustainable« farming system that lasted 1000 years, we are
fortunate to have records of the methods used. These methods hold the potential to benefit
sustainable tropical agriculture today.
Ecological thinking was instinctively followed and mandated by kapus(taboos) under the ahupua'a system that prevented destroying the forest that provided forest products and a watershed. Thus, a diversity of species and habitats thrived. The punishment for breaking a kapu was always death unless the kapu breaker made it to the pu'uhonua (city of refuge) and was purified by the kahunas. Their system worked for a millennium in Hawaii and longer in other locations in the Pacific.
The planters of old Hawaii practiced minimum or no tillage methods, soilbuilding by cycling organic matter and using leaves to build humus, agroforestry, polyculture design, aquaculture using wastes for feed, mulching to conserve moisture and control weeds, etc., flooded field rotations using aroid root crops (taro) and plant breeding using resistance and diversity. Crops cultivated included taro, sweet potato, bread fruit, yam, coconut, paper mulberry and banana. This program was so successful that plenty of time remained for sports, ceremony, warfare, religion and other activities including recreational drug use ('awa).
Handy, E.S.C. and E.G. Handy, (1972): Native Planters in Old Hawaii, BishopMuseum Press.
Menzies, A., (1920): Hawaii Nei 128 Years Ago, W.F. Wilson.