Why is ahupua'a wrong?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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We cannot actually say that the traditional Hawaiian land division ahupua’a is objectively “wrong.”  It is not a sort of land division that we would use in the modern world, but that does not necessarily mean that it was wrong.

The ahupua’a was the third level of land division in traditional Hawai’i.  These were wedge-shaped pieces of land that typically began at the source of a stream and followed that stream to the sea.  An ahupua’a would usually encompass many different types of land and would be self-sustaining.  The whole ahupua’a was controlled by a local chief in the name of the highest chief on the island.   Some people say that this was a good thing for the environment as there was a single leader who could oversee an entire ecosystem and keep it in balance.

If we are going to say that the ahupua’a was wrong, we have to say that this is because it did not allow for private property.  The commoners who lived and worked on the land had no right to it.  They were, in essence, in a feudal relationship with the chiefs.  They worked the land collectively and paid tribute from it to the chief.  The chief could evict them from the land if he chose.  We can say that this is wrong from a modern point of view because it did not treat commoners as equals and did not protect their rights.

When we say that a traditional system like this was wrong, we have to understand that we are judging it by the standards of a different time.  We can make judgements, but we should remember that we do not live in the same circumstances as the people who set up that system.

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