Episode 16: Mā‘ilikūkahi with Dr. Sam Gon

Feb 5, 2016

One of the master architects of the ahupua‘a system is also celebrated as the first great chief of O‘ahu. His name was Mā‘ilikūkahi and he was born at the sacred birthing stones of Kūkaniloko in central O‘ahu. Mā‘ilikūkahi ruled at the beginning of the sixteenth century during a time that came to be known as the Islands' golden age, says Dr. Sam Gon of The Nature Conservancy.

“By golden age, it meant that there was very little conflict, no warfare certainly within the island. The island was considered strong and no one from the surrounding islands dared to attack O‘ahu. It was a time when there was plenty, so that there were no famines or the like. And he was famous for ruling fairly and for listening to his counselors and to the people of the island.”

But Mā‘ilikūkahi is best remembered for is the brilliant way in which he reorganized and codified the land’s palena, or boundaries, so that divisions were clear and disputes resolved. Nineteenth-century Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau tells that when the kingdom passed to Mā‘ilikūkahi, land divisions were in a state of confusion. The ruler, says Kamakau, ordered the chiefs, lesser chiefs, warrior chiefs and overseers to divide all of the island into what would become the basic building blocks of the ahupua‘a system. It was a feat Mā‘ilikūkahi is remembered for even to this day.