The Ahupua’a System of Ancient Hawaii

Hello 4th graders! In today’s Hawaiian history class, we will be learning about the ahupua’a system. To prepare for today’s lesson, make sure you have a blank piece of paper and coloring supplies!

What is an ahupua’a?

In ancient Hawaii, the land was divided into sections that were ruled by local chiefs. These sections were shaped into thin slices that started high in the mountains and extended to the sea. These sections were called an ahupua‘a. Within each ahupua’a, there are three geographical areas: uka, kula, and kai. Watch this quick video below to learn more about the ahupua’a system!

Today we will be drawing an ahupua’a system. To start off, get your blank piece of paper and set it down in front of you in portrait style. Then divide the space on your paper into three equal sections by drawing two horizontal lines across your paper. We will start at the topmost section with uka!

Let’s draw an ahupua’a system!


As the video mentioned, the uka section of an ahupua’a was in the upland areas along the mountains. There were many important resources that uka provided:

  • Koa wood to build canoes, houses, and artistic crafts
  • Kauila hardwood to create weapons and tools
  • Stalks that were flexible enough to use for fishing net rims and for musical bows
  • Roots, vines and other plants for fishing tools, leis, and medicinal purposes

On the section at the top of your paper, start drawing the uka of your ahupua’a system. Feel free to draw some koa trees, maile vines, mamaki, and other plants you may find high in the mountains! There are also many colorful birds in this area you can draw such as the ‘Apapane, ‘I’iwi, and ‘Amakihi. And don’t forget to label “Uka” somewhere in this section so you don’t forget its name!


Kula is the next section of the ahupua’a, settled between the mountains (uka) and the sea (kai). And so you will be drawing kula in the middle section of your paper. Unlike uka, kula has flat, sloping land that was mostly used for agriculture. Some common plants that were grown here include:

  • Bananas
  • Dry-land kalo (used to make poi, which was a very important food for early Hawaiians)
  • Sweet potato
  • Ulu (breadfruit)
  • Kukui trees
  • Pili grass (used for building houses)

Use the images above as inspiration as you draw the kula of your ahupua’a in the middle section of your paper. Make sure to label this part as “Kula” and try to draw at least three different plants in this area (but feel free to draw more!).


The final part of our ahupua’a is kai, which includes the sea and land near it. Kai is an important section because it supplies the ahupua’a with fish, salt, and other seafood. There were also many medicines that come from this area, such as seawater itself. Hawaiian salt (also known as pa’akai) was particularly essential because it was used for many things: medicine, preserving food, ceremonies, and seasoning. Some other resources that came from kai include:

  • Coconut trees used to create brooms, canoes, spears and fans
  • Seashells that were made into as small bowls and knee drums
  • Noni which is a fruit used for medicine and yellow dyes
  • Algae, seaweed and limu that were used as food (limu is a sea plant that has lots of nutrients and vitamins)

To finish our ahupua’a drawing, draw your kai area at the bottom section of your paper. You can include all sorts of ocean critters here, such as the whales, fishes, and turtles in the images above. And to finish it off, label this section “Kai.”


An ahupua’a was an important system in ancient Hawaii. Typically, an ahupua’a was a narrow strip of land that extended high up from the mountains, uka, to the sloped plains of kula, and finally to the ocean, kai. Each of these three areas had important resources that were traded and used for food, tools/weapons, medicine, shelters, musical instruments, and crafting/decorations. The most important thing for a successful ahupua’a was that everyone did their part. The people living here had essential jobs and responsibilities. These responsibilities were called ‘kuleana.’ When everyone did their kuleana, the land and its people could thrive. Try to brainstorm about what your kuleana may be. Some examples include taking care of siblings, doing house chores, being kind to others, and even simply staying healthy. Write down your possible kuleanas on the back of your ahupua’a drawing and be ready to share some of them with the class.

Image credit:

Photo by Pietro De Grandi on Unsplash Photo by Kevin Doran on Unsplash
Photo by David Lang on Unsplash
Photo by Studio Kealaula on Unsplash
Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash
Photo by Martin Zangerl on Unsplash
Photo by Sean Robertson on Unsplash
Photo by Jason Miller on Unsplash
Photo by Tristan Ramberg on UnsplashPhoto by Athena Kavis on Unsplash
Photo by Valkyrie Pierce on Unsplash
Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash
Photo by Karson on Unsplash
Photo by Joe Cook on Unsplash

One Reply to “The Ahupua’a System of Ancient Hawaii”

  1. Lannie,
    I really like this post!

    First: I learned something I didn’t know. It’s a fascinating system for organizing space, and thus, a society. The video’s narrator is very knowledgeable and starts the post off with a detailed explanation. Your post does an excellent job of building on the video.

    It is beautifully illustrated. Great selection of images. The layout is very supportive. I like the terms in bold face. Even closes with a well-written summary.

    You should be proud of this post.

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