By Léo Azambuja

By the end of May, locals and visitors will start noticing signs strategically placed around the island, indicating the five historic moku, or districts, of Kaua‘i, plus Ni‘ihau.

Moku signs

But make no mistake — those signs are not a small piece of cultural information. Rather, they represent the second phase of Kaua‘i Nui Kuapapa, an ambitious project initiated in 2010 to “establish an infrastructure that empowers residents to become experts on the history, heritage, geography and bounty of their particular place on the island.”

“This project is critically important for us, as we strive to preserve our native Hawaiian culture and create renewed awareness in authentic place names and the meaning behind them,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said. “It is my hope that these traditional land divisions will someday be the basis for all of the decisions we make for the people of Kaua‘i.”

Project coordinator Kanoe Ahuna said the project’s seed was planted in 2010 during a conversation between Carvalho and Kekaha native Keao NeSmith, a cultural specialist. A year later, there was already support from various government agencies, private entities, nonprofit organizations and individuals.

Then in 2012, when research started, the project really took off, Ahuna said.

“We’re looking at this project in three phases,” said Ahuna, adding that phase one was research and planning, and phase two includes the actual production and installation of the signs to indicate district boundaries.

The project’s third phase will include taking the project to extend the curriculum of school children, from kindergarten to 12th grade, she said.

On May 30, the signs will go up simultaneously on different locations around the island. They will be placed near state highways, but on private property, and will indicate when locals and visitors are entering a certain district.

The Halele‘a Moku goes from Ke‘e Beach to Princeville; Ko‘olau Moku goes from Kalihiwai to Anahola; Puna Moku goes from Kealia to Ha‘iku near the Ha‘upu Mountain Range; Kona Moku goes from Ha‘iku to Polihale; and the Na Pali District goes from Polihale to Ke‘e Beach, closing the circle.

The Ni‘ihau Moku includes the entire Forbidden Isle. A sign for Ni‘ihau will be placed on Kaua‘i’s west coast.

Each moku’s boundaries also go from mauka to the makai, or from the mountain to the ocean.

In the old days, each moku was divided into several ahupu‘a, a pie-slice land division from mauka to makai. Kaua‘i used to have an estimated 52 ahupua‘a, according to project coordinators.

There was an ali‘i, or king, for an island (and sometimes many islands), a chief for each moku and a konohiki, or manager, for each ahupu‘a.

“The moku and ahupua‘a system of land management established by King Manokalanipo in the 1400s transformed the lives of Kaua‘i people by ensuring that food was always plentiful,” said project coordinators, adding Kaua‘i was the first island to establish this type of land management system.

“This was Kaua‘i’s contribution to society across the archipelago,” project coordinators said.

Ahuna said they had cultural cartographers, historians, land specialists to

Signage for each moku will have different colors and designs. The designs will be free for the public to use as branding for products, services, schools or organizations. Project coordinators are hoping the designs will become commonplace, so that the public would readily associate each logo with their moku.

Ahuna said she hopes the signs will lead people to the project’s website, and read and learn about Kaua‘i’s history. A smart-phone app will teach people about historic sites.

“We just want to educate,” she said.

Besides Ahuna and NeSmith, other members of the Na Hoku Welo team working alongside Nalani Brun, of the county Office of Economic Development, include cultural historian Randy Wichman, cultural/land specialist Canen Hookano, media/graphic specialist Dave DeLuca and mapping specialist Peter King.

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