By Léo Azambuja
Hawaiian cultural specialists, government officials and Kaua‘i residents attended the official launching Friday of an ambitious project that identifies the borders of the original six moku — or districts — of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.
The project, Kaua‘i Nui Kuapapa, aims to revitalize the Garden Isle’s cultural heritage utilizing signage and state-of-art technology.
“It’s a very important day because we are retaking our own identity,” said cultural specialist Keao NeSmith, minutes after the unveiling the sign marking the entrance of Puna Moku, which goes from Anahola to Ha‘iku.
NeSmith, Executive Partner of Na Hoku Welo, developed Kaua‘i Nui Kuapapa in response to Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s vision that culturally appropriate signage would help create awareness of the island’s traditional land divisions.
The project’s seed was planted in 2010 during a conversation between Carvalho and NeSmith, according to Project Coordinator Kanoe Ahuna.
NeSmith — “very happy and proud to be from Kaua‘i” — said he hopes bringing back the island’s traditional names and stories will encourage people to talk about “our place and what happened to our ‘aina.”
Kaua‘i Nui Kuapapa identifies Kaua‘i’s five moku (major districts expanding from Kaua‘i’s highest mountain, Wai‘ale‘ale, to the sea), with Ni‘ihau as the county’s sixth moku.
On Friday, the signs were placed along Kuhio and Kaumuali‘i highways — on private property — at the points of entry and exit of each of the island’s five moku. In addition, a sign representing the Ni‘ihau Moku was placed at MacArthur Park in Kekaha.
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.
The project will eventually identify the island’s estimated 54 ahupua‘a (pie-slice subdivisions within a moku), along with identifiers for waterways touching Kaua‘i’s main roadways.
With funding support provided by the county Office of Economic Development, the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, NeSmith and his team developed the signage, along with an informational and interactive website.
Other partners supporting the project include the Kaua‘i Museum, the Kaua‘i Historical Society and Garden Island Resource, Conservation and Development.
NeSmith also recognized the Office of the Mayor, Kaua‘i County Council, Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Dan Ahuna, DataSpace Industries, Datawise Consulting and Pass the Projects for their support.