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There are many benefits to restoring a watershed and its ecosystems and the services that these places provide are priceless to our culture and way of life.

Learn about each of the ways that the land sustains us.


E Mālama Mau Ka La‘a

Preserve the sacredness

wao akua | the realm of the gods

wao kanaka| where the people are

There are two types of plants used in traditional Hawaiian hula: plants used for the hula kuahu (altar), and hula adornment plants or lei. The native Hala pepe (shown here) is a hula kuahu (altar) plant found in our leeward dry forests. Other altar plants include maile, ‘ie‘ie, ‘ilima, and ōhi‘a lehua. Some plants, such as ‘ie‘ie, palapalai and maile are considered sacred to the hula goddess Laka, while others, such as the lehua, are considered sacred to Pele. The hula dance itself will determine which plants are chosen.

Endemic and indigenous plants are also known to be the kinolau, or physical embodiment of, a god or goddess. In Hawaiʻi every plant and animal is an embodiment of a god. So are clouds, rain, the movement of lava, the currents of ocean and air. Because hula is a spiritual practice, as dancers gather the leaves, flowers and vines for use in the hula, great care is taken to make sure that rare species are not chosen, and that the dancers understand the connection to the land and gods of the particular dance. Many recite a protection chant before entering the forest, asking for permission to enter and pick plants.


Ke Kuamauna - the mountaintop

Ke ku(a)hea - the misty ridge

Ka wao kele -the rain belt regions

Ka wao kanaka - the region of people below

Ka po‘ina nalu - the place covered by waves

Ka wao akua - the distant area inhabited by gods

Ke Kula - the plain or open country

"The boundaries of all but one moku on East Maui are demarcated by a single rock on top of Haleakalā, known as either “Pōhaku ‘Oki ‘Āina (rock that divides the land) and Pahala (flat). Eight of the nine traditional land divisions radiate from this rock on the northeastern edge of the crater: Kīpahulu, Hāna, Ko‘olau, Hāmākua Loa, Kula, Honua‘ula, Kahikinui and Kaupō, giving the impression of a he‘e (octopus) stretching its tentacles across East Maui."

| Ancestral Places: Understanding Kanaka Geographies – Katrina-Ann R. Kapā‘anaokalāokeola Nākoa Oliveira

Here is our explanation of our tatau design.



Native forests fed, clothed and cured us


Forests provided for the people of Hawai‘i from the mountains to the sea. Everything is connected. Water from the streams fed the lo‘i (taro fields) in the lowlands and the loko i‘a (fishponds) at the coast. Large trees were made into houses, canoes, weapons, and tools. Native birds provided feathers that adorned capes, helmets and leis (1). There was also a system of sharing between the people who lived up mountain (mauka) and those who lived towards the sea (makai). Utilizing a set of rules based around conservation known as the kapu system, it was everyone’s responsibility in the Hawaiian community to mālama ‘āina (care for the land). If the people cared for the land, the land would care for the people. Families from the uplands shared Pili grass, herbs for medicinal uses, kalo, poi and ‘uala (sweet potato). The coastal families would in turn exchange limu, ‘opihi and i‘a (fish) to their upland friends and neighbors (2).


But the people also revered the forest and understood that their connection to the living forest was nourished their bodies and souls. The mana, power and life energy of all things, was respected and when forest species were used, that mana was taken seriously. “When a large ‘ōhi‘a tree was felled for ritual purposes, a human sacrifice was demanded, so high was the mana of the tree”(1).

(1) Wao Akua – DLNR

(2) Ancestral Places: Understanding Kanaka Geographies – Katrina-Ann R. Kapā‘anaokalāokeola Nākoa Oliveira

Kalo leaf. Courtsey of Avenue at Wikimedia Commons

CC BY-SA 3.0,


Leeward Haleakalā  is full of sacred and spiritual sites, where gods and goddesses thrived and the divine connection to the land, water, wind and rain was strong.

Haleakalā – the house of the sun – was where demigod Maui lassoed the sun and made it slow down on its daily course through the sky so that Hina could dry her kapa cloth in a single day. (1)

Below Kaupō Gap there are many ancient sites like Lo‘alo‘a (pitted) Heiau, Hale o Kāne Heiau, and the Pōpōiwi Heiau, dedicated by Kekaulike in 1730. (1)

Kīpahulu Valley was known as the home of Laka – a god worshiped by canoe builders – most likely due to the quality of koa wood gathered from here. Kīpahulu means “fetch (from) exhausted gardens”. This area is also home to the Kanekoela Heiau – the 3rd largest in the state – where kahuna were said to be trained in their professions. (1)


​“The thread of ancestral memory reminds us that the mountain, like our parents, is the wellspring and provider of physical and spiritual nourishment.” – Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele (2)

(1) Ancient Sites of Maui book – Van James

(2) Wao Akua book– DLNR


The mountain provides spiritual nourishment.

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