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Native American Heritage Month: Indigenous Foodscapes

Native American Heritage Day is Friday, November 27, 2020.

This month has been a celebration in honor of Native American Heritage Month. We pay tribute to the indigenous people of the United States which includes Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Kanaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiians).

These indigenous cultures and tribes have contributed deep ancestral knowledge and wisdom to our modern society. Knowledge that was acquired through hundreds and thousands of years of observation and practice. Weʻre blessed to live in Hawaiʻi, a place that is enriched with native culture and tradition. The ancient Hawaiians were sophisticated navigators, resource managers, and storytellers. You could say that many of ʻAkahiaoʻs values, concepts, and ideas originated from indigenous thinking. From agricultural practices, reverence for nature, to the sacredness and connectedness of life. These are instilled into ANI and the programs that we offer.

Food is the primary focus during the holidays, aside from gathering with family. It brings people together and many memories are made at the dinner table. We want to take this time to share gratitude for the blessings and the challenges weʻve all endured this year. May we be thankful for the small moments that make up this sacred space we call life. In honor of food and the sustenance that sustains us, this blog is dedicated to Native American Foodscapes.

If you're interested in learning more, check out PBS and the many films they offer for Native American Heritage Month.

Indigenous Foodscapes of Native Hawaiians

Ancient Ahupuaʻa System

The ancient ahupuaʻa system was a complex socioeconomic, geologic, and climatic subdivision of land. Each island was subdivided into many ahupuaʻa (land divisions) that typically ran from mauka (upland) to makai (sea), and can sometimes be likened to a watershed. Each ahupuaʻa encompassed necessary resources for the community to survive and thrive. Kanaka (people) would trade resources between mauka and makai, such as iʻa (fish) for wood, to build waʻa (canoes) or hale (house).

Biocultural Resource Management

The kapu (taboo) system distinguished certain prohibition periods throughout the year for fishing, gathering, and growing. This was done to ensure that certain species had time to thrive, and that resources were able to replenish. In this sense, Hawaiians were practicing sustainability long before it became a trend; it was their way of life.


Farming provided the majority of the sustenance; and therefore, was the most important activity and way of life for the mahi ʻai (farmer). Due to the many microclimates across the islands, mahi ʻai had wetland and dryland agricultural methods.

The most important of the staple foods was kalo (taro). Kalo was grown in the valley in wetland loʻi patches with extensive irrigation from nearby streams and rivers. There was also dry-land kalo which was grown on terraced slopes. The second most important crop was ʻuala (sweet potatoes), because it required less water and provided an a