Tracing the resilience and revitalisation of historic taro production in watpi'o valley, Hawai'i

Benjamin D. Jones, Thegn N. Ladefoged, Gregory Asner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The resilience and revitalisation of taro/kalo agriculture in the Hawaiian contact period is analysed in Waipi'o Valley, on the Big Island of Hawai'i. Historic work has demonstrated the effects of colonial contact on the people of Waipi'o. Documents from the Ma¯hele period, census information and missionary records are combined to paint a picture of how life unfolded in Waipi'o Valley over time. What is alluded to, and yet unexplored, is the changing production system and an overall trend of decreasing and fluctuating wetland taro production, where traditional cultivation is transformed by the introduction of rice farming. Later in time this too fades out, when taro again becomes dominant. Interestingly, wetland taro cultivation in Waipi'o is still practiced today, with interest in revitalising the capacity of a once intensively cultivated valley. Here, the impact of rice, and other crop introductions, is explored in terms of revitalising these wetland traditions. This was done by generating "snapshots" of the landscape through time. Information detailing traditional owners, plot locations and pondfields metrics were derived from digitised historic survey maps, and modern remote sensing techniques such as high resolution LiDAR (Light detection and ranging) imagery. Combining this information not only catalogued the historic trend of declining wetland irrigation, but directly illustrates the influence of past agricultural choices on modern wetland revitalisation agendas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-109
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of the Polynesian Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • GIS analysis
  • Hawaiian archaeology
  • Irrigated agriculture
  • LiDAR
  • Resilience
  • Revitalisation
  • Waipi'o Valley

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology


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