POSTED: 22 FEBRUARY 2004 - 8:00pm HST

Looking at where the taro might grow

Kauai Carrying Capacity
by Juan Wilson on 22 February 2004

The map above was created by a GIS system for the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism to identify the areas of highest agricultural productivity. They are Land Study Bureau maps and are available for the entire state at the DBEDT website

Note that the darker areas are the most productive. The maps were developed with the assumption that water is diverted from the valleys to reach some highland plains and that the water table of the Mana Plain is pumped to a low enough level for agriculture. Moreover, the areas that are developed as "urban", including such anomalies as the runways at the PMRF are excluded from the maps designations of productivity.

None the less, to date this map is the best base map I have found to date to use as a source to quantify the areas populated by pre-European Hawaiian people. I have prepared a map that focuses on lowland valleys and areas where fresh water was readily available. The result is the map below. The brown areas in the map are places where I estimate that there might have been concentrations of Hawaiians. The total area in brown is 34,703 acres.


Most sources agree that taro is a staple with a very high calorie yield per acre; higher than corn or rice. An acre of taro can yield a year round supply of food to support between about 8 people. My estimate of pre-contact population is based on the assumption that the Hawaiians lived and farmed on the same land. This would mean that...

A) as much as half the arable land would be occupied by non agricultural uses.

B) in addition, at least half the land farmed would be 50% less productive in calories per acre than a lowland valley taro field.

Item A) reduces the highest productive agricultural land to 17,185 acres.

Item B) would support 8,593 acres with 8 people per acre, that would be 68,740 people. The remaining acres would be 50% less productive and therefore support 34,370 people. This would mean a total maximum Kauai population of about 100,000 people.

If my estimate of maximum population is correct, that would mean that there would be about 1,500 people maximum in Kalalau Valley and 3,600 people in Waimea Valley when Cook landed there. Cook made a nose of those Hawaiians he could see on landing. It came to about 500 people. Was only one in seven Waimeans seen by Cook? I doubt it so my sense is that the 100,000 population number for the island is high. However, I think it is not impossible that 100,000 people could be live on subsistence farming for some period of time prior to Cook's landing.

In part because of its age, Kauai has been eroded into many flattened valleys. Due to a number of factors it is also blessed with an abundance of rain when compared with other Hawaiian islands. I am going to apply the same productivity analysis to the other islands. My guesstimate is that Kauai will prove to be higher than average in population density and therefore the total population of the chain will be closer to a half million than the one million that UH Professor David Stannard postulates (see article below).

If this estimate is about right, that means that if you include the tourists and visitor population with the residents living here now, there are about as many people on Kauai today as there were when Cook landed over 225 years ago.

So, if you take exception with my estimate, have more information, or another way of looking at pre-contact Hawaiian population, please email me. I think this is an important subject because it relates to not only what happened in the past on Kauai, but what the potential is in the future. It should impact our planning goals.




What history of population was there on Kauai?

30 January 2004 - 8:00pm HST

Detail of "The Battle at Nu`Uanu Pau", on Oahu in 1795, by artist and scholar Herb Kawainui Kane

by Juan Wilson on 30 January 2004

After cruising the internet for information about pre-contact Native Hawaiian population estimates I came across what might be the source of the recent higher estimates for population of Hawaiians prior to Cook's Landing at Waimea, Kauai in 1775. The source is from a computer website at the University of Hawaii Kapiolani Community College Microbiology Department created by John Berestecky. The source file is an interview with David Stannard, UH American Studies Professor. The subject of the interview is a book Stannard wrote, published in 1989 by UH Social Science Research Institute, and titled "Before the Horror: The Population of Hawaii on the Eve of Western Contact".

The book postulates that eye witness Hawaiian population estimates (principally Captain Cook's and King's) were vastly smaller than the actual population. Cook's journals indicate that his estimate of Kauai population at 30,000 and King's island chain wide estimate 400,000 people.

Subsequent scholars has thought King's numbers too high and using varying techniques have driven that number downward to a widely accepted range of 100,000 to 300,000. Stannard's book citizens King's and subsequent scholars work and concludes that there were 1,000,000 people in the Hawaiian chain in1775.

There may be weaknesses to some scholars effort. Fortunately there are some records of how previous estimates were taken. Cook seems to have counted numbers at Waimea when he landed. Estimated numbers of communities of substantial size observed and extrapolated his results across all the island.

King, on the other hand, adjusted his number to 400,000 with an estimate that 25% of the islands shore and mauka were uninhabited.

Stannard's are as weak as any I have read about. Stannard took the contemporary population of Honolulu and spreads it over the largely rural central and northern shore areas and was able to maintain the population density of the settled areas of the north shore of Oahu. He argues that since you could fit them in they were their. I have not yet read "Before the Horror", but the interview seems to indicate that this technique (and we hope others) were extrapolated to arrive at Stannard's one million Hawaiian population estimate.

Stannard refers to documentation that indicates that only 50,000 Hawaiians were left by 1875 after the epidemics introduced by contact with westerners wiped out large numbers of people. THis contrast of 1,000,000 people reduced to 50,000 by the indifference and cruelty of westerners tells us the true horror of the results. Yes there was indifference and cruelty; I would add there was selfishness and greed too. The higher the contrast in these numbers, the greater the crime.

The Black Plague and other epidemics in Europe were due to contact with eastern micro-organisms. Stannard agrees with conventional wisdom that between the years 1350 and 1450 the bubonic plague reduced the population of Europe by half . If syphilis, mumps and other diseases destroyed half the Hawaiians by 1875; then the conventional wisdom lower estimate of 100,000 people in the islands would be reasonable. If 80% of Hawaiians were destroyed by European diseases then King's number of 400,000 Hawaiians would be reasonable. That's a lot of devastation without having to pave north Oahu suburbia over 1775 Hawaiian Islands.

More later.




POSTED: 4 JANUARY 2004 - 1:30pm HST

What Population is Right for Kauai?

by Juan Wilson on 4 January 2004

A conversation with a friend about ancient Hawaiian society had me doubting what I will call an "Island Legend". Island Legends, like the urban variety, pass from person to person without much question. Their mobility rests on their ability to thrill and amaze the listener with the tale. I suspect another reason these legends persist is that they fulfill an agenda or represent a world view in some way.

The Island Legend in this case is the oft repeated statistic that before European contact there were once 200,000 Hawaiians living on Kauai. When I first heard this I was amazed. It was part of a set of stories that includes the one that newbies hear while looking into Kalalau Valley from the Kokee Lookout, "Did you know that 5000 Hawaiians once lived in the valley?". There are certainly many myths surrounding Hawaii. Some are strengthened by postulating a large ancient population. For example, I've heard one theory that Hawaii was an ancient Atlantis and the source of a great prehistoric civilization that populated the world and that has been lost.

Sustainable Self-Sufficiency for Kauai
Obviously, for the whole of humanity, the Earth is an island. A blue planet in the black of space.
Sustainable self-sufficiency is the key for people living on an island, or a planet. People can’t live for long on an island if they burn down the forest, kill the animals and breed like insects. The Hawaiian Islands have always struck me as a little solar system of planets in a blue ocean of sky and sea. Each of Hawaii’s islands are surprisingly different each in its own way. And this island, Kauai, has been a blessed in many ways.

see also:

Island Breath: Sustainable


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