Mokauea Island

...is the site of the last fishing village on the island of O`ahu. The inhabitants of the former fishing community are engaged in restoring the island environment, and creating an educational facility on the island. Mokauea Island was originally among a group of small, low islands lying between the shore and the reef in the ahupua`a of Kalihi. The area was part of a highly productive fishing ground and together with the artificial fishponds built on the edge of what is now Ke`ehi Lagoon, this area was part of the kuleana (personal domains) of Hawaiian royalty.

The islands were accessible by foot at low tide and served as seasonal fishing villages for Hawaiian families in the Kalihi ahupua`a. Year-round residences were set up on the island probably some time around the turn of the century, but it's important to remember that the islands were part of a functioning residential system for centuries before this point. In the 1920s, the Territorial government ordered the construction of a seaplane runway between Mokauea and the mainland of O`ahu. This channel made contact with the mainland more difficult but not certainly not impossible. Modern islanders recall swimming or riding in canoes across the channel every day to get to school..

In the 1940s, the Kalihi channel was dredged out in order to provide deep water access to Honolulu harbor from the western side. The resulting dredged material was piled up on what became Sand Island on one side of the seaplane channel and on Mokauea Island on the other. In the process, the island's shape was radically altered to what we see today, and at least one of the neighboring islands was obliterated completely.

In 1976 the State of Hawai`i tried to evict the islanders from their homes in order to build a runway extension. The State ordered the inhabitants of Mokauea, then some 17 families to leave, and then burned the houses of some of the “squatters”. These actions were recorded by local media and the resulting public outcry made the State stop. The state then negotiated a 65 year lease with the islanders agreeing to let them stay if they would rebuild their houses according to the building code and set up an educational program for local students to learn about traditional fishing and the reef environment. The U.S. Navy provided labor and machinery to construct a fishpond on the eastern side of the island. Consultants from UH Manoa's Marine Options program helped island residents stock the fishpond.

However, the community's plans to rejuvenate the island have faced many obstacles. Costs of rebuilding together with the high cost of living in Honolulu generally have forced many families off the island. Currently only 6 families live on the island, and none possess the financial or time resources needed to set up an educational program or the facilities needed unassisted.

Anthropology Program's contributions

For more information on Mokauea Island contact Dr. Lynette Cruz