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There are few ancient landscapes left in the Hawaiian archipelago that are as untouched as the Kalaupapa peninsula.

For 900 years Hawaiians lived and thrived on this northern jut of land. Archaeological evidence of their lives and connection with the ‘aina or land, is everywhere, from their house sites to their irrigated taro fields to their stone walls. Historical accounts speak of populations of 1,000 to 2,700 living on the peninsula, in the valleys, and in the villages.

A series of epidemics in the 1800s decimated the Hawaiian population and by 1853 only about 140 people lived in the village of Kalaupapa. In 1865, fearing the spread of leprosy, the Kingdom of Hawai’i quarantined lepers to the isolated peninsula. Until 1969 over 8,000 people were sent there.

Father Damien de Veuster arrived at the remote settlement on May 10, 1873. Under his leadership, basic laws were enforced, shacks became painted houses, working farms were organized and schools were erected.  On October 11, 2009, Father Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, becoming Hawai’i’s first saint.

Fifth largest island in the Hawaiian chain (168,768 acres)

88 miles of shore

Highest point Kamakou  4,961 feet

7,407 residents

Born from two volcanoes, the island has a unique geology.

Moloka’i boasts the world’s highest sea cliffs, Hawai’i’s  longest waterfall, the largest white sand beach in the state, and 24.8 miles of coral reef — the longest  in the U.S.

A view of the highest sea cliffs in the world, towering 3,600-3,900 feet in the air. They formed a natural barrier for the Kalaupapa colony of outcast lepers in the 19th century.  If you’d like to see more of these sea cliffs they are featured in the movie  Jurassic Park III.

Kahiwa Falls is a tiered waterfall located on the northern shore of Molokai, between Wailau and Papalaua valleys. The waterfall is about 2,165 feet tall, although often only 1,749 feet of its drop are counted as the main fall. The falls have 6 tiers, the highest drop is more than 600 feet. Kahiwa Falls can be observed only from the sea or from air. At strong winds waterfall may get caught and raised upwards.

One of the longest and finest beaches in the Hawaiian Islands, Papohaku Beach extends over three miles of coastline and is more than 300 yards wide.  Even though the beach is beautiful, it is often deserted and it is not uncommon to find yourself alone in paradise here.  Strong tradewinds coming from the west can whip up the sand along this long beach during windy weather.

Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
`Âina i ka wehiwehi
E ho`i no au e pili

 And Hina’s great Moloka`i
Festive land
May I return to stay


Maui County was the first to amend its building code to allow for the construction of indigenous Hawaiian structures.  These rules were the first of their kind in the state and have served as a guide for local governments.

Today, more than ever, the concept of sustainable design is in the forefront. It recognizes that human civilization is an integral part of the natural world and that nature must be preserved and perpetuated if the human community itself is to survive.

The concept of sustainable design holds that future technologies must function primarily within bioregional patterns and scales. They must maintain biological diversity and environmental integrity, contribute to the health of air, water, and soils, incorporate design and construction that reflect bioregional conditions, and reduce the impacts of human use.

Whatever it’s called — sustainable design, sustainable development, design with nature, environmentally sensitive design, holistic resource management — the capability of natural and cultural systems being continued over time, is key.


For centuries, traditional Hawaiian structures had thatched roofs made of pili grass.

The most important building in ancient Hawaiian civilization was the home of the chief. The Hale Ali’i could be found on a hill, with a stone foundation to symbolize the chief’s high standing within the community. The interior of the Hale Ali’i  was covered with leaves, and the floor with woven mats. Nearby, stood the Hale Papa’a, serving as a storage room, where the chief kept his most valuable possessions. In this home, the chief (ali’i) would hold meetings. Women and children could not enter this building.

The Hale Ali’i was not the only building to exemplify the ancient Hawaiian system of taboos, or kapu. In the Hale Mua, or men’s eating house, women and children were not allowed to enter or eat. Instead, women and children ate at the Hale ‘Aina, a separate building.

Many ancient Hawaiian structures held cultural importance. The Halau, or house of instruction, was a place of instruction, where young native Hawaiians learned the art of the hula and other aspects of Hawaiian culture. In the Hale Pahu, or drum house, drums and other instruments needed for hula dances were stored. In the Hale Ulana, or weaving house, women created mats, baskets, fans, and other items from dried leaves woven delicately together. Near the water, the Hale Wa’a, or canoe house, held canoes made from koa wood, or tropical mahogany. Closest to the shoreline, the Hale Lawai’a, or fishing house, provided space for fishermen to prepare their gear and nets.

While the chief lived in the Hale Ali’i, other Hawaiians lived in a much more modest Hale Noho. In this house, extended family members slept in a specific order under one roof. The traditional beds used by Hawaiians consisted of dried grass and leaves spread on the earth.  Mats places over the grass completed the bed. 

Other traditional Hawaiian buildings for daily use included:  Hale Halawai for eating, meeting, retailing, and working; Hale Ku`ai for eating, meeting, retailing, storage, and working; Hale Noa for sleeping and storage.