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Planning for Census 2020 provides the perfect opportunity to look at our traditions and remind ourselves of the brilliance of our ancestors.

Census-taking is not a new practice. As far back as 1500, ‘Umi-a-Liloa conducted a census of Hawai‘i Island to help him assess the resources of his realm. 

As chief, ‘Umi directed all citizens to bring a stone representing his or her stature to the slopes of Hualalai. Babies were represented by pebbles, smaller stones stood in for keiki, ʻōpio were represented by somewhat larger ones, and mākua larger still. Kūpuna offered stones according to their strength. Warriors placed the largest pohaku of all.

The latter information became important when ‘Umi needed to assemble his army to confront Maui forces.

Stones were placed in piles assigned to the districts of the moku, thus providing a quick assessment of the population of each district.

There are several 19th century accounts of these rock piles and the ingenuity of our aliʻi. Bingham recognized eight pyramids. Alexander described these pyramids with detailed dimensions. Some referred to the pilings as columns. Remnants of this earliest census remain today, as do the stories of this innovative method of counting.

A regular accounting of population informs how resources are allocated and programs are developed. The information will assist us in knowing our communities so that we can design and execute services, evaluate programming, and advocate for those we serve.  This is why Papa Ola Lōkahi is proud to encourage participation.

You Count!  Place your pohaku. Participate in Census 2020.


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Mahalo to Momi Imaikalani Fernandez whose research in behalf of Papa Ola Lōkahi contributed to this reprisal of ‘Umi-a-Liloa’s story.  These related articles were published in Ka Wai Ola in December 2009, January 2010, and in this 2010 Census newsletter.

Mahalo to Natalie Kamaka‘ike Bruecher for her original artwork.

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