12/07/17 – Early History of “Island Ranching” In Hawai‘i is Theme of 2018 Historic Preservation Calendar

Posted on Dec 8, 2017 in News Releases, slider, State Historic Preservation Division

News Release


For Immediate News Release December 7, 2017

cover photo by Ric Noyle(cover photo by Ric Noyle)


HONOLULU —   With their vast expanses of grasslands reaching to the horizon across hundreds of acres, fences, and paniolo tending to flocks of grazing animals, the ranches of Hawaii have played an impactful role in the evolving history of Hawaii’s economy, industry, transportation, environment, culture and fashion.   

“Island Ranching” is the theme of the full-color 2018 calendar produced by the Department of Land and Natural Resources divisions of State Historic Preservation and Boating and Ocean Recreation, with the Hawai‘i Heritage Center. The calendar is designed by Viki Nasu Design Group with photography by Ric Noyle.

DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, “For more than 30 years the State Historic Preservation calendar has showcased the rich cultural and architectural history of Hawai‘i. DLNR and the Hawai‘i Heritage Center are deeply grateful for the continued support of the following corporate sponsors to share our outstanding treasures with the community,” she said.

  • Alexander & Baldwin
  • Cultural Surveys Hawai‘i, Inc.
  • Division of Boating & Ocean Recreation
  • Fung Associates, Inc.
    • Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc.
    • INPAC Realty Inc.
    • Larry and Beatrice Ching Foundation
  • Edward Nakamura Jr.
  • Wallace Theaters Management Corporation

Copies of the “Island Ranch” 2018 calendar, which also serves as a tide calendar, are available for purchase from the Hawai‘i Heritage Center (1040 Smith St., Honolulu, or by mail at: P.O. Box 37520, Honolulu, HI 96837). They are also available at Book Ends in Kailua and Na Mea Hawai‘i/Native Books at Ward Warehouse in Honolulu.

History of early ranching in Hawai‘i:

Pre-contact period:  The Polynesian settlers of Hawai‘i brought with them their primary plants used for food and other uses, and four animals, the moa (chicken), ‘īlio (dog), pua‘a (pig), and, inadvertently, the ‘iole (rat). The first three animals were the primary meat of the Hawaiians. Young ‘īlio and pua‘a were kept in compounds of the kauhale (village), hānai (fattened) on kalo (taro), ‘uala (sweet potato), and fish until they were large enough to be given in tribute to the ali‘i (chiefs), sacrificed in heiau (temples), or eaten at feasts. Other parts of the animals were used as ornaments or tools. The feathers of the moa decorated the ‘ulī‘ulī (gourd rattle) used in the hula, and ‘īlio teeth and pua‘a tusks were used to make bracelets and anklets worn by the hula dancers. The bones of the animals were used for tools, such as picks and fishhooks.

Post-contact period: It wasn’t until the arrival of Captain Vancouver in 1793 that cattle were introduced to Hawai‘i. Vancouver dropped one bull and one cow at Kawaihae, and took the remaining five cows to Kealakekua as a gift for King Kamehameha I. The bull died, so it was lucky that a year later Captain Vancouver returned with more cattle, four bulls and eight cows. A 10 year kapu (taboo) was placed on introduced cattle to feed on the rich green grasslands of Hawai‘i Island. These first cattle, or bullocks, were longhorn cattle and soon grew very wild. The first “ranchers” were bullock hunters, who rode to the uplands of Mauna Kea to shoot cattle or trap them in pits. The meat was used for food and the hides for export. By the 1820s, there were as many as 30,000 head of cattle on the islands. In 1815, John Palmer Parker landed in Hawai‘i and was employed as a bullock hunter. Gradually he began to accumulate land that became Hawai‘i’s renowned Parker Ranch on the Big Island.

Goats were the first domestic animals to be purposefully introduced in Hawai‘i. Captain Cook left goats on the island of Ni‘ihau in 1778. These were mainly hunted as wild animals. The first domestic sheep were introduced by Vancouver in 1793, but they did not thrive. A visitor in 1825 noted that he had found 8-10 dead sheep on Mauna Kea, stating that “they probably fled up there to seek refuge from the wild dogs.” A small sheep ranch was started on the Waimea Plains in 1856, but the first large scale sheep ranch was Parker Ranch’s Humu‘ula Sheep Station, established in 1873.

Other domestic mammal introductions soon followed. The first horse was left on the islands in 1803, and horses became common by the 1820s. Hawaiians took quickly to riding. Isabella Bird noted that “except for short shopping distances in Honolulu, I have never seen a native man or woman walking . . . and I have seen men take the trouble to mount horses to go 100 yards.” Hawaiian women also loved to ride, and to the displeasure of some foreign residents, they rode astride, with long, colorful split pā‘ū (skirts); as a result, women were called pā‘ū riders. The first of the famous paniolo (cowboys) from Mexico landed to work at the Parker Ranch in 1832, and many Hawaiians soon joined their ranks, preferring the free life of the range to the constricted work in the sugar cane fields. Horses became important work animals on the ranches, used to help catch and herd cattle.

By 1929, there were 41 primary cattle ranches in the islands, 19 in Hawai‘i, seven in Maui, three on O‘ahu, eight on Kaua‘i, and one each on Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Kaho‘olawe, and Ni‘ihau.

Ranching declined in Hawai‘i in the mid to late 20th century. In 1937, over 2 million acres in Hawai‘i were classified as “grazing lands.” By 2015, only 750,000 acres of land were classified as “pasture.”

Most of the current-day ranches have survived by diversifying into the tourist and visitor trade, adding helicopter tours, nature walks, horse trail rides, ATV (All Terrain Vehicles) riding, and ziplines. Some, like Kualoa Ranch on O‘ahu, have been used as location shots for movies, from Mister Rogers, made in 1955, to Jurassic Park in 2016.

The remaining ranch lands also represent large conservation areas, and ranch owners work with government agencies, community groups, non-profits, and private companies to conserve the lands, watersheds, and forest zones of the Hawaiian Islands in trust for the Hawaiian people of tomorrow.

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Media contact:

Deborah Ward
DLNR Communications Specialist
Phone: (808) 587-0320