The ahupua'a is the basic land division in traditional Hawaiian society. Within this division, running from the uplands (mauka) to the sea (makai), could be found all of the resources needed to sustain Hawaiian life. People gathered sea salt and caught fish and other marine life from the ocean and tidal pools, conducted agriculture on the dry lands and wet valleys, obtained fresh water from perennial streams, and harvested the hardwood forests for many uses, including houses and canoes.
There are three ahupua'a on Kalaupapa peninsula, but four are within the boundary of the National Historical Park's boundary. The natural environment and resources found within the ahupua'a of Kalaupapa, Makanalua, Kalawao and Waikolu were rich enough to support human habitation for hundreds .of years. For Hawaiians involved with agriculture, there were three types of land available for growing crops. Ko Kaha Kai was land along the shoreline. Kula lands were on the lands above the shoreline. Kahawai lands were in the valleys, where fresh water could also be obtained. At Kalauapapa the kula lands were important for growing 'uala, or sweet potatoes.