Shedding Light in the Darkness

Maui’s Lahaina – Tourists & Sacred Sites

hula_dancers_possibly_from_king_kalakauas_court_hawaii_ca-_1885_pp-32-9a-035 “You can leave it all behind and sail to Lahaina
just like the missionaries did, so many years ago
They even brought a neon sign: “Jesus is coming”
Brought the white man’s burden down
Brought the white man’s reign” – The Eagles “The Last Resort”

The Eagles’ “Hotel California” album closed with the epic track, “The Last Resort,” which vividly evoked the colonialist destruction of native cultures, and referenced Lahaina’s “Jesus  Coming Soon”  sign.

A new book, “Tourism Impacts West Maui,” peaks behind the facade of the tourist image of Lahaina and West Maui. “It upends all the ‘official’” stories about Lahaina and the rest of the Westside, shakes them until all the tourist marketing nonsense shatters, then gives a straight telling of what really happened,” noted a Maui Time review.

Edited by Lance Collins and Bianca Isaki, it features a collection of nine academic essays. It includes Sydney Iaukea’s essay on “heritage tourism” in Lahaina.  Iaukea, who holds a doctorate in political science, worked in the service industry in Ka`anapali in her youth (she was also named the first “Miss Lahaina” in 1992). Maui Time notes: “Her essay, “The Re-Storing of Lahaina,” uses meticulous research to strip away the tourist-marketing that so clogs the town today.”

“Lahaina was built and preserved to mimic a whaling town so that tourists vacationing at the newly built Ka`anapali Beach Resort could visit after long days of rest and relaxation,” she writes. “However, the whaling tale that was recreated had very little in common with the actual industry that existed a century and a half prior. As this whaling historical record was foregrounded, all other social narratives of Lahaina took a backseat, with the missionary influence vying for a close second.”

Lahaina, as Iaukea notes, was only really a whaling town between the years 1842 and 1860. What’s more, none of the buildings on Front Street were specific to the whaling industry.

Lahaina was a plantation town, built literally on the bones of the old Hawaiian Kingdom’s capital – Moku`ula, which featured a small island constructed in the middle of fresh water ponds, fed by streams running down from the West Maui Mountains.

“This rich natural environment existed for centuries before the Pioneer Mill Company installed vast irrigation systems in West Maui that diverted most of the fresh water across the plains to the drier areas for sugar cane production,” Iaukea writes. “These massive water diversion projects produced stagnant waters, which are said to have introduced mosquitoes in Lahaina.” After using Moku`ula for “dumping grounds,” Iaukea writes, the Pioneer Mill covered it with a baseball field, which remains there to this day.

The freshwater pond known as Mokuhinia contained a one-acre sandbar island called Moku‘ula, which was home to the high chiefs of Pi‘ilani since the 16th century and a royal residence for the Kamehameha line in the 19th century. Mokuʻula was the private residence of King Kamehameha III from 1837 to 1845, when Lahaina served as the kingdom’s capital, and the burial site of several Hawaiian royals. The 1-acre island is considered sacred to many Hawaiians.

The pond was reported to be the home of Kihawahine, a powerful moʻo or lizard goddess. According to myth, the moʻo was a reincarnation of Pi’ilani’s daughter, the chiefess Kalaʻaiheana.

The Maui News reported how the history of Kauikeaouli, who made Moku’ula his private residential complex and became King Kamehameha III, awaits to be unearthed as well. It was buried more than 100 years ago by missionaries whose written accounts were colored by their disdain for him, said anthropologist and ethnohistorian Paul Christiaan Klieger.

Kauikeaouli was a “traditionalist”; he resisted the missionaries’ and his converted Christian regent Ka’ahumanu’s attempts to displace Hawaiian culture with Western ways, Klieger said. “He was kind of an outcast with the missionary establishment. That’s one of the reasons we don’t know too much about him.” Missionary writings about Kauikeaouli amount to “gossiping about him” and “criticizing him for not being a good Christian” or “for doing things traditionally Hawaiian,” he said.

Moku’ula represents a part of Lahaina’s Native Hawaiian history that was obliterated by the whaling and plantation eras, he said. Klieger is the author of “Moku’ula: Maui’s Sacred Island.”

Klieger’s book says that “compared to the dry, dusty streets of Honolulu, the peaceful, verdant gardens of Lahaina proved a stunning contrast.” “The thick shade of the breadfruit trees, which surrounded (their hosts’) cottages – the rustling of the breeze through the bananas and sugar cane – the murmurs of the mountain streams encircling the yard – and the coolness and verdure of ever spot around us – seemed . . . like the delights of Eden.”

Kamehameha III’s reign saw the rising power of missionaries who came to the islands to spread religion and to provide education. Eventually, they established businesses and took ownership of large tracts of land. “It had the effect really of destroying the Hawaiian kingdom and the Hawaiian culture,” he said.

After she converted to Christianity, Queen Ka`ahumanu, who has a shopping mall in Kahului named after, issued an edict in 1830 banning public hula performances. “The hula is forbidden, the chant (olioli), the song of pleasure (mele), foul speech, and bathing by women in public places,” historian Samuel Kamakau reported.  Although it was apparently never formally rescinded, the law was so widely ignored, especially after Kaʻahumanu died in 1832, that it virtually ceased to exist.

The missionaries discouraged many Hawaiian cultural practices, and encouraged the spread of English.

When the Kamehameha School for Boys was opened on Oahu, Hawaiian language was forbidden in the classroom and on the playing fields, and boys were punished if they were heard speaking the language of their families. Hawaiian was officially outlawed at Hawaii’s public and private schools in 1896.

Missionary Rev. Sereno Bishop, who once lived in Hana, and gave prayers at the opening of the boys’ school, was vehemently anti-hula. The dance, he wrote, was “one of the foul florescenses” on the “great poison tree of idolatry.” Bishop said hula corroded Hawaiians—and labeled it moral leprosy. In his 1889 article, “Why the Hawaiians are Dying Out,” Sereno cited the hula as one of the causes of Hawaiian death.

“The hula dances are habitually idolatrous in practice, having their special patron gods, whom the dancers invoke and worship. The chief posturings and movements of the hulas are pantomimes of unnameable lewdness, illustrated and varied with elaborate art, and accompanied with chants of unspeakable foulness of diction and description.”


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