HONOLULU (KHON2) – With everything going on on Maui for the past couple weeks, in particular Lahaina has really been in the headlines and the spotlight of everybody’s attention where even the story of Lahaina being once the capitol of the Hawaiian Kingdom is becoming more known around the islands and, really, around the world. 

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But we are here to fill in a little more of Lahaina’s history with you, so we are here at UH Mānoa with one retired professor of ethnic studies, Kumu Davianna Pomaika’i McGregor. 

We’ve mentioned that Lahaina was once the capitol for a certain amount of time, but if you don’t mind helping to paint a picture because we keep hearing about Lahaina being lusher with water compared to what we see today.

“When the first botanist came in 1792 on Vancouver’s voyage, he writes about how the land is so lush, that there is all these fishponds and stream waters and springs and that everything is cultivated to its ultimate,” says McGregor.

“There are these gardens of sweet potato, there are these great trees of ‘ulu (breadfruit), and you get this beautiful picture of lushness that was Lahaina.  Where the chief lived at the time, which was Kahekili, High Chief Kahekili, he lived on Moku’ula which was in the center of the Mokuhinia fishpond.  It was a very sacred area guarded by Kihawahine, or the mo’o (water spirit) that protects the land and the waters there of Lahaina.  So, it was a very central place for the major chiefs of Hawai’i.”

And speaking of that same Moku’ula island, fast forward to King Kamehameha III, he also called that island his residence. 

But from that time, how did then the transition from being such a lush ‘āina (land) to being such a droughted ‘āina?

When we even look at the name Lahaina, one translation is “the cruel sun” leading to its drought. 

So, where was that transition?

“That came when the sugar cane began to be cultivated on a large-scale basis in the 1860s and there is a report in 1867 by Davida Malo and others on some on the mission,” says McGregor.

“They went house to house because there was a famine in Lahaina in 1867 and they wanted to know what was the cause of it.  And what they found was that the cultivation of sugar, the foundation of what later became Pioneer Mill, was diverting the water away from the taro pond fields into the sugar cane fields and people were also starting to grow sugar instead of kalo (taro).  And so, this led to the loss of subsistence food and the report was we should stop cultivating sugar and we should go back and cultivate the ‘ulu and the sweet potato and the taro.  But as we know, sugar cane began to develop more there in Lahaina and divert more waters to expand the cultivation of sugar under Pioneer Mill into the 20th century.”

Again, this is just a little more for you to understand our history of Lahaina and maybe how we can use that to better move forward into the future. 

If you want to learn more of Hawai’i’s history and culture, click here to visit the Aloha Authentic page on KHON2.com.

Did you know?  Now you do!