The Maui Fires
On Tuesday, August 8th, 2023, a deadly wildfire struck the island of Maui that took the lives of over 100 people in the historic town of Lahaina. This unprecedented fire spread, as people around the world watched on many social media platforms of the Maui residents trying to escape the danger in real time. More than a month later, 66 people are still missing as they continue to clean and restore the town (Allen, 2023). Many Hawaiians grieved over their lost loved ones, homes, businesses, etc. Journalist, Emily Mae Czachor, reported more than 2,700 buildings have been demolished by the wildfires (2023). Built in 1823, a huge landmark in Hawaii, Waiola Church, which is the first Christian church that holds many histories of the Hawaiian royalty, was burned down. (Alfonseca, 2023). Near the church is the Waine’e Graveyard where lies many of Hawaiian royalty including Queen Keopuolani, the wife of Kamehameha I, King Kaumuali’i, who is the last king of Kauai, and many more royalty (Waiola Church, 2023). Furthermore, the Baldwin Home, the oldest colonial home in Maui that was built in 1834, where everything from medical and veterinary services and educational sessions were offered by medical missionary, Reverend Dwight Baldwin, and his wife, was tragically destroyed (Koi Kaanapali Ocean Inn, 2023). These fires burned the history of many landmarks that the Hawaiian people hold to their hearts. There are many debates on what created these gruesome fires, but some researchers have discovered that the harsh winds and low humidity have a big influence (Thompson, 2023).
As a Native Hawaiian myself who grew up on Oahu until I was eight years old then moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, it pained me to see the devastation taken upon my people. Each day my emotions grew from sadness to anger, as I watched news stories of tourists expressing their frustration for ruined vacation plans, or others shouting that tourism is needed to help the economy of the island while residents were still holding onto hope of finding their loved ones. From feeling anger to emptiness when realizing that although I know the spirit of aloha, the importance of ohana (family), and to care for the áina (land), that I only had a surface understanding of my culture. When I moved to mainland, I was disappointed when I learned that Hawaiian history was not taught in my U.S. History curriculum throughout middle school and high school. It saddens me to know that many people do not know that the United States government invaded the Hawaiian Kingdom with no reasonable cause (Sai, 2018). In fact, the queen at that time, Queen Lili’uokalani was forced to surrender due to the “superior force of the United States of America” (Sai, 2018). She was also placed on house arrest at the ‘Iolani Palace in Honolulu (Go Hawaii, 2022).
Furthermore, I always felt uncomfortable when my school would host “Hawaiian-themed” spirit days and the whole student body would dress in plastic grass skirts, artificial flower leis, and shirts that would have fake Hawaiian print. As a Fashion Merchandising major at Central Michigan University, I learned that dress has a large impact on culture. Growing up, I always admired how much time and effort were spent on creating traditional Hawaiian garments. Leis, for example, are created using fresh, aromatic flowers and is a symbol to represent “love, friendship, celebration, honor, or greeting” (The Hawaiian Lei Company, 2023). The Pikake flower is very popular for its rich and sweet fragrance; however, the shape of the flower is small and delicate to the touch. Because of its delicacy, if the temperature drops, the flower production becomes shorter, and size gets smaller (Leonhardt & Teves, 2002). For lei making, a double strand lei consists of 1,000 flowers to create (Leonhardt & Teves, 2002). In the 1800’s, this flower was introduced to the Hawaiian Islands and Princess Kaiulani, who adored peacocks, gave this flower its Hawaiian name, Pikake, after the peacock (Aloha Island Lei, 2023). This flower became the representation of love and romance.
Colors are a huge part of traditional Hawaiian garments as well. Scarlet and yellow were the colors of the Ali’i, the Hawaiian Royal Class; These colors made the islanders recognize that these people were a part of the Hawaiian Kingdom (Private Tours Hawaii, 2017). The Ali’i wore scarlet and yellow feathered helmets and cloaks, that would consist of the feathers of roughly 80,000 birds, to show their royalty and the professionals who caught the birds were paid the highest (Private Tours Hawaii, 2017). These professionals would not kill these rare birds but capture them, pluck the feathers, and then release them back (Private Tours Hawaii, 2017). In hula, the stories are told through the colors, garments, and body movements of the dancers. It shows a deeper emotion and meaning through the dance. For example, dancers who are representing the kings of Hawaii would wear the yellow and scarlet (Go Hawaii, 2022). The pa`u (skirts) are worn by dancers of both sexes and some even make their pa`u from “ti leaves and lauhala (dried lead of the hala (pandanus) tree)” (Ka’lmi Na’auao O Hawaii Nei Institute, 2005).
Through tragedy, the native Hawaiian residents of Lahaina and from other islands used their platforms to provide an intellectual and moral message of what it means to be Hawaiian and open the world’s eyes to the deeper meaning of my culture, including myself. Our rich customs are far more powerful than the portrayed artificial plastic leis or polyester neon collared shirts. The island of Maui is still in need of your support. Here are a few reputable nonprofits with continued dedicated efforts to the needs of those still misplaced.
Maui Hui Malama
Imua Family Services (email@example.com)
This article is dedicated to my Papa and Toots who provided me the valuable knowledge, traditions, and way of life as a Native Hawaiian. And the best memories of fishing and eating spam musubis.