A banyan tree in Banyan Tree Park, Lahaina, Hawai’i • Wikimedia Commons

Attempting to achieve unity requires effort from both within ourselves and the community in which we interact. Lōkahi, or unity’s significance in Hawaiian culture relates to the maintenance of balance, where we practice and reciprocate care from ourselves to others. 

We are currently in times of disaster, as Lahaina, the west side of the island of Maui, has suffered mass devastation after being taken over by fire. If there is any time to unite to take care of ourselves and our community, the time is now. 

In reference to the ‘ōlelo no’eau, “He waiwai nui ka lōkahi:”

Unity is a precious possession, and there is no doubt that the people of Hawaiʻi have unified to do all they can to support their Lahaina ʻohana. But there is much more to be done in the years to come.

There are countless organizations that are helping rebuild Lahaina. More importantly, there are Native Hawaiian-led organizations like the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) that are looking to support Lahaina residents who have lost everything due to the wildfires. 

Other efforts have not been broadcasted, such as how residents of other islands are utilizing their own private boats to transport necessities to other harbors on West Maui, as well as cohorts of residents flying to and from Maui on their own time to volunteer and work toward recovery. There are a multitude of people who are making efforts to kāko’o, or to support Maui.

Here, we can see that unity is precious for Hawaiʻi, especially in moments of loss and devastation. 

We are living in times when nature is showing us its limits, and reaping the consequences through the trauma caused by the historical devastation of losing wetlands from draining, construction, and a race for land. 

The Hawaiian islands have a history of losing land to colonial greed, and with the progression of events like gentrification, as well as generations of cultural turmoil and erasure, it’s important to recognize that the current state of Hawai’i is a direct result of the wrongful exploitation and forceful use of the islands’ natural resources. 

Lahaina was once a wetland that flourished within its own system. The land was once referred to as Mokuhinia and the wetland was eventually used as a fishpond given the name “Loko O Mokuhinia,” which became the residence of Hawaiian royalty. Within these wetlands and fishponds stood a small island named Moku’ula, which became the private residence of Kamehameha III from 1837 to 1845. 

Waineʻe Church as seen from Mokuʻula Island in Mokuhinia Pond, Ambrotype • Courtesy of Hawaiian Mission Houses Archives, c. 1855.

Presently, the wetlands have been filled in and where the island once stood is now a baseball field in Malu’ulu o Lele Park, Lahaina. 

Referring to the Hawaiian concept of dualism, lōkahi comes into play here yet again. According to George Hu’eu Sanford Kanahele in his book, Kū Kanaka: Stand Tall, A Search for Hawaiian Values, lōkahi deals with human dialect, the reconciling of contradictions is both intellectually and philosophically a challenge. More importantly, we must grasp the idea that “nature too has its limits and that we must abide by those limits or suffer the consequences.” 

On Aug. 8th, 2023, Lahaina was faced again with the trauma of historical devastation when its entirety was lost in fire. The fire on Maui is a direct result of the historical devastation that has made our islands susceptible to disasters like this one now and for many years to come.  

How do we support Maui and the people of Lahaina in a fragile moment? 

Some may say that continuing to invite tourists to the islands may help support the local economy, while some view it as insensitive to the residents of Lahaina. On one hand, the decline in tourism has resulted in an estimated $9 million loss according to the Hawai’i Tourism Authority. Meanwhile, businesses that withstood the pandemic are feeling the repercussions

It’s quite a conundrum to request that visitors travel to Maui at this time, especially since tourism has not served the wellbeing of our people, potentially affecting residents’ levels of stress. All we can emphasize for potential visitors is that the West side of Maui the location of the fire is closed. Tourists are welcome to visit many of the other beautiful places all over Hawai’i, however, do your research, be respectful, be mindful, and learn the difference between intent versus impact. 

While tourism makes up about a quarter of Hawai’i’s economy, and employs fewer than 20 percent of Native Hawaiians, these workers were paid less than 60 percent of the average worker as of 2021.

Tourism dollars have a high likelihood of ending up in the pockets of big foreign corporations due to the history of colonization and corporate greed, and out of reach for the majority of locals. 

We must steer away from the idea that tourism alone will help Hawai’i heal and shift our focus to supporting the islands in this time of healing and eventually rebuilding a stronger Lahaina. 

Moreover, we live in a time where more Native Hawaiians live outside of our Hawai’i, even in our ancestral homelands. We are no longer the majority. 

We must recognize the trauma, loss, and devastation of the people and not be overtaken by our own individual emotions of grief and condolence. Hawai’i might be a popular tourist destination, but we must continue to center and uplift the Native Hawaiian and local populations with utmost respect and caution.

To support Native Hawaiians and locals is to also support their way of life in helping the perpetuation of land and culture, recognizing that as a visitor, there comes boundaries and responsibilities that prioritize the relationship of Hawaiians to where they make their livelihoods. This enables deep cultural exchange, opening a warm welcome space for all, while tending to and being stewards of cultural practices, caring for land that in turn takes care of us. 

Understanding the historical significance of Lahaina is important in supporting its restoration, and we must do so in accordance with the land’s history, and in the best interest of the Native Hawaiian residents who have lived on the land for generations. 

As much of our culture has already been erased, we must restrain from making this devastation a commercialized event. Give people the space to heal and do not frame its tourism alone as a savior. We have and will persevere as kanaka ‘ōiwi. 

Resources that are providing direct aid to those who have lost their livelihoods in the Lahaina fire:  

Lahaina Aarona is a Native Hawaiian born and raised in Kapolei, Oahu, HI. She is currently an undergraduate student studying Psychology at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, and currently an intern at Kahala Clinic for Children & Family. 

Dannen Keola” Tagovailoa-Kualapai is a Native Hawaiian born and raised in Ewa Beach, Oahu, HI. He is currently an undergraduate student studying Community Health at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, serving as a Community Wellness & Policy Intern at Pacific Islander Community Association of WA.

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