Maui was my and my husband, Marshall’s, vacation spot. From our honeymoon in 1995 until his illness prevented us from travelling together around 2010, we vacationed yearly to the heavenly island of Maui.
Economic development in Maui was evident with each trip. Time shares, VRBOs, hotels and restaurants crept over the open land. Expansion was everywhere—except for Old Lahaina.
The charm of Lahaina’s 1800s buildings, especially on Front Street, changed little, if any. From year to year, the shops, churches, museums, historic hotels, old courthouse, restaurants, Cannery Mall (a former pineapple cannery), and especially, the enchanting, old banyan tree was virtually untouched.
We typically vacationed in October around our anniversary date. We’d stroll the beach, relax at the pool, site-see around the island, and visit friends from our magic community. And of course, every trip included afternoons or evenings walking through the shops and dining on Front Street.
Lahaina was one of the locations where past and present appeared to simultaneously exist in both how it looked and how it felt. In places like the restaurant in the Pioneer Inn, I could feel the spirits the whaling families mingling with those still living. I could hear the call of the indigenous people.
Marshall and I also celebrated Halloween on Front Street in costume with friends (photo: Al, Lori, me/Mary, Marshall) and locals. No one embraced Halloween like the people of Lahaina. Festivities included a parade, families of all ages in themed costumes, competitions, food, and festivities in Banyan Park.
Lahaina’s rich and fascinating political history began with Kamehameha the Great becoming king of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1795 and making it his home. From 1820 to 1845, Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. In the building that became Lahainaluna High School, Hawaiian royalty once attended school. It also was the site where the Declaration of Rights of the People and the Constitution for the Hawaiian Kingdom was drafted.
During the early 1800s, Lahaina was known as a popular whaling town. More than 400 ships a year docked there and unloaded goods, missionaries, and unruly crews often spreading disease.
On the 50th anniversary of the first American Protestant mission in Lahaina, Sherriff William Owen Smith planted an 8-foot Indian banyan tree in the square in 1873. The tree grew to one of the largest banyan trees in the United States.
Until this week, what appeared as a small forest was actually one banyan tree in the Lahaina Banyan Court Park. The tree stood 60 feet high with 46 major trunks and covered nearly two-thirds of an acre. Festivals, art and craft shows, competitions, and meetings were held there, in addition to the park being the hang-out for tourists and locals seeking shade under the banyan tree’s loving, protective branches. Upon sunset, a chorus of common myna birds sung a resounding hymn from the tree.
All of this quickly changed beginning on Tuesday when a dragon-like wildfire devoured most of the city. From what I understand at this time, nearly everything is destroyed. Sugar plantations, boat docks, historic businesses, and countless homes--including my friends, Al and Lori’s, condo--to at least 36 human lives and unknown numbers of pets and wildlife was burned to dust.
Lahaina has experienced spotty periods of difficulty throughout its mostly peaceful history. Tensions erupted between cultures prior to the formation of the Hawaiian Kingdom, during the whaling industry boom, when missionaries and sailors clashed, and when the United States overthrew the kingdom in 1898. (Hawaii remained a U.S Territory until it became a state in 1959.) Weather also caused challenges in the past with hurricanes, high winds, and drought.
Every trip I took to Maui was a privilege. I knew that then as much as now. And I relish every moment I had there as I struggle to comprehend that it may all be gone. My heart aches for the beautiful residents, historical landmarks, and natural habitats that are lost as well as the residents who no longer have a home.
In a time when countless homes, neighborhoods, and businesses worldwide have been consumed by fire, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding, and mudslides, we are forced to open our arms and homes to the displaced. If we aren't welcoming to them, there will be no one to welcome us. This devastating fire is one more reminder that we are all one storm, one spark, one quake, or one whirlwind from our own loss of home and neighborhood.
--Update 8/12/23 Reports indicate that the Church, Maria Lanakila (which means Our Lady of Victory) is still standing. However, it's condition is unknown.
*Photos: Buildings on Front Street, holiday street party on Front Street, Maria Lanakila Church. Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
*If you've read any of my books, please write a review on Amazon.