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1995 Historical Education Preservation Award

A Local History
Text by
Gail Bartholomew
Photo research by
Bren Bailey


Maui no ka 'oi! No question, Maui is the best and has been so for centuries. This age-old boast finds its roots in ancient Hawai'i, for, although Maui was not the largest, the most productive or populated, the other islands acknowledged Maui's superiority. The reasons lie not only in its unsurpassed beauty, but also in chiefly wisdom and courage, wide political domain, and a fluke of geography.

Most beauty queens require time to primp and preen, and Maui was no exception, The island's diverse splendor required a million years of preparation. Sisters, but not twins, the West Maui and Haleakala volcanoes arose from the sea, then joined, first with each other and then with Moloka'i, Lana'i and Kaho'olawe, to form what is termed Maui Nui, or Great Maui. The rising sea level eventually separated these land masses, leaving the islands in their current configuration. Ever so slowly and relentlessly, rainfall, wind, and waves carved a varied landscape, while volcanism supplied its rapid wrath to a swifter shaping. Pele, the volcano goddess, last added to the island in 1790, when Haleakala exuded a fiery mass down its southern slope.

How was Maui populated? Archaeology tells us that the initial settlers arrived on successive voyages from the South Pacific, Polynesians possibly fleeing after defeat in war around 750 A.D. Once these early explorers discovered stands of endemic koa trees suitable for voyaging canoes, small groups braved a long and treacherous return to gather necessities and more settlers, for these colonizers had not found agricultural richness on Maui. Instead, they had encountered jungled valleys thick with hau, and needed to import what we now consider Hawaiian staples - taro, breadfruit, sweet potato, banana, coconut, pigs, dogs, chickens, ti, and wauke for making cloth.

A religious image, probably of Kamapua'a, a pig demigod, found in a Maui burial cave in 1963. The god of clouds and rain, Kamapua'a's domain stetched over the verdant windward coast

The Hawaiian society that evolved was both sophisticated and successful. Food flourished in valleys, as well as on mountainous slopes, with the use of efficient irrigation dams, canals, terraces and erosion prevention methods. Excellent fishermen, innovative aquaculturists, and expert navigators, Hawaiians also exhibited skill in the crafting of kapa, canoes, carvings, mats and rock structures.

Hawaiian tradition taught that people and their aina, or land, were one - thus spiritual parents Papa, the earth, and Wakea, the sky, gave birth to the island of Maui, as well as the high chiefs who ruled it. A complex feudal social system overseen by chiefs differing in degrees of divinity and authority competed for power through marriage, war and diplomacy.

Maui was divided into several chiefdoms prior to the sixteenth century. Domains periodically shifed, sometimes stretching beyond Maui's shores. West Maui chief Kaka'alaneo, along with his brother Kaka'e, also ruled over Lana'i from a court in Lahaina. One of the most admired early chiefs, Kaka'alaneo was known for his thrift, energy, and a reign free from strife and want.

In the 1500's Kaka'e's descendant, Pi'ilani, pushed Maui to the fore politically as no one had done before. Pi'ilani's power extended from long=rebellious Hana on one end of the island to the six West Maui bays, collectively called Honoapi'ilani, or bays acquired by Pi'ilani, on the other end. The islands visible from Honoapi'ilani - Kaho'olawe, Moloka'i, and Lana'i - filled out Pi'ilani's vast dominion. This hands-on leader toured his expansive chiefdom, enforcing order and promoting industry. Pi'ilani's reign ushered in a long period of peace, stability, prosperity and a recognition of Maui as a model kingdom.

Famed for his energy and intelligence, Pi'ilani constructed the West Maui phase of the noted Alaloa, or long road. His son Kihapi'ilani followed through by laying the East Maui section, completing the only ancient highway to encircle any Hawaiian island. Four to six feet wide and 138 miles long, this rockpaved thoroughfare, also known as the King's Highway, facilitated both peace and war, as it simplified travel and communication throughout th extended realm.

More often than not, Maui emerged triumphant in island wars. By usual standards, Maui should not have been so successful, as it ranked last of all the major islands in area cultivated, as well as number of communities. But Maui enjoyed the advantage of two highly concentrated populationcenters, one along the coast of West Maui and the other an are called Na Wai 'Eha, fed by the four streams of Waikapu, Waihe'e, Waiehu and Wailuku. Maui's clever and courageous chiefs could easily access these resources in times of war.

Salt pans where sea water was extracted to obtain salt, Niu. Salt was used for drying fish and for flavoring.

Hawaiian fisherman with throw net. Fish and shellfish constituted the major source of protein for Hawaiians.

Ancient Hawaiian bowl ornamented with teeth and bone.

Kalo, or taro, the most important food in ancient Hawai'i. Kalo's starchy root was used to make poi.

A long-standing alliance with the island of Hawai'i fractured during the time a chief named Kekaulike reigned, but he was able to drive away subsequent invaders and maintain power. Kekaulike is best remembered, however, as the founder of the last Maui dynasty and, through three wives, as the father of a long line of influential Hawaiian royalty, including Kahekili, Boki, Keopuolani, Queen Ka'ahumanu, King Kaumuali'i of Kaua'i, Regent Kina'u, Princess Victoria Kamamalu, the Kings Kamehameha II, III, IV and V, Queen Kapi'olani, and Prince Kuhio.

Although Kekaulike's son Kamehamehanui lost Hana once again to the forces of the island of Hawai'i, his successor and brother Kahekili returned Hana to the island fold. Not content with a unified island, Kahekili set out to force his model Maui kingdom on all the Hawaiian islands. No chief had ever ruled all of Hawai'i, but Kahekili was no ordinary chief.

18th Century Lahaina
Lahaina in the 18th century.




A Local History



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