Perpetuating the kānaka maoli, ʻāina and history of Maui Komohana
By Tamara Paltin
Throughout history, the kānaka maoli of West Maui have learned to adapt to their environment under indigenous stewardship.
Their ancestors’ experiences, teachings and moʻolelo have been passed down through the generations, which has resulted in the cultivation of a give-and-take relationship with the land, water and other resources.
As we continuously adapt to the events of modern society, I encourage the entire community to recognize the history of the land we occupy and seek to further educate ourselves. Given the wildfires that devastated Lāhainā on Aug. 8 of this year, I would like to share part of Olowalu’s history and how it can aid our collective healing post-fire.
Olowalu was once the home of high-ranking aliʻi Kalola Pupukaohonokawailani, the daughter of King Kekaulike—ruler of Maui and Hawaiʻi in the 1700s. Kalola later ruled at Olowalu and was in power during the Olowalu massacre in 1790, later known to Hawaiians as Kalolopahū, or “the spilled brains.”
The massacre involved American fur trader Simon Metcalfe, who was in command of the ship Eleanora. Metcalfe headed the massacre of over a hundred Hawaiians off the shore of Olowalu, forever changing the history of Maui and Hawaiʻi Island.
In the past, Olowalu was considered a puʻuhonua, or a sanctuary for people seeking refuge from harm or oppression. Such safe spaces were significant to Hawaiian society because they helped prevent bloodshed and preserve peace.
Today, Olowalu remains a puʻuhonua for the living and for those who have passed. This can be seen by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources approving the construction of a Lāhainā Wildfire Final Disposition Site, which will house the ash and debris from the wildfires.
The Lāhainā community has expressed their wish to keep nonhazardous fire debris that may contain the remains of their loved ones in West Maui, and Mayor Richard T. Bissen, Jr., has proposed a 19.4-acre parcel in Olowalu that meets this request.
If this parcel is approved, Olowalu will be a place of rest not only for the victims of the Olowalu massacre, but also for those lost in the wildfires.
The county has received understandable public concern about the toxicity of the waste and how it may affect our environment and marine life. As we know, our rich coral reef system supports Maui’s overall ocean health.
In response to this concern, the county Department of Environmental Management confirmed that the area will be monitored for a 30-year period and the debris will be encapsulated within impermeable liners. If the project is approved, I hope to see further efforts to ensure that future generations are not affected.
For example, the data collected should be publicly shared and regularly monitored in perpetuity. Bioremediation efforts can use organic material to absorb and rehabilitate burned or contaminated soil, similar to the method used to respond to the 2017 wilfires in Sonoma County, California.
With science and information, we can respond efficiently and with intention. It is our kuleana to find ways to build a sustainable future.
As we consider a memorial for our loved ones and for the town of Lāhainā, we will continue to carry on their stories in the history of Maui Komohana.
*Tamara Paltin is the chair of the Disaster, Resilience, International Affairs and Planning Committee. She holds the County Council seat for the West Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative and community matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.