Despite the problems, Lahaina profited greatly from the whalers. But the prosperity could not last. With oil discoveries in Pennsylvania in 1859, the whaling industry began to wane. Whale oil gave way to kerosene; whalebone for corsets was replaced by cheaper celluloid and steel.
As the Maui Historic Commission has written, “They are all gone now, the kings and their counselors, the whaling masters and the harpooners and the try-pot men, the ship-chandlers, grogshop keepers, seamen’s chaplains, and land sharks. Only the whales remain, coming down each mating season to leap and frolic and spout in the roads.”
The characters of the play are gone, but some of the props for the sets are still there, giving to Lahaina an indelible air of history and adventure.
With Pete Sanborn, one of Lahaina’s civic leaders, and project manager for AMFAC, Inc., developers of the Kaanapali Beach re¬sort area, I toured the environs of Lahaina.
On a rise high above town we found La¬hainaluna High School—”the oldest school west of the Rockies,” Pete said. “It was founded in 1831 by the missionaries to train Hawaiian teachers. There is a tradition that some students came here from the U. S. West Coast rather than travel east through Indian country. Today it’s the only boarding school operated by the State of Hawaii.”
Neither teachers nor students were to be found when we visited Lahainaluna last summer. But we went into one of the original buildings, a simple square coral structure where the Restoration Foundation operates a museum. There Pete showed me a replica of the press that printed the first newspaper west of the Rocky Mountains. It was set up by the missionaries to print textbooks in the Hawaiian language. The attendant at the museum inked the plate, laid down a sheet of paper, and ran off a handbill for me.
At Waiola Congregational Church we found the graves of missionary families and of members of the notably Keopuolani, sacred queen of Kamehameha I and mother of the two kings who followed him. When we attended services at Waiola, where (in an earlier building) the Reverend Dr. Baldwin used to preach, the sermon was in English, but we sang from Hawaiian hymn¬books: “Hoonani I Ka Makua Mau—Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.”
There is more to Lahaina, of course, than mementos of the past. On a given afternoon, for example, I could go to the “town square” and sit in the shade of Lahaina’s century-old banyan tree—which covers two-thirds of an acre—listening to the chatter of the mynas, or appraising the displays of local artists. Or I could stroll into The Gallery, a collector’s shop with an incredible display of Oriental treasures in bronze, porcelain, ivory, jade, and silver. I priced some of them: $30,000 cash advance for an Imperial jade bracelet; $3,200 for a Chou Dynasty bronze vessel in the shape of a crouching griffin; $7,000 for a pair of lapis lazuli table screens.
If I could not afford these, at least I could spend 25 cents in the ice-cream parlor for a sherbet flavored with island fruits—guava, mango, or passion fruit; or savor saimin or pork tofu in Morikawa’s tiny restaurant; or visit the studio of Maui artist Tadashi Sato, whose impressionistic paintings of rock, sea, and shore have won international acclaim.
At Lahaina Jodo Mission one night I joined members of the town’s Japanese com¬munity in the annual 0-bon festival at which, according to Buddhist belief, departed spirits come back to visit (next page). In the ceme¬tery, incense hung on the air and paper lan¬terns and flowers decorated each grave as families sat communing with their ancestors.
In the adjoining temple yard, lights glinted on the copper roofing of a brand-new pagoda and illuminated the serene face of a 12-foot bronze Buddha. Booths selling food and drink or offering games of chance catered to the throngs. Inside the temple I listened as five black-robed priests recited passages from the Sutra in a rapid monotone, accompanied by the loud beating of wooden blocks.
After the services, members of the congre¬gation carrying paper lanterns left the temple and moved in single file around the Buddha. Then, as I joined the procession, it wound down to the shore to place the lanterns on the water. Soon a long ribbon of softly glowing lights floated on the tide. “They symbolize the return of the spirits to the Buddhist paradise,” the Jodo priest, the Reverend Gensho Hara, explained.
The lantern ceremony ended. Folk dancers in Japanese costume now circled a central pavilion, their stylized postures and gestures keeping time to the wailing of a flute and the offbeat rhythms of the drummer.
One of the most passionate believers in preserving the past, and one who has done something about it, is Sam Kaai, a native of Maui; wood-carver, sculptor, and business¬man whose ancestry includes Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, and French. (“My great-grandfather was a seaman from the Azores who jumped ship on Maui,” Sam told me.)
To stem the decline of Hawaiian culture, Sam encourages artisans to take up the old arts and crafts. In a shop in Lahaina called Ka Honu (The Turtle) he sells their work. There he showed me the finest wood carving I saw in Hawaii, of koa and monkeypod; leis —necklaces—of shiny black nuts from the kukui, the state tree of Hawaii, skillfully grooved or faceted; handbags of lauhala, the leaf of the pandanus tree; exquisite hatbands of pheasant feathers; even scrimshaw, the sailors’ hobby—polished whale teeth deli¬cately engraved with scenes of whales and ships. To these Sam adds the ethnic arts of some 30 islands in the South Pacific, whence came the first Hawaiian settlers.
In his studio I found Sam working with adzes of his own manufacture, fashioned from jeep springs and GI mattocks but designed to imitate the stone adzes of old. A newly carved image of Ku, ancient god of war, scowled fiercely at my intrusion.
I had always thought of the adz as a crude tool. But in Sam’s hands it was capable of amazingly delicate work. “It’s all in the angle of the blade and handle,” he explained. “If the angle is correct, the blade bites in just the right amount.”
Somewhat disbelieving, I asked to try it. To my surprise, a few easy strokes on an undressed mahogany log left a beautifully smooth, even surface.
“House of the Sun” Dominates Isle
No matter where I went in the isthmus or on East Maui, I could not escape the pres¬ence of Haleakala. Indeed, East Maui is Haleakala, one massive volcanic upthrust that rises steadily from the sea to a spectacular depression at its peak.
Haleakala means “House of the Sun.” It takes its name from a legend told throughout Polynesia about a struggle between the sun and the demigod Maui. Here is the story as Sam Kaai told it to me:
“Long before the reach of memory, the sun sped so rapidly across the heavens each day that men had too little time to harvest crops and bring in fish. Hina, Maui’s mother, com¬plained that sundown always came before she could finish drying her tapa, the Polynesian cloth made of pounded bark. Maui asked the sun to slow its pace, but in vain.
“Watching from hiding, Maui observed that the sun each day passed directly over the mountain, and there came very close to earth. So Maui, famed as a trickster, devised a plan to catch the sun and force it to do his bidding.
He wove ropes of his sister’s hair, took the jawbone from his grandmother’s grave for a hook, and lay in wait atop the mountain.”When the sun reached its closest point, Maui hurled his hook, caught the sun by its rays, and refused to let go until the sun prom¬ised to go more slowly for half the year. And thus it is that, in summer, man has time to harvest his fields and dry his tapa. And that is why the mountain is called House of the Sun.”
It was this same legendary hook with which Maui dredged up the islands of Hawaii from the ocean floor. It is not by coincidence that the hook is one of the royal symbols of Polynesia, and that Hawaiian royalty once wore leis of finely braided human hair from which hung massive hooks carved from whale teeth (page 518).
Writers have called Haleakala “the largest extinct volcanic crater in the world,” a de¬scription that is wrong on all counts. Many craters are larger. Moreover, although the volcano’s fiery indigestion has long since subsided, it gives an occasional burp. As recently as the late 1700′s, a tongue of lava poured from its side near La Perouse Bay.
Finally, the huge depression one sees today atop Haleakala was created primarily by erosion, not volcanism. Over many millenniums it has been cut down by torrential rainfall and by two streams that carved Keanae Valley to the north and Kaupo Valley to the south, leaving two great gaps in the crater rim.