Maui: The God of Fire

Susan EspirituFeature

The Hawaiian meaning of Maui is “God of Fire” which has manifested in reality for the residents there since August 8 when wildfires fanned across the island, growing in size and intensity, scorching over 2,000 acres and devasting the historical town of Lahaina, among other parts of the island. The losses truly cannot be measured as there is no metric to value to lives lost, homes vanished and history erased.

The history of Maui is intriguing with King Kamehameha the Great conquering Maui sometime around 1794, later naming Lahaina the capital of his kingdom.

Lahaina remained the capital of Hawaii until King Kamehameha III moved it to Honolulu in 1840 and for most of the 1800s Lahaina was a whaling port and is still famous as a whaling port but mostly for whale watching, shopping, the banyan tree and a small church in town.

Maui, banyan tree 2019 (photo; Jeanie Brakebill)

Lahaina’s famous banyan tree was planted in 1873 by the sheriff of Maui and is the largest in the United States, standing 60 feet tall, covering 2/3 of an acre and an entire block with its 46 trunks. The heart of the community and a landmark for 150 years burned to the ground but optimists are hopeful it will survive through its charred remains.

Waiola Church had been standing since Lahaina was the capital of Hawaii, celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Many kings, queens and missionaries who settled Lahaina are buried in a small cemetery located at the Waiola church on Waine’e street in Lahaina. The church burned to the ground last week.

Waiola Church before and after August 8 (photo credit Hawaii public radio)

Charlie Espiritu and Cornelius Bancaco (retired Maui County fire chief)

I write about this tragedy because it is personal for me and my family. I am what the Hawaiian people call kamaaina or a child of the land, a word describing someone who lives in Hawaii or once lived there but moved away. My husband and his family are from the islands, all of them are kanakas (natives) and his cousin is the retired fire chief for part of Maui including Lahaina and is leading rescues at this writing.

When you travel to Hawaii, aloha is used interchangeably with hello, goodbye, love, affection and mercy. Queen Liliuokalani is known to have said, “Aloha is to learn what is not said, to see what cannot be seen, and to know the unknowable.”

In 1986, the state of Hawaii introduced the Aloha Spirit law requiring the public to be treated with aloha.

I have no doubt the kanakas and kamaaina in Hawaii will continue the Aloha spirit during this tragedy and come together as one Ohana, which means family.

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