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Tight-knit Olowalu community hopes to build new church

By BY LOUISE ROCKETT - | Jan 29, 2021

OLOWALU — On the West Side, we are all connected from the Pali to Honokohau, the mountains to the ocean, by blood, ohana, Honoapiilani Highway and fire.

Fueled by dried grasses, drought-stricken soil, deadwood and gale force winds, wildland blazes are a hostile threat to the community’s peaceful coexistence with the delicate island ecosystem.

Resulting damages are usually more than skin deep. The layer of ash left behind oft time smothers the history of the aina so important to place.

In the early evening hours of Dec. 26, 2020, mauka flames above Olowalu were reported.

The fast-moving brush fire, a County of Maui press release announced, was fanned by northwest winds. Honoapiilani Highway was closed at Maalaea.

“About 50 Maui Fire Department personnel were on scene protecting homes threatened by flames in the vicinity of Luawai Street in Olowalu area. Police evacuated all the residents from homes on Luawai Street.”

But 91-year-old Adeline Kamaileolihau Kaahui Rodrigues of Kapaiki, Olowalu, did not leave.

The Kapaiki neighborhood, where she resides in her family home, abuts Olowalu Town on the south side; residences there are on a mostly unpaved gravelly-dirt road.

“My daughter (Nalani) and I were in the kitchen when I smelled smoke.

“I said, ‘Who is that fool doing barbecuing,’ the feisty kupuna snapped, “because the wind was coming down so hard.

“We ran into the family room,” Rodriquez continued. “We looked up at the mountain, and there was a fire above the church/social hall. Then I turned around and saw there were three different fires. I have no idea why it was three, but there was some kind of line of fire, jumping from one to make another and jumping from one to make another one. I don’t know, but there were three different fires, separate from each other.”

Fortunately, the blaze was contained and relatively short-lived. Honoapiilani Highway was reopened to contraflow traffic after 12:15 a.m. By 8 the next morning, the brush fire was 90 percent contained; there were no injuries.

A survey of the impacted fire area was conducted; damages were noted in a county report.

“A structure was completely destroyed in the Olowalu Village area. This structure was purposed as a community hall/church. Two storage units and two vehicles at the same location had also burned and are considered 100% loss.”

Further, a residence on Luawai Street also sustained fire damage to an exterior wall. Damages to this residence were estimated at $30,000.

The burn area was approximately 760 acres. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Where Aunty Rodrigues lived, there was no harm done.

With her native sixth sense, she had no fear. “I knew the fire wasn’t coming here. That’s what I told my daughter.”

“I am happy that the fire did not come on our end and burn our homes. No houses burnt down. Our little community — our little Olowalu Village community — was saved,” she exclaimed.

Reverent, she shared her mo’olelo about this place.

“I live on ali’i land. This is where the sister of Chiefess Kalola lived,” she said.

Kalola, the highest tabu chiefess of the Maui court, was a daughter of King Kekaulike of Maui.

“Right here,” she remarked. “This place is a little bit sacred.”

It also claims its fair share of history.

“Right in front of me,” the former kindergarten teacher observed, “that is where the infamous Olowalu Massacre of 1790 occurred. This is a cove. That is where the ship came in and killed about 200 Hawaiians.”

On the Lahaina end of the village, the social hall/church was burnt to the ground. It was a total loss, including all the pews, bibles, hymn books and a piano.

Two cabins, previously used by Teen Challenge, were also razed.

It wasn’t the first time fire took its toll on the small community

The old stone Olowalu Lanakila Hawaiian Church built in 1868 was all but ruined in the fire of 1930. The stone walls stand as a reminder.

Rebuilding the recently razed social hall/church is not in the plans.

Rodrigues has been the church mentor the past 20 years and has lofty aspirations to build a new church in front of the old stonewall church.

She shared her dream with Peter Martin, West Maui Land.

“I am a managing partner for the Olowalu property,” Martin responded, “and haven’t sent your questions to the other partners.

“Maggie (Martin’s wife) and I are good friends with the Kaahui and Rodrigues families. Maggie and I are personally supportive of anything the families decide. I cannot speak for the Olowalu partnership at this time.”

Rodrigues is a wise elder with strong faith.

“When everything is gone, something always comes back,” she concluded.