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Lahaina speaks: It’s time to fix Halloween

By Staff | Nov 25, 2009

Kapano Gecko, the fictional guy who lives in Lahaina Public Library, is still thinking about Halloween. At last week’s Makahiki harvest festival, he listened to the voices of Maui, especially his Hawaiian friends. 

Gecko, like many others, did not wear a creative costume this year, discouraged by rumors there would be no Halloween in Lahaina. So he put on his investigative reporter’s hat, listened to what more than 20 diverse people had to say and learned a few things not generally known, even by those deeply involved. And he’s also got an idea to humbly suggest on how to help fix Halloween.

Gecko is well aware that a few — but not all — Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) have concluded that recent Halloweens have been culturally inappropriate for a place that was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. One whose family goes back many generations indicated he loves Lahaina’s Halloween. And another smart fellow said the real reason the event has been turned into a controversy (where everyone seems to have an opinion) is a very few prudish people who didn’t like all the flesh on display on Front Street. This observer believes the prudes fanned the flames, turning this into a cultural matter, rather than the not-enough-clothes issue it really was.

Gecko this month has been on the march, hearing the history of Halloween at a talk at Lahaina Sunrise Rotary and visiting an unusually well-attended meeting called, and ably presided over, by longtime community leader Joan McKelvey. He also got an earful this past weekend. Here is his summary report:

Origins/End Result — Halloween grew from a couple of costume parties at local bars after revelers spilled out onto Front Street. More and more came over the years, eventually an amazing 20,000 annually.

Getting Organized — The LahainaTown Action Committee (LAC) stepped in and supplied port-a-potties, got a permit, closed the street, worked cooperatively with police, sponsored a costume party, and until recent years, ran a tight ship.

Restaurants Prospered — Enjoying one of their biggest nights of the year, eateries used the extra revenue to tide them over during weak Novembers until the return of holiday visitors. Merchants thought they had a field of dreams: October 31, and they will come.

Halloween Challenged — A small group of Native Hawaiians in 2006 challenged LAC sponsorship, saying they objected to parking problems, costumes interpreted as lewd and an alleged increase in crime. In 2008, the Cultural Resources Commission bought the “inappropriate to the culture argument” and denied a street-closing permit for prime time. There was no evening street closure this year either.

Negotiations Fail — For three years, opposing sides failed to compromise. A small number of people whose ancestors came on canoes dug in their heels. A kupuna from Lahaina told Gecko negotiations were limited to four Hawaiians and four representatives of the LAC. He claimed the four Hawaiians were not representative of the entire Hawaiian community — a point that some of the participants disagree with.

LAC Loses Control — The kupuna also said recalcitrant Hawaiians might support Halloween if LAC could return to being highly organized. Before the return of McKelvey as president, the kupuna said, some Hawaiians lost confidence that LAC could run a proper Halloween and initiate procedures that might reduce the skimpy costumes and carousing. LAC, even today, likely disagrees with this assertion.

Costumes and Mayhem Reduced — Halloween 2006 was wall-to-wall people, with much gawking at many near-naked ladies and some men. Halloween 2009 was sparely attended; some restaurants lost half or more of their previous year’s Halloween business. Even the rooms at Pioneer Inn, a popular viewing spot, were not sold out.

Paia Ramps Up Debate — Headline on Nov. 1 in The Maui News says, “Paia is the new Lahaina.” Welcoming crowds, Paia aspires to take over Halloween. Popular letter states, “Paia, you are no Lahaina.” A letter last week in The Maui News from Paia lashes back.

LAC Acts — Some 40 leaders, a few with Hawaiian roots, top volunteers and others showed up five days after the diminished event at a well-publicized Pioneer Inn meeting that included many merchants and former Mayor Alan Arakawa. Consensus: Let’s rally the community, go for a new permit, build bridges with those who oppose Halloween, even turn it into a fund-raising event. Contribute any profits to Hawaiian culture, especially the restoration of Moku‘ula, where King Kamehameha III once lived.

Gecko believes all of the community can come together, and just maybe the LahainaTown Action Committee — if bolstered by increased financial support, stronger merchant support, fresh thinking and the addition and commitment of strong businesspeople to its board — just might bring it off. Work is under way behind the scenes to go after a 2010 permit and make the word “Action” truly part of LAC again.

Gecko suggests a sea change on how the challenge of Halloween should be approached.

First, hold a ho‘oponopono — a meeting in which all interested parties work to find an accommodation. In this traditional Hawaiian dispute resolution system, explained by this column’s unofficial cultural advisor, the parties gather in a circle with a mediator free of conflict of interest. Everyone gets a turn to present their views. Anyone can come. The goal is to strike a compromise, get everyone’s support.

 Second, turn Halloween into a paid event with a $1 admittance fee and put up gates on two ends of Front Street, Lahainaluna Road and Dickinson Street. Publicize a dress code: no bare breasted ladies, no bare behind ladies and gents. It’s a simple standard easy to interpret. Station police near entrances. This can work!

The nationally known Old Town Art Fair, 61 years old now, gets 50,000 people through its admission gates in an area filled with restaurants.

Here’s the beautiful part: proceeds from Lahaina’s Halloween could be shared — half for restoration of Hawaiian archeological sites, and half for breast cancer research. Bring back the dance once held for teens adjoining the event.

Gecko calls for creativity. Reject no idea until you can prove it won’t work. Pay professionals to run the whole thing well.

Just before this column “went to press,” Donna Soares, general manager of The Wharf Cinema Center across from the Banyan Tree, offered additional important perspectives. The center has supported Halloween with a $1,000 check for years, and already gave $1,000 to the Soroptimists to support the 2010  keiki parade.

Soares warns to be careful of half-truths, noting that

misinformation abounds surrounding Halloween. (Some of these half-truths may have crept in here, considering this is not a thorough study.) The more people know about and discuss these issues in the open, the more Lahaina can come to grips with the challenge, according to Gecko.

Gecko believes everyone needs to get beyond past grievances and start with a clean slate.

 Soares even believes it is a good thing for Paia and other towns to run their own Halloween events, since it would cut down on the dangers of people driving under the influence back and forth to Lahaina. A very good point. She also indicated that charging admission might be impractical, since would be against the law to put up gates. Gecko’s response:  “Change the law. The committee has a year.”

Gecko has been involved in community stuff for only nine years, so his thinking may be flawed in contrast to the views of the many volunteers who have worked on LAC for decades. He still feels, however, it is worthwhile to offer the ideas, be they adopted or discarded, hopefully on the merits.

Fix Halloween and everybody wins: Hawaiian causes, the county, the merchants, workers (more tips for busy waitresses and waiters), Maui Visitors Bureau and the many fans of Halloween.

People in Paia, actually a wonderful little town, deserve thanks for challenging Lahaina’s Halloween supremacy. Perhaps each town will be better for it. As Soares puts it, “Paia should do Halloween; Kihei should do Halloween. The more the merrier. Lahaina will just do it better. The only time anyone wins is when others win.”

“Let’s roll up our sleeves,” said Jill Holley of the Hard Rock Cafe. 

Yuki Lee Sugimura, topnotch event coordinator for the most recent “A Taste of Lahaina” and “Maui Chefs Present,” who works on the other side, said it best a couple years ago: “I have never seen a town where so many volunteers, and so many others in the community, came together to support an event.” Roll up your sleeves, everyone!

(If you have a different view or comment, send it to  norm@voicesofmaui.com or the editor at  lahnews@maui.net.)