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Mainland influence in the making of modern Maui

By Staff | Aug 16, 2012

KAANAPALI – How did Kaanapali become Kaanapali? How did Kapalua become Kapalua and Wailea, Wailea? The tale goes way back – even further back than the early days at the Hyatt Regency Maui in the late 1970s, when our family used to marvel at the million dollar art collection ($3 million in today’s dollars) and walk through the Japanese garden on rising jet-lagged at dawn on the first day of the trip.

One of the beauties of the Maui Friends of the Library’s used bookstore at The Wharf Cinema Center is that you can often find books no longer available at Barnes and Noble. One now on my bookshelf is “Hawaii Under the Influence” (referring not to alcohol but Mainland companies).

Even for someone who saw the Hyatt rise and the new Marriott open, author Neil Kent’s use of the alcohol analogy is a real eye-opener.

Kent maintains that when great hotels or resorts were built on Maui and in Waikiki, local banks and financiers did not have the financial or management ability to generate the huge sums required. Even biggies like homegrown Alexander & Baldwin, West Maui powerhouse Amfac and the then-prosperous Maui Pineapple Company had to call on Mainland partners, whose influence continues to this day.

The portrait drawn explains a lot. The book quotes a wise-for-her-age 16-year-old girl in 1972 as saying, “Life today is sickening. Youths go to school and learn what the haoles did and what the haoles taught the Hawaiians. People read who built this and who broke that to build something called progress. Nowadays, it is the tourists who are important.”

The Hyatt cost $80 million ($2 billion in today’s dollars) and the original Marriott $65 million ($1.3 billion). A&B brought in Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Wisconsin to build Wailea. Maui Pineapple called upon Rockefeller money.

A columnist writes of this with some trepidation. Were it not for them, United Airlines and others who spurred, built or spurred building of resorts, pushed package tours and provided seats, we never would have made it here in our honeymoon in 1969. But we came back, year after year, not for the glitzy resorts but for the beaches, the forests, the beauty and the people.

A lot of other people wouldn’t be here either – the young basket maker who wound up organizing the International Festival of Canoes, the forestry worker and architect who led restoration of historic Lahaina or the architect and the people that brought us the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to help celebrate Hawaiian traditions.

The impact of Mainland financiers and subsequent malihinis that now manage hotels continues mixed. They brought us beautiful resorts and Costco, yet some disrespected the culture.

Those who invaded Hawaii 70 years ago brought with them what the author describes as a Trojan horse that transformed Maui – and not to good effect. The changes and arrivals, however, appear to have been inevitable.

The push to create “the new Hawaii” brought well-paying jobs for some who rose up the ranks in the visitor industry. The gold rush – The Whaler studios for sale at the price of today’s SUVs, selling for half-a-million recently – helped pushed housing costs so high that 95 percent or more of the population could not afford to buy their own homes. Saddest of all, thousands of locals migrated to Las Vegas in search of better wages and cheaper housing, turning it into Hawaii’s ninth-hottest, beach-less island.

Today, only one big Kaanapali resort is run by someone who grew up here. Decision-makers on or from the Mainland know so little of aloha spirit and Hawaiian ways that they have put prominent beach walk signs with rules of conduct that end with the threat to criminally prosecute offenders who they believe are out of line.

A resort puts up (inches from the beach) a giant cutout board painted with hula dancers and surfers, so guests can be amused poking their heads through the holes and having their pictures taken.

It may be all in fun – our grandson was photographed there recently – but isn’t there enough joy to be found along the beach without cluttering the landscape?

And let’s not forget those gated communities that mostly keep their inhabitants inside without experiencing the real Maui: nightly hula, Hawaiian melodies sung in the native language, strolls along the world’s great beaches.

So what is the point? One wonders what the Kaanapali Beach Resort Association and Maui Visitors Bureau could be thinking when their focus is mostly promotion and not on protection of the culture that is the real lure of paradise.

The greatest service to those of us who cherish this place would be for these organizations to spend a little time and energy on training Mainland managers on what we are about and how to respect the land.

Then, when they put up garish signs or run movies on their lawns to give kids something to do at night, they will think twice.