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What should become of Moku‘ula?

By Staff | Oct 4, 2012

This map details the project area with the island and ponds restored.

LAHAINA – Which way, Moku’ula? For 19 years, Hawaiians and transplants alike have struggled to bring this wahi pani (sacred site) back to life.

Restore and unearth the once-vibrant island and Mokuhinia ponds that stretched from the old tennis courts along Front Street to Shaw Street… or not?

Thousands of words have been written on the topic. Strong opinions have been exchanged at numerous community meetings in the last century and now.

Today, there is a need for a clear and more complete review of plans for the now-barren area, partly because of largely unreported recent actions by Maui County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps is studying whether it is feasible to bring this former ten-acre wetland back to life. In the last several months, the county and Corps representatives have appeared at three community meetings – the first somewhat contentious, and the second to bring interested parties together again to form an advisory committee to reach consensus.

Listening in, a columnist flips back and forth on restoration yes, or restoration no, recognizing how very complicated all of this is. Restoration sounds like a good idea. Yet, maybe it isn’t. The meetings offered a chance to take a fresh look at the facts in this and a subsequent second column.

One main theme at the first meeting frequently repeated by Mayor Alan Arakawa’s executive assistant, Zeke Kalua, and representatives from the Corps was that “the community decides.”

My conclusion, also the view of Kimo Falconer, who heads the 12-year-old Friends of Moku’ula organization, is there is only one group of people who should be the deciders: Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian people) and cultural practitioners.

Moku’ula, where science shows people lived 700 years ago, has connections to the legendary Pi’ilani, the creator of Maui’s land divisions whose name is memorialized in Honoapi’ilani Highway.

In Hawaiian lore, Kala’aiheana, the daughter of Pi’ilani, was transformed into Mo’o Akua-Kihawahine, the lizard goddess that became the protector of Moku’ula.

Maui ali’i (rulers) lived in Moku’ula for two centuries before King Kamehameha in 1845 moved the capital to Oahu.

One of Kamehameha the Great’s wives lived and was buried in a mausoleum at Moku’ula along with Princess Nahi’ena’ena. In 1888, their remains were moved to the graveyard adjoining Waiola Church.

Later abandoned, Moku’ula the island and the adjoining pond were filled in 1916 after becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Interested in perpetuating Hawaiian culture, practitioner and Kumu Hula Akoni Akana in 1993 secured a $100,000 county grant and brought in Bishop Museum researchers to study the site and delineate the island’s configuration.

In 1993, Akana formed Friends of Moku’ula, a group that, over time, has raised several million dollars to pursue restoration.

Learning about Moku’ula for this columnist began in 2008, when Maui Community College Archeology Professor Janet Six held still another lively three-hour meeting unveiling plans for a careful archeological dig, which she eventually won approval for in 2009.

Through an executive order, Maui County controls the land that once was Moku’ula, and it has been cooperating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is under government mandate to restore wetlands. The site may be, but has not been designated a wetland.

The Corps is investigating whether the restoration is feasible and has $5 million to start. Skeptics have asked what the water source for the pond will be. Native Hawaiians close to the situation report that the ponds were spring-fed, and they can identify the source. Water is also encountered under the immediate surface.

The new committee hopes to come to consensus through a series of more evening meetings. Though the Friends have held workshops, a new three-day, in-depth workshop facilitated by experts may be needed to outline the many complicated alternatives in order to come to agreement.

The model could be a charrette – a series of workshops in which all parties come together, adopt a common vision and then design a plan. This was successfully done by Lahaina Bypass Now when the community came together to plan the revamped roadway entrance to Lahaina. The new Moku’ula committee has shown little interest in this idea advanced by this columnist.

One thing is undeniably clear. The destiny of Moku’ula should be left up to our Hawaiian brothers and sisters.

Let’s just, for a change, do what is pono (right).

In the next column, restoration yes, restoration no or something else?