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Vol 19, no. 6
December 2016/ January 2017

 

This Old Mission House 
Story By: Catharine Lo Griffin
Photos By: Monte Costa

When the Maui Historical Society formed in the 1950s, one of its first orders of business was to secure a place to keep documents and antiquities that would tell the story of Maui. It found an old house with lava rock walls and a steeply pitched gable roof that had been built by missionaries in Wailuku. At just one dollar a year, the rent couldn’t be beat. Known as the old Bailey House, the historical society’s new home was rechristened Hale Ho‘ike‘ike, or “house of display.”

For half a century Hale Ho‘ike‘ike followed a traditional museum model. That is to say it acted as “a collection of collections.” For many Maui residents it was the pleasant, musty place they might have visited in grade school, never to return. 

Then along came Naomi “Sissy” Lake-Farm, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner who became Hale Ho‘ike‘ike’s executive director in 2014. Lake-Farm set out to shift the museum’s emphasis from strictly visitor admissions to community engagement. With the support of a passionate administrative staff, she filled the calendar with activities, such as Hawaiian music concerts, tai chi sessions, ‘ukulele lessons and children’s art classes.

She also brought a more interactive approach to the presentation of Hawaiian culture, inviting local cultural practitioners to host hands-on workshops. For example, during a presentation about paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) life, saddlemaker Gretchen Cardosa demonstrated how to crack a whip and introduced the audience to the art of leather stamping. In a workshop on early Hawaiian uses of stone, master kalai pohaku (stone carver) Hoaka Delos Reyes taught participants how to make their own kukui hele po, traditional stone oil lamps. 

One of the museum’s most successful new traditions has been the annual Lei Day Heritage Festival, during which songs and stories of Maui are shared against the fragrant backdrop of Island flora strung into exquisite lei. Lake-Farm organized the festival so the Maui community could have its own special day of celebration. The highlight of the 2016 Lei Day was a lively fashion show that featured a bit of the old and the new—vintage outfits dating back to the 1920s and submitted by the community mixed with contemporary styles by emerging Maui designer Anna Kahalekulu.

On a quiet morning I sit with Lake-Farm on the lanai overlooking Hale Ho‘ike‘ike’s native plant garden, and she shares her vision of building a “living museum”—a place where the community can gather and practice its traditions, old and new. Lake-Farm, who grew up on O‘ahu but whose family has deep Maui roots, says taking the executive director position was a homecoming of sorts. “When I chose to move here, there was already a feeling like it was home,” she says.

As we talk, a gentle breeze sways an ‘ohi‘a tree. Later the museum’s staff tell me that this ‘ohi‘a tree hadn’t flowered for a couple years. After Lake-Farm came on board, the lehua blossoms suddenly reappeared—a sign, they believe, that things are moving in the right direction.

Change is nothing new around the old Bailey House. In its 184-year history it has changed uses many times over. Located at the mouth of the ‘Iao valley, overlooking a rich alluvial plain that was once extensively cultivated with taro and sweet potato, the site was originally a royal compound where Hawaiian chiefs lived. In 1832 Governor Hoapili, a Christian convert, offered the land to the newly established Wailuku mission station, and the Reverend Jonathan Green and his wife, Theodosia, built a house there the following year. It was one of the first Western-style buildings in Hawai‘i, partially set into the hillside and measuring thirty feet long, twenty-two feet wide and two stories tall. 

The architecture reflected New England, but the labor and materials were all Maui. ‘O‘hia logs hauled by oxen from the forests of Haleakala were used for the framing, while Hawaiian stonemasons built the walls, which ranged from twenty to thirty inches thick, with lava rock and coral ash.

A seminary for young Hawaiian men had already been established on the other side of the island, on the mountainside above Lahaina. Green led the charge to establish a complementary institution for young women. In 1837 he founded the Wailuku Female Seminary on the grounds of the mission, building a 150-foot-long dormitory for the students and a two-story seminary building, along with a stone cookhouse and a teacher’s cottage.

Green served as the school’s headmaster until 1842, when he resigned in protest over the mission’s acceptance of funding from American slaveholders. His successor was a 28-year-old teacher from Holden, Massachusetts, named Edward Bailey, who had jumped at the opportunity to teach in the Sandwich Islands. As newlyweds he and his wife, Caroline, set sail for Hawai‘i in 1836. After short stints in Kohala and Lahaina, they moved to Wailuku, where they would settle for the next forty-six years and raise five sons. 

When Bailey took over the seminary, he expanded the curriculum beyond reading, writing (all in Hawaiian, a language Bailey began learning immediately upon arriving in the Islands), arithmetic and the Bible. He showed his students how to identify flora and fauna, taking them on excursions into the mountains and out to the coast. As a botanist who later wrote a seminal book on Hawaiian ferns, Bailey also taught the girls how to grow vegetables, which complemented their other practical lessons in sewing, spinning and weaving.

A constant shortage of money meant a dearth of supplies, which Bailey tapped his industrious spirit to overcome. He built a water mill like the ones he had seen in Holden, using it to mill the lumber from which he made the school’s chairs and desks. He acquainted himself with progressive teaching methods and made do with little more than “a blackboard, a ruined blank globe and an imperfect supply of slates,” as he described the only teaching materials at his disposal.

In spite of the hardships, Bailey found his job rewarding. In a letter to his friend Amos Cooke, who ran the Chiefs’ Children’s School in Honolulu, Bailey wrote of his enthusiasm for teaching: “It is a great thing to make youth what they might be made, to form all their parts, give bent to every twig!; to guide their feet up those paths which all pronounce slippery.”

As his family grew, Bailey renovated their home, connecting the cookhouse, cottage and main house and adding a third story. But despite Bailey’s best efforts at keeping the school alive, in 1849 the semi-nary lost its funding and had to close. The land reverted to the Hawaiian Kingdom. Bailey went to work as a surveyor, saved some money and bought the property back. For eight years he ran a tuition-based day school there, charging a scant $18 a year for tuition and offering many scholarships before determining he needed to pursue other ways to feed his family.

In the 1860s Bailey joined Hawai‘i’s sugar rush, acquiring more land around his house, building a sugar mill and founding the E. Bailey & Sons plantation. In 1870 he sold the plantation and the mill to his middle son, William, who sold it to the Wailuku Sugar Company in 1878. Edward and Caroline Bailey moved to California, where they lived out the rest of their days.

As the century turned, the Bailey House began several new lives: Wailuku Sugar Company used it initially as the manager’s house. The small window through which plantation workers were paid can still be seen above the entrance stairs. In the 1920s the wife of the plantation manager ran a kindergarten at the house. During World War II the house served as the headquarters for civil defense. Just after the war, the Maui News editor Ezra Crane and his family moved in for a few years after losing their own home in the 1946 tsunami.

Bailey House became Hale Ho‘ike‘ike in 1957, when the Maui Historical Society leased it from the Wailuku Sugar Company for that hard-to-beat price of one dollar a year. In 1991 Wailuku Sugar sold the property to Masaru “Pundy” Yokouchi and his wife, Shirley. The philanthropic couple turned around and donated the house and its acre of land—across which a young Yokouchi used to walk on his way to Wailuku Elementary School—to the Maui Historical Society. 

Over the years, most of the other buildings on the property disappeared, including the original dormitory, whose adobe walls could not withstand Wailuku’s rain and humidity. By 1900 the seminary building had been torn down. But the Bailey House stands today essentially as it did at the end of the nineteenth century. It is, according to National Register of Historic Places documentation, “one of the most complete and undiluted examples of early missionary architecture remaining in Hawai‘i.” 

Edward and Caroline Bailey’s legacy has endured. Their eldest son married a Hawaiian woman, giving their descendants—many of whom still live in Wailuku—both missionary and native roots. One of these descendants is Hokuao Pellegrino, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Edward Bailey and the current president of the Maui Historical Society.

“Our collection may be small, but many items in it are exceptionally rare and unique,” says Pellegrino as he shows me around the museum. The exhibits include early Hawaiian artifacts such as: a lei niho palaoa, a whale-tooth necklace braided with human hair and worn only by royalty; a set of kapuahi kuni ‘ana ‘ana, or small stone sorcery cups used when praying a person to death; a large, elaborate kapa moe, or bark-cloth blanket; and tools and utensils found by the US Navy on Kaho‘olawe. There is also a spearhead-shaped pohaku puka, or door stone, which could be used against home intruders. This heavy and potentially deadly “mantrap,” as former Bishop Museum director William Brigham described it, was suspended above the doorpost and triggered by a cord across the entryway.

One of Pellegrino’s favorite parts of the museum is the gallery featuring some of Edward Bailey’s landscape paintings; Bailey was a self-taught artist whose fondness for the island’s beauty was reflected in his landscapes. Today the paintings provide an invaluable visual record of Maui in the mid-nineteenth century. “These were all done before there were photographs,” Pellegrino says. “This is one of the only ways we can capture what was going on at that time.”

Pellegrino describes his great-great-great-great-grandfather as a Renaissance man: Besides being a teacher, farmer and painter, he was an architect who helped design Wailuku’s Ka‘ahumanu Church. He was an engineer who helped develop one of the first bridges across the Wailuku river. And he was a naturalist. “Edward Bailey had an appreciation for Maui that many newcomers during that time may not have had,” Pellegrino says. “He was highly engaged in the community and learned the way of life of those Hawaiians living in the area.”

Outside, in the museum’s yard, I meet Myrna Fung, a longtime volunteer docent, who tells me one of her pet peeves. She points out a hala tree and says that she is appalled when visiting children call the tree with the pointy, cascading leaves and the pineapple-like fruit a “pineapple tree.” The leaves of the hala, or pandanus, are used in Hawaiian weaving. And while hala trees have produced innumerable baskets, mats and hats, they have never produced pineapples—which don’t, in any case, grow on trees. “It’s so important to know your surroundings,” Fung says. “This is where you live, and you have to have an appreciation and love for where you are.”

To that end, Fung does her best to help visitors to Hale Ho‘ike‘ike connect with the plants that grow on the museum grounds, offering insight into their many practical uses. “I try to teach them the ethnobotanical history of these plants,” she says as we admire the well-tended garden, which includes both traditional Hawaiian plants and plants associated with the missionary era—including an olive tree planted by Rev. Green. Fung tells visitors: “People didn’t have Ace Hardware or Home Depot in the old days. They had to make everything by hand. They had to use these plants.’”

Hale Ho‘ike‘ike is no longer the kind of museum where people visit once, never to return, Fung says. And as school groups have made return visits, she has noticed that the students are more knowledgeable than the last time they came. “I can see there’s a change,” she says. “Their teachers are preparing them to learn.” And on subsequent visits nobody misidentifies the hala for a pineapple tree.

For Fung, education remains at the heart of what Hale Ho‘ike‘ike is all about. “That’s what this place started off as—a school. Everything we’re doing today is a continuation of that.” 

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