story by Roland Gilmore
photos by Dana Edmunds
Kala kahiko i au wale ai ka la, goes an old Hawaiian proverb, referring to events in the distant past: "The sun has gone down long since." There was a time when this was all that could be said of Mokuula, an islet formerly located in a large freshwater fishpond in Lahaina. One of Maui’s most sacred sites, Mokuula was the spiritual center for the bloodlines of the famed 16th-century high chief Piilani, and also for a time the residence of Kamehameha III, who ruled the Islands from 1825 to 1854.
Today, Mokuula lies buried beneath a county park, but its sun is once again rising, thanks to the dedicated work of the nonprofit group Friends of Mokuula and a tour company named Maui Nei, which was established to help fund efforts to return the site to its former grandeur. To do so, Maui Nei offers a wide variety of cultural and historic activities, among them a walking tour known as Makaikai Ma Loko O Lahaina, or "A Journey Through Lahaina’s Past."
Starting near Lahaina Harbor at a sacred birthing stone of Hawaiian royalty—the two-hour tour covers some 1,700 years of history, with stops at Kamehameha I’s Brick Palace, the missionary-era Baldwin House, sites once inhabited by plantation workers, churches, cemeteries and, of course, the Moku‘ula site. Throughout, participants are given the moolelo (stories) and oli (chants) of the region, via guides trained by Akoni Akana, the cultural expert and kumu hula (hula instructor) who has been heading the restoration efforts.