Ka Malu ‘Ulu o Lele: Looking to the past to see the future

A traditional name for Lahaina is Malu ‘Ulu o Lele, the shaded breadfruit grove of Lele, connecting us to a time when the area’s agroforestry consisted of ‘ulu, coconut, kalo and all kinds of crops. For many generations Lahaina was the seat of power for Maui’s ruling chiefs and later became the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom because of the abundance. It sustained a population much larger than it is known for today. Foreigners marveled at the ingenuity, industry, and economy of it all. Not only did this abundance provide shade, food, and opportunities for “work,” it helped pull down moisture and Lahaina was lush and a lot cooler than what recent memory is capable of holding.

“The grove of ’ulu that provided an abundance of food free to the people was replaced by sugarcane to turn a profit for the colonizer plantations, plantations that then diverted the streams that set the stage for this devastating fire,” Maui County Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said during Friday’s Maui County Council meeting.

“Talking in circles. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression. It’s not something you ever want to be accused of doing, right? Repeating the same points. It was made a derogatory expression to undermine and shame the practice of indigenous peoples, the practice of storytelling while sitting in a circle. In order for a people’s oral history to survive the stories must be repeated. In discussing the mo’olelo the lessons are remembered and passed on and knowledge can continue to be built upon. There is value in repeating a story that should be memorialized in our collective memory — ’ike kupuna.”

“If we don’t tell our stories, not only will they not be preserved, but other stories will be told in its place and erase our culture: a story of a banyan tree as a symbol of Lahaina. We have the blueprint of what worked. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to prevent fire. I’ve heard it again and again from the community. The call for the restoration of Malu ’Ulu o Lele, Mokuhinia, and Moku’ula. A story of abundance. Now go. Go talk in circles and tell your friends. This story of abundance. E ulu. E ola.”