Tracing Lahaina’s story, from royal kingdom to fiery blaze

by Ahleper Tech
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The story of Lahaina, Hawaii, is one of transformation – from a place of Native royalty to one of missionaries, sugar moguls, and the tourists who fled this month. Transformation also runs through the roots of Lahaina family trees, generations that have loved and lost, left and stayed, worked and worshipped here.

The deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, with 115 confirmed dead, has transformed this place again. No one knows what fruit the seeds of recovery will bear, but those who love Lahaina intend to plant them. 

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Lahaina, a historic town and community burned by a wildfire on Maui, has seen upheavals and fresh starts before. Now residents face a new era of renewal following the fire.

“I want it to look and stay like the Lahaina town that we know,” says Cindy Williams, a resident born and raised in the town whose home survived the blaze. “The cultural essence and the local history of it, the community helping each other.”

Discussion of the tragedy often involves the legacy of land, which Native Hawaiians hold sacred. 

“We start our histories with the landscape,” says Davianna Pomaikai McGregor, retired professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The fire represents a hulihia, an overturning, she says.

From her backyard fence, Cindy Williams takes in the town where she was born and raised. Not even wildfire could make her leave Lahaina. 

Etched into the hillside behind her is a large letter L, whitened with lime by students at her alma mater, Lahainaluna High School. Below her is the spindly smokestack of the Pioneer Mill Co., recalling an era that lured her Portuguese grandparents with jobs in sugar cane.

But some landmarks are missing from the scene since an Aug. 8 wildfire, the most destructive of multiple blazes that ignited on Maui, Hawaii, that day. Gone is the Waiola Church, where her husband’s family pastored. Gone are hotels and stores. The fangs of flames devoured houses just a few blocks from her. Sometimes it’s hard for Ms. Williams to look.

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

Lahaina, a historic town and community burned by a wildfire on Maui, has seen upheavals and fresh starts before. Now residents face a new era of renewal following the fire.

The story of Lahaina is one of transformation – from a place of Native royalty to one of missionaries, sugar moguls, and the tourists who fled this month. Transformation also runs through the roots of Lahaina family trees, generations that have loved and lost, left and stayed, worked and worshipped here.

Sarah Matusek/The Christian Science Monitor

From her backyard, Cindy Williams takes in the view of her hometown of Lahaina, Hawaii, Aug. 17, 2023. The deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century razed the area on Aug. 8, but her house was spared.

The deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, with 115 confirmed dead to date, has transformed this place again. No one knows what fruit the seeds of recovery will bear, but those who love Lahaina intend to plant them. 

“I want it to look and stay like the Lahaina town that we know,” says Ms. Williams. “The cultural essence and the local history of it, the community helping each other.”

That’s what she’s doing now, transforming her garage into a depot of donations for neighbors. People can come by for noodle packets, canned goods, or a smile.



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