If you find yourself on the second floor of the old courthouse in Lahaina, you might notice a lot of new exhibits on local Maui history and culture. There are still a few old whaling harpoons and such, but for the most part the museum is now dedicated to showing how Hawaiians lived on Maui, both before and after contact with Western civilization.
On a wall near the makai side of the room is an artist’s rendition of Mokuhinia, the fish pond that also briefly served as the location of the Hawaiian capital. There’s a park at that spot now (located on the south end of Lahaina across from 505 Front Street) but for not quite a decade in the early 19th century, it was a gorgeous wetland.
Here’s how the Army Corps of Engineers, which has a role to play in the future of the area, tells the history of Mokuhinia:
“Historically, Loko o Mokuhinia was an approximately 17-acre pond, one in a series of coastal wetlands along the shoreline of West Maui,” stated an Aug. 30 Army Corps of Engineers news release. “Loko o Mokuhinia is cited in Hawaiian mo‘olelo (traditions) as the home of the mo`o akua (lizard goddess), Kihawahine, who was the tutelary deity to the Maui royal family line that gave rise to King Kamehameha III. From 1837 to 1845, the inland island of Moku‘ula was the royal residence of King Kamehameha III when Lahaina served as the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. In 1845, the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom was relocated to Honolulu, and Loko o Mokuhinia and Moku‘ula began to decrease in prominence. In the early 20th century, a public project was implemented to fill Loko o Mokuhinia, and in 1918, Executive Order 52 established the site as Malu‘ulu o Lele Park, which is managed by the County of Maui. Loko o Mokuhinia and Moku‘ula currently lie approximately two to six feet under the ground surface of the park.”
Look at the park today, and you’re hard-pressed to see any sign of the old palace glory. But that artist’s rendition of Mokuhinia located on the second floor of the old courthouse serves two purposes: show what the site used to look like, and give people an idea of what it can become again.
For more than two decades now, the Friends of Moku‘ula have sought to restore the land to its old self. It’s been a slow, difficult and expensive project, but tangible changes may be coming relatively soon.
Before you can restore Moku’ula, the old fish pond has to come back. And that’s what the Army Corps of Engineers is planning to do with it’s proposed Mokuhinia Ecosystem Restoration Project:
“The Mokuhinia Ecosystem Restoration Project specifically addresses the restoration of Loko o Mokuhinia, which is one component of a larger effort by the County of Maui to preserve and restore the overall site,” stated the Aug. 30 Army Corps press release. “The purpose of the project is to restore wetland functions and values within a portion of Loko o Mokuhinia, the former wetland that surrounded the ancient island of Moku‘ula. Specifically, the project includes restoration of foraging habitat for the endangered Hawaiian stilt (ae`o, Himantopus mexicanus knudseni), Hawaiian coot (‘alae ke oke’o, Fulica alai), and migratory waterfowl and shorebird species.”
The Army Corps of Engineers says that if they get the go-ahead, they can finish the wetland restoration by 2018, though “post-construction performance monitoring” would have to continue for a decade after that. Once completed, the County of Maui would take over operation of the site.
The comment period for the Army Corps’ Environmental Assessment (EA) for the project began on Aug. 23 and runs through Sept. 23. This Thursday (that’s tonight!) officials will be on hand at the Lahaina Civic Center (1840 Honoapi’ilani Hwy) to outline their project and answer questions from the public. The meeting runs 6:30-8:30pm. For more information, visit Mokuhiniaproject.com.