Advertisements created by Hawai’i’s tourist and resort industry attempt to lure tourists and conventions here by showcasing Old Hawai’i. Of course, many of these same entities are also responsible for Maui’s overdevelopment and disregard of historical landmarks and coastal heritage sites. Visitors come to our island in search of the past and are instead bussed to Hilo Hattie’s.
Yet those who actually make it to historic places like Makena in South Maui are unable to see the heiaus [shrines] and other cultural artifacts. They’re hidden, neglected, on the Seibu Corporation’s private property, landscaped onto golf courses behind kiawe trees and overgrown grass.
Instead of a comprehensive conservation effort to protect South Maui’s cultural heritage, developers have isolated these landmarks and historical sites from each other in order to maximize the commercial real estate potential. This is perfectly legal: the 1998 Kihei-Makena Community Plan requires that developers “identify, preserve, protect and restore significant cultural and historical sites,” but doesn’t actually provide specific guidelines potential development must follow.
Several heiaus and other structures now sit isolated from one another on the Makena golf course. In fact, Seibu’s property contains hundreds of historic cultural sites that have been carbon dated from 1100-1880. No interpretation of these landmarks is provided, and no one—not even prior landowners with ancestral ties to these sites—can visit them without prior approval.
It’s this type of indifference that leaves South Maui bereft of cultural identity, says the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, a community nonprofit that promotes growth management strategies and sustainable development policies for Maui.
“There is an unmet need for cultural education in south Maui,” said Maui Tomorrow Vice President Lucienne de Naie. “Reducing [artifacts and landmarks] into insignificant slices of private resort property robs the community of the historical resource and link to the land that these cultural sites provide when preserved collectively as a whole.”
Maui Tomorrow has been lobbying county government, citizen groups and the Seibu Corporation, the parent company of the Makena Resort, to follow the policies of the Kihei-Wailea Community Plan to create an educational center and cultural park that will promote distinct cultural sites and provide a link to the rich history of South Maui.
One possible location for a South Maui cultural park and educational center would be adjacent to Maluaka Beach, in front of the Maui Prince Hotel. The 1998 Kihei-Wailea Community Plan identifies a stretch of land from the Keawal’i Church in front of the Maui Prince down to Dark Sands Beach, north of Makena State Park, to be preserved and restored for interpretation due to the density of prehistoric sites there.
A preserved heiau sits on the south point of Maluaka. A section of the King’s Highway—once used by tax collectors to travel through the rocky south Maui terrain—runs between the hotel and the Beach. The King’s Highway once ran 20 miles to Kaupo and connected 10 different villages, and this section is the best preserved.
Over a small hill south of the beach lies one of many ko’a platforms that have been recovered by state archaeologists down the Honua’ula and Makena coasts. Ko’as were traditional prayer sites used by ancestral Hawaiians and other Polynesian cultures to pray and give thanks to the fish god Ka’ula.
According to archaeological research of the area by the State Historic Preservation Division, Maluaka Beach is also a historic point from which ancestral Hawaiians built and launched canoes to fish and mine Kaho’olawe, where South Maui communities once traveled for the koa tree forests and basalt stones found there. The stones were used to make tools for digging out canoes.
Archaeological research has revealed that a canoe-building industry once thrived in this region, close to the forests on the south flank of Haleakala in the Ulupalakua region. The interpretive history of island life, industry and culture from the mountain to the sea that this area represents makes this location ideal, says Maui Tomorrow.
In any case, a major surge in development looms on the horizon for South Maui as the Wailea 670 and Makena Resort projects begin constructing a combined 2,900 new residential units. These projects will also extend the Pi’ilani corridor through the 670-acre-Honua’ula property above Wailea, providing a direct artery to the future Makena Resort and ending somewhere near Makena State Park. The projects are expected to double the population of the Kihei-Wailea communities over the next 20 years, creating a second town in South Maui.
Converting a small tract of land between the Keawal’i Church and Dark Sands Beach into a public historical park would send a clear message to mega-developers like Seibu that they take community and civic development as seriously as condominium construction, and will develop within the guidelines of the Kihei-Wailea Community Plan drafted by citizens.
The Community Plan calls for responsible development that creates a sense of place for the community and recognizes the region’s history. Whether they will remains to be seen—Seibu officials didn’t return several calls for comment regarding the proposed cultural park and educational center. MTW