By Jael Simonson-Tunick, Assistant Finance Manager – SDL + GHS
No one gets left behind. According to the well-known Disney film “Lilo & Stitch,” that’s the meaning of the Hawaiian word for family, OHANA. Of course, for most of us kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) and local residents of Hawaii, ohana goes far beyond blood-family ties. Ohana means being part of a greater community, an unspoken social contract of mutual care and protection. If you grew up in Hawaii, you had scores of uncles, aunties, and cousins outside your “family tree”; family friends, neighbors, coworkers, it didn’t matter—it was all about how you would MĀLAMA (take care of), KĀKO’O (support), and KŌKUA (help) each other. Like the Six Degrees of Separation, you are always connected in some way when you live in Hawai’i Nei.
As a kānaka maoli girl born and raised on Maui, my favorite pastime was to HOLOHOLO (cruise) around my favorite places—Kula in upcountry Maui (my first home), Kihei to the South, and Lāhainā, Honolua Bay, and Kapalua out on the West side. I recall spending many Sundays with my dad and brother, driving out from Wailuku, along the windy pali road that clings to the West Maui cliffs, to the bustling coastal town of Lāhainā. It was the first capitol of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and the residence of King Kamehameha III; up until a week ago, it was one of the biggest tourist spots on Maui. Day or night, the sidewalks were filled with tourists, often stopping you on the sidewalk to take their pictures or standing in line to get into Longhi’s or another famous Front Street restaurant. For us, it was all about wandering through the various Front Street shops and art galleries before catching a movie at the Wharf Cinemas. Our favorite, though, was hanging out under the Lāhainā Banyan Tree, running around the many enormous roots, admiring the works of the local artisans in Lāhainā Banyan Court Park. There was a comfort in the history of the town, of longstanding buildings and familiar local landmarks. Now, all those memories have become bittersweet; big chunks of the town and the island’s history are burnt to a crisp, gone forever, along with the homes of thousands of local and kānaka maoli residents. Lāhainā, along with parts of Kihei and Kula will never be the same again. MAUI will never be the same again.
Whether you’re kānaka maoli or local, we all have had very heavy hearts over the loss our Maui brothers and sisters have suffered; it’s a true devastation to a community so dear and special to the island. I am inspired by so many Maui locals who, during the chaotic evacuation, did everything in their power to ensure that “no one gets left behind.” The unfortunate reality is we KNOW we left people behind–over a thousand residents are still being searched for, and in the forthcoming weeks of combing through the wreckage, the death toll will continue to rise; it will get much worse before it gets better. Despite that fact, local residents across the state have banded together to assist the survivors of the wildfires. Local chefs on Maui are volunteering their time to cook thousands of meals a day, the neighbor islands are gathering clothing in droves to send, along with shipping containers full of medicines, toiletries, PPE, and other supplies needed, being sent to Maui beaches, residents sometimes wading into the water to meet the ships. Port access has been limited, and that hasn’t stopped several local grassroots organizations from aiding Maui residents displaced by the fires.
There are other local Maui residents, safe from the fire, willing to volunteer their time at the shelters every day. Many of the volunteers and first responders are themselves reeling from the level of tragedy they’ve witnessed—there’s the grand scale of losing a beloved historic Maui town, and then there’s each little ohana who lost their homes and their loved ones, all trying to find a way to survive in the shadow of an uncertain future. The children in the shelters are upset and confused, they can’t understand why they’re not allowed to return home. Adults, meant to be their source of security and information, are just as confused, watching state and county government officials continue to lag behind their own constituents. There’s still so much uncertainty, but that hasn’t stopped our community from coming together in large numbers to support our displaced brothers and sisters. They are the hope for the future pushing us ahead. Since ancient Hawai’i, kānaka maoli have continued to keep our traditions and history alive through ‘ŌLELO (spoken word) and MO‘ OLELO (stories); it will be up to us to remember the history and heart of Lāhainā, and preserve it for our future generations. Hawaii residents will never stop trying to MĀLAMA, KĀKO’O, and KŌKUA each other; we will continue to fight to protect the future of Maui’s kānaka, because without her people, Maui loses her soul; and that is the true meaning of OHANA.