The banyan tree, the anchor of Banyan Tree Park on Front Street in Lahaina, might be the most iconic place on Maui. OK, the summit of Haleakala probably wins the prize, but the banyan tree rates a close second. As Front Street is a major tourist destination itself, the banyan tree is seen by hundreds of thousands of people every year. Here is a brief history of the banyan tree in Lahaina.
While it’s been a live volcano for centuries, because of the current large-scale eruptions of Kilauea, Pelehonaumea, or Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes has been in the news. But who is Pele and what are her origins?
Pele is the creator of the Hawaiian Islands and legend has it, she still resides in Kilauea. Born to Haumea, who herself is a direct descendant from the supreme being Sky Father, Pele is known for her power, passion, volatile temper and jealousy. This temper has led to the destruction of many small towns and forests throughout history.
Maui is fortunate to have a bookmobile that reaches people who would otherwise have a difficult time visiting the library. We are also fortunate to have librarian Jessica Gleason running the program. In accepting the job as the bookmobile librarian, Gleason needed to give up one of the plum librarian jobs in the state, that as head librarian of the wonderful Kihei Library. But in her words, “… the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to manage a brand new bookmobile was too hard to pass up. I didn’t expect to get the job, but was very happy to be given the chance!”
Of course being a librarian, Gleason is an avid reader. One of her favorite books growing up was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. She recently finished My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor, which she found inspirational, refreshing and hopeful.
Gleason, born and raised on Maui, is the mother of twin 3 ½ year olds and has lived here all her life.
To celebrate National Bookmobile Day, we shared an e-mail exchange with her about the bookmobile…
Good morning Jessica! Let’s start at the beginning. How long has the bookmobile been in service on Maui and how was it funded?
The bookmobile has been in service since September, 2016. The custom vehicle was purchased by the Maui Friends of the Library (MFOL) and gifted to the Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS). MFOL also worked with HSPLS to lobby the legislature to fund a Bookmobile Librarian position (quite a feat!). There hadn’t been a Bookmobile Librarian in over 20 years (since the last librarian retired and the position was eliminated during another round of budget cuts).
Why does Maui need a bookmobile?
The mission of the bookmobile is to bring library services to people who encounter barriers (geographic, socio-economic, physical, even psychological) to traditional library service (visiting a bricks and mortar library). We serve: seniors who have difficulty finding transportation to libraries; inmates of the Maui Community Correctional Facility; preschools who have limited resources to visit libraries; public, private, and charter schools who either don’t have a functioning library or want to facilitate their students’ access to public library materials and services; and youth centers where children and young adults go after school. All of these populations may encounter challenges to visiting and using a public library and the outreach we do helps to educate the public about what public libraries offer, brings services to those who can’t or won’t visit a public library, and hopefully encourage all members of our community, keiki to kupuna, to take advantage of what the public library has to offer. We are ambassadors for the public library system.
How many communities do you visit? How many days a week are you on the road?
The bookmobile visits Haʻikū, Pukalani, Makawao, Pāʻia, Kahului, Wailuku, Paukūkalo, Napili, Lahaina, and Kīhei. We are on the road 4 days a week (sometimes 5 if we are making up missed visits due to holidays or special events). The majority of locations are preschools, followed by schools, and senior and low-income housing. We also visit community centers and youth centers as well as the correctional facility.
What are the additional challenges of working in a bookmobile vs. a standard library?
The frequent traveling is unexpectedly draining (and I’m just along for the ride). Our driver, Michael Tinker, and I do all the scheduling, checking items in and out, managing reserves, and shelving ourselves. Tinker also maintains the bookmobile and keeps it clean and safe for operation. I do the collection development, reference, and other managerial duties (much like a larger branch, but on a micro scale). Essentially, we run a small, mobile branch with just two people (and some added help from Wailuku staff with processing and mending library material). It is highly efficient considering our circulation statistics and cost of operation.
How is being a bookmobile librarian rewarding?
I am fortunate to be part of a long tradition of bookmobile service on Maui. The rewards are intangible and unmeasurable. The hugs and smiles from our youngest patrons; gifts of artwork from preschoolers; seeing a boy and his dad come aboard with a Lego replica of the bookmobile; and watching people light up when they see us drive by– these are all reasons I feel honored to be a Bookmobile Librarian. It truly is a privilege and I hope to ride with the Holoholo Bookmobile for many years to come!
Thanks again to Jessica Gleason for taking the time to meet with us. The Maui bookmobile’s schedule is available online on the official website.
Library cards are free for residents. Visitors can pay $10 for a three-month temporary card. With a library card, you have free access to wi-fi and computers and of course, all the books you can read. One perk for visitors is the ability to print out maps, directions and boarding passes for just 15 cents a page. And don’t forget, the libraries are stocked with Maui travel guides. No need to purchase a bulky guide, only to leave it in your room when you leave!
According to legend, the demigod Maui set out to capture the sun and slow it down for his mother, Hina. She was a talented woman who created cloth out of pounded bark (Kapa), but lamented that the sun moved across the sky too quickly for her cloth to dry. So Maui headed to the peak of Mt. Haleakala, AKA “house of the sun.” Once at the top, Maui lassoed the sun in an effort to slow it down and lengthen the day.
Emerging from two large shield volcanoes, the West Maui Mountains first appeared approximately 1.3-2 million years ago with Haleakala following approximately 750, 000-1 million years ago. As lava flowed from the volcano, Haleakala continued growing over time. Today it stands 10,023 feet above ocean level. The crater is roughly seven miles across, two miles wide, and 3,000 ft. deep. Recent dating tests reveal that Haleakala most likely last erupted sometime in the 17th century. Once thought to be extinct, scientists now believe the volcano is actually just dormant and may erupt again in the next 500 years. Sensors have been installed on the mountain to monitor seismic activity.
Haleakala is at the heart of the Haleakala National Park, but there’s more to the park than just the volcano. Established in 1916, the national park covers more than 30,000 acres. It runs from the volcano’s rim all the way down to the Pacific Ocean shoreline.
The Haleakala National Park is home to more endangered species than any other U.S. National Park. The Hawaiian silversword is an endangered plant that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The nene, a once nearly extinct Hawaiian goose, can also be spotted (and heard) in the park.
It has been argued how many climate zones there are in the world, some say 14, others say 20. What we do know, is that Haleakala National Park has a majority of them; descending from desert to forest to coastal. When visiting Maui, most people don’t think to pack a heavy jacket, but a warm jacket is important if you are planning a trip up to the summit to watch the sunrise, because there are often freezing temperatures.
Over the years, crowds wanting to watch the sunrise at the summit have grown. Consequently, the National Parks Service have implemented a way to manage the crowds. In February, 2017, a reservation system was put into place. Reservations are now required to enter the Summit District between 3:00 A.M. and 7:00 A.M. For more information or to book your reservation, visit the National Parks Service website.
A majority of people, who enter the national park, are there for the sunrise. But, if you want to skip the heavy crowds (or forget to make reservations), we recommend visiting at sunset. Nearly as beautiful, it’s a far more relaxed atmosphere for viewing, and you don’t have to rush to be at the summit in the wee hours of the morning. Additionally, if you stay up there until it’s dark, you may be able to see the Milky Way. At the least, you’ll see planets, moons (Jupiter’s moons!) and millions of stars. It’s one of the best stargazing locations in the world. The visitor center has star maps, and you can rent binoculars from various dive shops or hotels.
Haleakala is one of Maui’s natural treasures. If you visit, take your time to enjoy it. There are things at Haleakala National Park you won’t see anywhere else in the world.
If you’ve shopped in grocery stores or farmers markets around Maui, or visited assorted restaurants around town, you’ve probably come across purple sweet potatoes, also called Okinawan sweet potatoes. The potatoes have a long history in Hawaii, but lets start at the beginning.
Sweet potatoes, the orange-type found on the mainland that are often served candied for Thanksgiving or made into sweet potato fries, were originally harvested in Columbia and Central America. Around the time Christopher Columbus was exploring new lands, these sweet potatoes were exported to Asia. On Okinawa, a small island about 400 miles off the southern coast of Japan, these potatoes were one of the few types of vegetables able to survive the typhoons and tropical storms that frequent the island. The purple coloring of the potato was cultivated here in Okinawa. Eventually, Polynesians brought the purple sweet potato to the rich, volcanic soils of Hawaii, where it continues to flourish today.
About that purple coloring? The color comes from anthocyanins. Anthocyanins can also be found in raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, eggplants, concord grapes and other fruits and vegetables. More testing needs to be done, but it is believed consuming anthocyanins reduces the risk of health disease in women, reduces cholesterol, fights obesity, boosts cognitive function by slowing age-related degeneration of brain function and memory, prevents cold and flu symptoms, and anthocyanins may be an effective way to prevent several different forms of cancer.** In other words, these purple potatoes not only taste great and look beautiful, they may eventually extend your life.
Because purple sweet potatoes tend to be a bit more dense and dry that standard potatoes, they do take a little longer to bake. But beyond that, go to town! Fry them up, bake them, mash them, prepare them how you would any other type of potato. The beautiful purple coloring will liven up a weekday meal.
* [From HealthyFocus.org](https://healthyfocus.org/health-benefits-of-anthocyanins/)
Taro, once a staple of the Hawaiian diet, and still an integral part of the culture, is surprisingly not native to Hawaii. Instead, it is thought to have originated in southern India, before migrating east to China and as far south as New Zealand. From there, Polynesians brought taro to these islands, planting it near rivers and streams.
The Hawaiian word for taro is kalo. According to Hawaiian mythology, Wakea (the sky father), and the beautiful goddess, Hoʻohokukalani (the heavenly one who made the stars), wished to have a child. Their first attempt, however, resulted in a still birth. The body of the stillborn child was buried near their home. From this buried child grew a taro plant; the plant was named Haloanaka (long stock trembling). The couple’s second attempt at a child resulted in a human boy which the gods named Haloa. From Haloa, the Hawaiian race of people descended. According to this legend, then, Hawaiians are literally related to taro, which explains the importance of taro in Hawaiian culture.
In early times, taro was grown using two distinct methods. The most common was a “wet” method which involved building a taro pond near a river. Once the land was marked off, the growers would plant the taro, then flood the land by diverting water from the river. The “dry” method was commonly used in higher elevations, primarily in recently de-forested lands. Just prior to the start of rainy season, farmers would dig holes about nine inches deep, then drop in taro cuttings. Once the taro took root, they would cover the holes with mud. Whether grown wet or dry, taro takes roughly 200 days to mature.
In its heyday, taro was grown on roughly 35,000 acres across the Hawaiian islands. Today, however, taro production covers less than than 350 acres. Residents and visitors of Hawaii consume about 6.5 million pounds of Hawaii-grown taro per year. As a result, the state needs to import an additional 2 million pounds a year to cover consumption. Local farmers are being encouraged to grow more taro to reduce imports of the popular staple.
Here on Maui, many small taro farms ceased operations when the sugar cane mills diverted water that otherwise went to growing the taro. In late 2016, large commercial sugar cane production on Maui ended, so it is hoped that some of this diverted water will again return to the smaller taro farms and production can resume.
Taro can be used in a variety ways. Here in Hawaii, you’ll find poi (mashed taro) at most restaurants serving “local” food. Because taro resembles potatoes in taste and texture, it often replaces typical potato-based dishes, such as taro fries, taro chips, and taro pancakes. It’s also found in bubble teas, certain veggie burgers, curry dishes, and desserts.
The history of taro goes back to the start of Hawaiian civilization, and it continues to be a popular food source amongst locals. Additionally, as the farm-to-table food movement continues to gain in popularity, it’s now being served in some of Hawaii’s most popular restaurants. Taro is an overnight success, thousands of years in the making.
People often associate hula with men and women in short grass skirts, rapidly gyrating their hips and twirling fire. Unfortunately, that’s not hula dancing. That’s a Polynesian form of dance, popular at luaus. No, hula, authentic hula, is a slower, soulful dance, primarily performed by women in full, formal dress. It is common to see men dancing the hula, as well, but generally it is a dance dominated by women.
The origins of the hula are murky, at best. The first point of question is where the first hula was performed. The Big Island, Oahu, Kauai and Molokai all claim to be the birthplace of hula. The next issue is who first performed it. Some say Hopoe, a companion of the goddess Hi’iaka, was the first dancer. Others believe it was Kapo’ulakina’u (Kapo), the goddess of fertility who first danced the hula. Finally, a third myth says the first hula dancer was the navigator goddess Laka.
Even though the first hula dancer or even where the first hula took place can’t be verified, what’s interesting to historians is that these three myths revolve around goddesses. This directly refutes claims that in ancient times, hulas were only performed by men. This claim is further refuted when in 1778, Captain Cook landed on the island now known as Kauai and his crew members wrote about hula dances being performed by both men and women.
Between 1819 (marked by the death of Kamehameha I) and 1874, many Christian Hawaiians considered the hula immoral. So much so that in 1830, Queen Ka’ahumanu, a Christian convert, made it illegal to perform the hula in public places. Upon her death in 1832, many began ignoring the law and again performed in public. In 1874, Kalakaua became king, and during his reign the hula again became officially public. It was performed at both his 1883 coronation and an 1886 jubilee celebration.
In 1893, the Hawaiian monarchy fell. It would be nearly 100 years before the hula again became a part of the government celebrations.
Today, there are two primary forms of Hula. The first, hula kahiko, often referred to as traditional hula, is generally performed in the style used prior to 1894. Much of this form of hula was created in the praise of chiefs and honoring Hawaiian goddesses and/or gods. Hula kahiko does not use modern instruments like the ukulele or guitar. Instead, it uses things like rhythm sticks, gourds carved into drums and rattles, or bamboo sticks cut so they slap together.
The second form of hula performed today is called hula’auana, which combines the traditional form of hula with western influences like melodic harmonies and Christian morality tales. String instruments like the ukulele, steel guitars and bass guitars are often used to accompany the performers.
You can see hulas performed all over the state, from resorts and shopping malls to luaus and public gatherings. See if you can spot the difference between traditional hulas and the modern form.
T. Komoda Store and Bakery, or Komoda’s as it’s more commonly known, has been a Maui institution for over 100 years. Its cream puffs and stick donuts are famous throughout the state. In telling the story of Komoda’s, let’s start at the beginning.
In 1916, Takezo Komoda opened his restaurant in a spot kitty corner from the current location, where Polli’s Mexican Restaurant currently stands. They mostly served sandwiches on their homemade bread, saimin and donuts to local cowboys and plantation workers. It wasn’t long until Komoda’s moved into its current location. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Takezo handed his oldest son Takeo the keys to the restaurant for fear that his Japanese citizenship could force him to turn his restaurant over to the government.
When Takezo’s brother, Ikuo, returned to Maui from baking school with a folder full of new recipes in 1947, Komoda’s started its evolution from restaurant to bakery and general store. While the now famous stick donuts and malasadas had their roots in the original bread recipe used back in 1916, it wasn’t until early in the 1960s that Ikuo introduced his famous cream puffs.
While local residents made up a lion’s share of its customers, in 2008 when the recession hit, Komoda’s came perilously close to shutting down. Since then, though many locals have returned, Komoda’s now counts on island visitors to fill the gap lost by non-returning locals.
Today, still using the same exact cream puff recipe Ikuo developed in the ’60s, Komoda Store and Bakery is run by Takezo’s granddaughter Betty Shibuya and her husband/chief baker Calvin Shibuya. Lest you think Calvin lucked out in marrying into the family, know that at 74 years old his regular work hours are 11:30 PM until the shop closes at 4:00 PM!
If you’re on Maui and headed upcountry, a trip to Komoda’s is must-visit. It’s also a nice place to stop on the way to/from Haleakala. Just make sure you’re there by 10:00 AM, or you’ll probably find most of the bakery’s favorites sold out.
Do you have a story about Komoda’s? Please share it in the comments below. Mahalo!
In its broadest sense, a luau is a traditional Hawaiian party mixing local food and lots of entertainment. Luaus are used to celebrate the many of stages of life. People often don’t remember their first luau. No, it’s not because they drank too many mai tais. People don’t remember because their first luau is often a celebration of their own first birthday! Traditional luaus are often common for Sweet 16 birthdays, graduations and weddings.
For visitors, a luau is often less personal, but maybe even more culturally important. Often, a visitor’s first luau is their introduction to native food and dance. Attendees are able to sample local foods like kalua pig buried and roasted overnight in the beach, freshly pounded poi (taro root), purple Hawaiian sweet potatoes, poke and haupia (a coconut-based dessert). Most modern luaus combine Polynesian dances and traditions into their shows. The traditional Hawaiian hula is a beautiful, slow dance. But for the modern luaus catering to visitors and locals looking for a lively celebration, we’ve come to expect dancing with quick hip undulations and fire. These forms of dance come from outside of Hawaii, but are still relevant to the Polynesian culture.
To learn about the history of the modern luau, we need to go back nearly 200 years. Prior to 1819, for large feasts (not yet called a luau), men sat separately from the women and children, and some celebratory dishes, like pork, moi (a reef fish) and bananas were only eaten by the chiefs. The common dishes for all to enjoy included other types of fish, sweet potatoes and poi. However, in 1819 King Kamehameha II started openly eating with women, thus breaking century’s old taboo of separate meal celebrations. It was during the king’s large gatherings with men, women and children that the term “luau” was first used for special meal events.
King Kamehameha’s luaus soon became legendary. The saying “enough to feed a king” is definitely apropos to his 1847 luau that featured 271 hogs, 1,820 fish and 2,245 coconuts! Years later, another king, King Kalakaua, for his 50th birthday, invited more that 1,500 people for a luau so large, the attendees were fed in three shifts.
Today, modern luaus are still about the food, dance and celebration. One can find public luaus all over the state of Hawaii. We’ve put together a list of our five favorite luaus on Maui if you need help deciding on which one attend. Luaus are still a great way to celebrate and learn about Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.