Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Opinion | After Maui’s fires, here’s the view from a neighbor island

Opinion | After Maui’s fires, here’s the view from a neighbor island


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There’s a famous old banyan tree in the middle of Lahaina. If you’ve ever been to Maui, you likely know it and have sat under it. The whole population of neighboring Molokaʻi could probably squeeze beneath its half-acre of shade.

Now the rest of the world knows it, too. It’s one of the most striking images to emerge this week from the wildfires that devastated West Maui. In historic Lahaina — a popular tourist spot, yes, but also once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi — it is practically just the big banyan, charred but upright, that still stands.

Like the Koreans and the Portuguese and the Filipinos and the Chinese and the Japanese and the Congregationalist missionaries from New England and the Polynesians in their double-hulled outrigger canoes centuries before anyone else, the banyan voyaged a long way to come to Hawaiʻi.

The species is native to India, and the pride of Lahaina was the first to arrive. Planted in 1873, it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the missionaries. Today, at the 150th anniversary, sentiments are a bit more ambivalent, even as the tree has become a beloved fixture — and now, maybe, a survivor.

I voyaged here, too … a year ago. My boyfriend’s job in the federal judiciary unexpectedly brought us from the East Coast to Honolulu, on the island of Oʻahu. I’ve been here only a short while, and I’ll be here only a short while more, but it doesn’t take long to fall under the spell of Hawaiʻi. I learned fast that the welcoming spirit of aloha is real, and intoxicating.

But it’s complicated. Hawaiʻi, after centuries of arrivals — and reluctant departures of the people who’ve been here the longest — is a wary place, too. I also learned what it means to be an outsider, a haole.

“Don’t mistake aloha for weakness,” reads a popular T-shirt here. And, watching the islands turn inward to care for their own amid this disaster, it’s impossible to. Friends from Oʻahu have organized drop-offs for diapers, toothbrushes and dry goods. Friends of friends on Maui have turned their still-standing kitchens into production zones for saimin and — what else? — Spam.

There’s aloha for the islands themselves. Malama ʻaina — care for the land — is central to Hawaiian philosophy, and in recent days, it has taken form as vehement advocacy for climate action, now. The wildfires, not just in Lahaina but across Maui and on Big Island, too, were exacerbated by drought and whipped up by hurricane winds that themselves damaged the neighbor islands.

And don’t forget that “aloha” means “goodbye” as much as it means “hello.” An op-ed last year from Native Hawaiian activist Keoni DeFranco makes clear that if outsiders are going to drop in and extract from these islands — as with the military or property investors (or East Coast newsletter writers?) — we are not welcome.

The fires are a painful reminder of that. Like many gems of Hawaiʻi — including Waikiki, if you can believe it — Lahaina used to be wetland. It would never have been this susceptible to conflagration had sugar barons not diverted its water to make their fortunes.

I am still learning what it means to love Hawaiʻi for Hawaiʻi. Not just for the sun, surf and mai tais, mouthwatering as those things all are. But for Queen Kaʻahumanu from Maui, who welcomed the missionaries’ work, and for Queen Liliʻuokalani from Oʻahu, who didn’t. For Lahaina at its best and for Lahaina, devastated.

I hope you’ll consider learning, too, whether you’re coming to stay a while, as I have, or just for a week’s vacation. And, about that week — give some thought as to when, and where. On Maui, at least 55 people are dead. The island, days on, is still in desperate need of emergency help. It will need time to heal. But it will.

From bird’s-eye photos, you can’t see the curious way a banyan tree grows. It spreads up and plenty out, but also down. As branches fan out their shade above, roots shoot from them back toward the earth, until they connect as new trunks, holding each day firmer to their land.

For ways to help Maui and neighbor islands, visit The Post’s roundup of aid efforts.

More from The Post on Hawaiʻi

  • A breathtaking photo gallery of the destruction on Maui
  • A history of Lahaina, once a global hub of trade and the seat of Hawaiian power
  • A primer on the Hawaiian monarchy and its overthrow by the United States
  • A woman’s eyewitness account of the Pearl Harbor attack, published for the first time by Post Opinion 71 years later
  • And, once again, DeFranco’s op-ed — an introduction to the complications of life in Hawaiʻi — starting with its runaway wild chickens.

From the Editorial Board’s analysis of the snag in President Biden’s plan to overhaul the economy: There just aren’t enough workers.

The problem is especially keen when it comes to finding labor skilled enough to staff chip manufacturing factories, a cornerstone of Biden’s industrial policy. So that’s what the board focused on solving, offering five solid recommendations for the president.

Oh, Ron DeSantis. Are you getting enough sleep? You said at a recent sparsely attended late-night campaign event that you and your wife are “usually like pumpkins once we get to 10 at night.”

Well, time for a Red Bull (or a fairy godmother), because, as Gene Robinson writes, the Florida governor’s presidential campaign has “reached the flailing stage.”

“He might still have time to find a campaign persona that captivates GOP voters,” Gene writes, “but he hasn’t found one yet.”

As for moderate voters? Don’t count on them as long as you’re dishing rhetoric about “slitting throats” within the Washington bureaucracy, warns George Will, no fan of the Washington bureaucracy himself.

But let’s say DeSantis does catch on. Catherine Rampell has been watching his draconian immigration agenda in Florida — and how efficiently he’s enacted it.

She sees a dire warning: If DeSantis somehow wins in 2024, the country will at last discover the worst of Trumpism, thanks to “less drama and more competent execution.”

Chaser: As Maui burned, columnist Kathleen Parker writes, DeSantis was spending his efforts undermining his state’s climate-change education.

  • Josh Rogin analyzes GOP candidate Chris Christie’s accusation that Donald Trump is undermining Ukraine’s war effort.
  • Greg Sargent sat down with some Gen Z activists. He says they have a promising plan to take their fight to MAGA country.
  • In Virginia’s rural Rappahannock County, Dana Milbank sees a cure for our national divisions. It starts with the newspaper.
  • Justice Clarence Thomas’s luxury vacations? Ruth Marcus says that’s just what friends are for!

It’s a goodbye. It’s a haiku. It’s … The Bye-Ku.

And share another’s burden

Plus! A Friday bye-ku (Fri-ku!) from reader Peter G.:

Have your own newsy haiku? Email it to me, along with any questions/comments/ambiguities. Have a great weekend.





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