Exhibit celebrates the many facets of Lahaina

LAHAINA – A lei made of braided human hair, wooden fishing net floaters and an old mango picker dating to the early 1900s are just a few of many artifacts that will be on display as part of a new exhibit at the Old Lahaina Courthouse.

The exhibit opens Friday night as part of a “Celebrate Historic Lahaina” weekend event.

The Lahaina Heritage Museum exhibit, a two-year project funded by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, will host a grand opening celebration from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday.

For more than a decade, the Lahaina community has voiced support for a museum exhibit aimed at telling the town’s history, spanning thousands of years from ancient times, to the Hawaiian monarchy, whaling, missionaries, plantations and all else leading to the present day.

Lahaina Restoration Foundation Executive Director Theo Morrison, a member of the task force appointed by the county to renovate the Old Lahaina Courthouse in 1995, sought to bring the community’s vision to life with the new exhibit.

“What makes Lahaina so interesting is the layers of history,” Morrison said. It was “a major plantation town, whaling ships used to come here. It was the first capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, and before that, this is where the chiefs came because of the water and the weather.”

While other museums in Lahaina focus on a specific topic or time period of the town’s history, the new exhibit is the only one that offers an overview of Lahaina’s nuanced history from precontact times to present day, Morrison said.

Because the courthouse is centrally located near the harbor, she said she hopes it will serve as an “orientation center” to direct visitors looking for more information to other nearby museums.

The latest exhibit updates include a video room, an interactive map of Maui and hundreds of artifacts that were either donated by community residents, borrowed from other museums like Bailey House in Wailuku or collected by the restoration foundation over the years, Morrison said.

The idea of creating a centralized location for residents and visitors to go for an overview of the extensive history and culture of Lahaina has been a dream of residents ever since a county-appointed task force began brainstorming plans for the Old Lahaina Courthouse in 1995. However, it wasn’t until 2009 that the Lahaina Restoration Foundation was able to secure a $565,000 grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that the exhibit was able to become a reality.

“I’ve known Theo for 20 years, and the stars just aligned for us,” NOAA Regional Director Allen Tom said. “A lot of hands went into this. It’s really been a labor of love.

“We are all about protecting the marine environment, and most people don’t know the waters are federally protected,” Tom said. “Working with partners who have great tentacles in the community like the Lahaina Restoration Foundation just makes sense.”

NOAA will have a touch-screen kiosk with information about the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, as well as display panels that depict the natural environment of the Hawaiian islands and protection of marine resources.

Kumu hula Cliff Palikumaikalewalani Ahue also had a hand in authenticating the exhibit, serving as a cultural consultant until he died last January.

“When it has to do with Lahaina, many people would gravitate toward him (Ahue) as a resource because his halau was based in Lahaina,” Moani Whittle-Wagner, Ahue’s cousin, said. Ahue was born and raised on Oahu, but he moved to Maui in 1984 and opened the islands’ first luau, the Royal Lahaina Luau, Whittle-Wagner said.

“Pali (Ahue) set the overall direction and theme, and he helped write many of the panels,” Morrison said. “It’s really his ideas that formed the layout for the whole exhibit.”

After Ahue’s death, Morrison enlisted the help of Lahaina residents and Native Hawaiian culture specialists Kekoa Yap and Ke’eaumoku Kapu, who will be performing the blessing ceremony at the exhibit’s grand opening on Friday.

“Lahaina was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and the exhibit shows how much it has evolved over time,” Kapu said. “A lot of times, our own people will see things and they don’t know what they are. . . . (The exhibit) shares more of the character and identity of what Hawaii was about before when we had our own system of government that decided the fate of the commoners.”

The museum will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

“Celebrate Historic Lahaina” will continue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday with events like:

* A raised-bed, dry lo’i kalo (taro patch) will be installed on the mauka library lawn with cultural demonstrations and tastings.

* An arts and crafts fair featuring Hawaiian music and entertainment at the Banyan Tree Park.

* A keiki fishing game presented by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Hawaii Sanctuary Classic Fishing Contest.

* A junior sailing program and free sailboat rides on the ocean in front of the Lahaina Public Library, hosted by Lahaina Yacht Club.

* The third annual Grom Surf Bash held in the harbor fronting the library.

* Guided walking tours of historic Lahaina hosted by Lahaina Restoration Foundation.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.