Keiki o ka ‘Aina

I had a bittersweet time a few weeks ago watching a friend sadly move out of the historic former HC&S manager’s residence at Paholei. It’s a divine property, makai of Hali’imaile, with a long, low rambling white house with two fireplaces on four of the most sublimely landscaped acres I’ve ever seen.

The home, with its big picture windows, looks out onto sparkling cane fields and the West Maui Mountains through a lawn with high old trees – showers, poinciana, a beautiful ghost eucalyptus, and tall plumeria, capable of flooding the ground overnight with the makings for dozens of lei.

In the backyard are all manner of fruit trees and an orchid house that once held a prize-winning collection. There was also once a rose garden.

Down the long plantation-era driveway, to the porte-cochere, I have been privileged to drive. Bev Gannon rented the place from A&B for eight years and hosted parties there at “The Sugar House.” You’d bump down the cane road across from the old Maui Pineapple Co. headquarters into the past. I always felt so privileged to walk those grounds, so grateful that A&B had leased it in a manner the public could enjoy.

Best of all to see were the intact walls of the old Paholei sugar mill. It began operations in 1851 at Hali’imaile Plantation, created in 1849 by Judge Alfred W. Parsons on dryland forest sold by Kekau’onohi, a granddaughter of Kamehemeha I.

Stephen Reynolds was the next owner, then Charles Brewer II (Brewer Plantation), Gerrit Judd (Union Plantation during the Civil War period) and Thomas Hobron (Grove Ranch Plantation.) In 1889, Hobron sold to the Alexander & Baldwin plantation, which evolved into today’s HC&S.

The house came into being in 1947 after the Spreckelsville home of Frank C. Churchill, assistant manager of HC&S, was destroyed in the tsunami of 1946. Churchill was unpopular but he and his wife turned a pig farm into a place of beauty.

According to a July 23, 1960, article in The Maui News, “They built a gracious, sweeping home and developed the gardens. The old mill became the center of the gardens, and the crumbling walls surround a paddle tennis court.” The mill’s window frames were made of sandalwood, Churchill’s wife recalled, and some German-made steel frames, “good as new,” and cisterns for water storage remained.

The Churchills embodied the old style, and that year opened the grounds to the Maui Historical Society for its “second annual benefit holoku tea and garden party.” I grew up when holoku were the fashion, and women of my mother’s generation rode on the reputations of their husbands.

I loved the photo of “Mrs. Walter Weight,” winner of the grand prize for best holoku, posing in front of the mill wearing a lei of blue pheasant feathers. The Maui News went on, “posed in the crumbling arch of the Paholei Mill are, seated, Mrs. Eliza Smythe, Mrs. Sevath Boyum, and David Kahookele: standing, Mrs. Haupo Lai.” The program featured the great ‘Iolani Luahine “in a series of authentic ancient dances.” Guests were encouraged to take pictures. It was all so quaint.

Richard Cameron, a former head of HC&S, and his wife, Fatima, were the last of the HC&S executives to occupy the home. Now the house has been sold, to young Europeans, I hear, and unless they open it to the public as well, someday this historic and beautiful estate will disappear, as so many have before it, behind locked gates, for the enjoyment of a few. Already a “No Trespassing, Beware of the Dog” sign has gone up.

(Note to homeowners with beautiful old trees: Please, please please don’t let your landscaper prune them. Hire a qualified arborist. A person without training and proper equipment can and will ruin them forever.)

“It’s such a treasure, the whole property. I’ve just felt so privileged to live here,” said my friend Robin White, a teacher, who rented the four-bedroom, five-bath home with her sister Maile Getzen and their children.

Robin told me about the native wiliwili tree in the gulch and how she came out one morning to the glorious sight of 200 night-blooming cereus blooms wrapped around a eucalyptus tree.

“That’s the thing about this place. It’s so magical,” she said. “That poinciana by the mill will be solid red. Then one by one the shower trees will bloom, the tacoma trees have little blossoms that float down. This year we have lychee….

“It’s so hard to leave. I told them I’m going to leave a trail of tears all up the driveway.”

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

Last Thursday was the 120th anniversary of the overthrow of Lili’uokalani by a dozen or so haole businessmen in downtown Honolulu. They were American sympathizers, many of them Hawaii-born, who reacted bitterly to her attempt to announce by fiat a new constitution that pulled power away from the Cabinet and Legislature and back to herself.

The precipitating factor was the queen’s struggle for an opium tax and national lottery that promised to raise money for the government (and a stipend for herself) and lessen dependence on the business community to whom these proposals were anathema.

The deeper issue was Lili’uokalani’s distaste for being a constitutional monarch, a condition forced upon her brother in 1887 for abuse of power. Most of Europe’s monarchies had already submitted to constitutions, but the queen wanted to return to the traditional powers of the ali’i nui. Lili’uokalani believed that like Kamehameha V, who successfully abrogated a constitution three decades before by his word alone, she could do the same. Alas, that time had long passed.

I suggested last year that the queen might not have lost the throne had she been privy to the counsel of her husband, John Owen Dominis, who died the first summer of her reign.

He was an American who, as governor of Oahu, was a long-standing member of the court and a student of the intricate levers and pulleys of Hawaiian politics. One of Lili’uokalani’s profound mistakes that fateful January, I believe, was to overestimate her support. This was an error John Dominis would not have allowed her to make had he lived.

For this, several readers took me to task.

“To blithely suggest that she needed her husband, a spoiled mama’s boy American opportunist who was unfaithful in their marriage, in order to save our Hawaiian nation, is an insult to our lahui,” one person wrote.

“Queen Lili’uokalani was a great queen who did the most that she could do for the Hawaiian people,” wrote another. “How silly that you think the events would have changed had her husband been alive to ‘guide her,’ as if she was not capable and needed to rely upon a man?”

I wonder why people think Lili’uokalani couldn’t be great and still have flaws. Who among us doesn’t need good advice? Didn’t Bill Clinton help Hillary run a spectacular campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008?

In 1862, Lydia Paki, as she was then called, made a bad marriage to a man she had known since childhood, a man Pauahi Bishop had chosen for her. He was the son of an Italian ship captain who built a beautiful white mansion in downtown Honolulu and named it Washington Place.

Dominis, private secretary to Prince Lot, later Kamehameha V, was a precise, observant man, but weak and ineffectual, not one to take a stand. He was also secretive and devoted to his mother, who made life miserable for her daughter-in-law, censuring her for petty infractions such as cutting a rose or gifting a child. It was a painful environment for a Hawaiian chiefess with beauties of music and soul.

Lili’uokalani gained some happiness in 1868 when her grandfather Aikanaka left her Hamohamo, a piece of land in Waikiki with two houses, Paoakalani and Kealohilani. She happily moved to the coconut palms and duck ponds of the old ali’i playground while Dominis chose to remain behind with his mother.

It became well known that her marriage was troubled. Dominis was cold to her and critical, and “rather irregular as a husband . . . ” according to the family physician, Dr. George Trousseau.

“He was fond of society, sometimes took more liquor than was good for him, and occasionally (although he never kept a regular mistress) had some love adventures. In this small community they were reported to his wife, and I can vouch to how she suffered by it.”

In November 1882, Trousseau was forced to inform Lili’uokalani that Dominis had fathered a child with one of her retainers, a young half-Hawaiian woman who was soon to give birth. It must have been heartbreaking, but the couple was childless, and she quickly claimed him as her own, John Aimoku Dominis.

Part of Lili’uokalani’s greatness was her ability to forgive and overcome the trials that faced her. If only that husband had been of more use.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

The charming Kula Clinic, where bronchitis has taken me lately, sports a fresh new look these days. The walls have been repainted white, the waiting room an attractive ice green, and peaceful landscapes by J. Hamilton, W. Gintling and Rik Fitch grace the walls. It’s nice, designed, I suppose, to give the place an updated look.

I am probably the only person on Maui who rues this development.

I’m dismayed because the large photos of the pioneers who built Kula Sanitarium and faced down the scourge of tuberculosis are gone. The serious visage of the scientific-forward-thinking Dr. Charles P. Durney was one I always inspected when I came in, like an old friend.

He was the first full-time physician hired by the sanitarium in its infancy and, under his watchful eye, Kula San became considered “far ahead of anything else on the islands, and ahead of many institutions on the Mainland for TB,” according to Ethel S. Baldwin, one of the institution’s great supporters.

Tuberculosis was rampant in my family. My father’s parents and sister died from it, leaving him pretty much alone in life to make his way. He did manual labor for the Works Progress Administration under Franklin Roosevelt (if there was sanity in Congress we’d have one of the same), and earned his way through Yale, gaining a Ph.D. in history back in the days when they were rare.

Many on Maui suffer from asthma and lung problems and know what it’s like to struggle for breath. We should be grateful that the highly contagious “great white plague” is pretty much gone from us, thanks to the development of a sulfa drug that became available here in 1945.

By the end of the 19th century, TB had destroyed a seventh of the human race. The poor, packed into crowded quarters, were especially susceptible, but the privileged were not exempt. The disease was widespread, “invidious, and invariably fatal.”

It stalked Hawaiian communities and plantation camps here and to be sent to Kula San, created in 1909 to combat the epidemic, was considered a death sentence. “Most didn’t return,” a former patient told me. Having a family member there was a great stigma. Children weren’t allowed to visit, and loved ones had to wait outside, waving up to the patients on the balconies.

No one knew how to destroy mycobacterium tuberculosis, a relative of leprosy and one of the world’s most serious bacteriological illnesses. The only hope was to keep the lungs as inactive as possible. This encouraged immune cells to strengthen and thicken “tubercules” around the bacilli, keeping them at bay.

Thus was born the “rest cure,” the segregation of patients in quiet places with fresh air and nourishing food, with the hope they might eventually return as an arrested case to normal life.

At Kula San, the sickest patients were put on the lower floors, where they were kept bedridden all day, not even allowed to get up to go to the bathroom. Giving the daily sputum sample was about as active as life got. Even radios weren’t permitted.

As the bacillus count dropped, patients were moved to successive upper floors, until finally the great day came when admission was granted to occupational therapy on the fifth. There, they made all manner of crafts, an operation that evolved into the earliest form of Ka Lima.

If rest didn’t do the trick, drastic measures were taken. Everyone was happy when Dr. Joseph Ferkheny (who later changed his name to Andrews) arrived in the 1940s. He performed pneumothorax, collapsing the lung to allow it to rest, and the dreadful pneumoplasty, sawing through the ribs to remove a diseased part of a lung. (The much-loved Dr. Andrews, I hear, is alive and in Upper Kula.)

All this goes through my mind when I admire the wonderful art deco sanitarium building, designed by C.W. Dickey, opened in 1937, that replaced the old wooden structures. I love the Chinese tiled towers and Rockefeller Plaza-style lettering at the entry.

The Kula Clinic, built in 1932, was a gift of Kula residents and the Atherton family. At least the historic plaque is still there. Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to putting the photos of the doctors back up yet.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

The new year is about hope for the better, and one thing that signifies this to me is the valiant work performed at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in the old low-security prison at the top of Olinda Road.

There, a young, dedicated staff watches over a highly technical program to breed in captivity three of Hawaii’s critically endangered birds:

* The ‘alala, or Hawaiian crow, significant in Hawaiian culture as an ‘aumakua, now extinct in the wild. Its population was estimated at 20 in 1994, but The Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (in conjunction with a branch on the Big Island) has hatched more than 130 chicks since 1993, and a plan is in the works to re-establish a population in the wild.

* The puaiohi, or small Kauai thrush, found only in the ‘Alakai wilderness preserve on Kauai. There were only 200-300 birds when the program initiated recovery efforts in 1996. Since then more than 300 have been hatched and 200 released back into the forest, where the wild population stands now at approximately 600 birds.

* The kiwikiu, or Maui parrotbill. This insectivorous Hawaiian honeycreeper is found only in two populations at Hanawi in the wet forest slopes of Haleakala, one with 500, one with 250. The program’s goal is to establish a second wild population at Kahikinui with captive-bred birds.

Hawaii’s birds were once the wonder of the world, with 22 genera and at least 50 species, all evolved from a few rosefinches that arrived from Asia several million years ago. Now, according to Josh Kramer, research manager of the Olinda facility, “extirpation” is a reality.

Thirty-eight percent of endangered bird species are in Hawaii, while only 5 percent of the federal funding comes here. (Note to U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.) This means only the worst cases receive concentrated focus. “All of the native birds are in peril,” said Kramer. “Some are doing better than others.”

We enjoyed a rare tour there late last year, offered only annually. “Our job is to make babies,” said research assistant Michelle Smith, no small feat. Many of the captive hens have lost their native mothering ability and a third don’t reliably sit on their eggs. “Some of our birds are no good at it. They play soccer with the eggs. They pick at them.”

When a videocam shows this happening, the mothers are provided with dummy eggs and the real ones are whisked off to an artificial incubator, which controls temperature and humidity. There the eggs are constantly evaluated and treated to ensure that conditions are right. This includes rotating them 90 degrees every two hours, and opening the door to simulate mom leaving the nest and coming back.

We were led through the pine to a forest bird barn where in large 15-by-20-foot aviaries decked out with koa and ‘ohia “browse” the puaiohi and kiwikiu can forage for insects. Their food includes fruit, and berries from such native plants as pa’iniu, ‘a’ali’i, ‘olapa, pukiawe, ‘uki’uki, and pilo, along with the blossoms of ‘ohia and mamane.

(Gifts of these precious treats, including mulberries, are always welcome, and the staff would love to come clip your koa and ‘ohia trees if you have branches to spare. Call the center at 572-0690; volunteers are welcome).

I couldn’t spot the puaiohi, but was captivated by a glimpse of “Chui,” forest bird No. 10, a parrotbill so named for the bird’s distinctive call. He’s a plump little guy, yellow-green with the distinctive curved bill, one of a marked pair caught in the wild. It made me happy to see him hopping from branch to branch.

Soon we were ushered away to the raucous flight aviaries of the juvenile ‘alala, two feet long with shiny black feathers, who filled the air with their squawkings and poundings and carryings-on. “We hear this all day long,” said intern Zoe Swanson.

They feed on a colorful diet of banana, apple, papaya, scrambled eggs, “monkey biscuits” and (yum!) thawed lab mice. “One of our big expenses is getting frozen lab rats shipped overnight on dry ice,” confessed Smith.

As we returned, I stole a glance back into the forest bird barn and the domicile of Maui parrotbill No. 3. I couldn’t see her, but from within I heard the sweetest song.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at

Keiki o ka ‘Aina

Well, the winter solstice is behind us, and the Earth turns once again in our hemisphere toward the light. I hope the new year brings us understanding and reconciliation, the ability to move off our frozen positions and find common ground, the desire to seek the higher good.

When I think of celebration, I think few on Maui did it better than the folks, mostly Japanese, in the close-knit plantation communities of the 1930s. New Year’s Day was the biggest holiday of the year, and people prepared for it weeks in advance.

An essential offering was mochi. “You steamed the rice, and while it’s still hot, you pound it to make it into a paste. And then you roll it in the flour and take little gobs of it and roll it in your palm and make a mochi cake,” Sam Hironaka, who grew up in Paia’s Nashiwa Camp, told me. The mochi usually had a black bean paste inside.

Then there was the preparation of osechi, small delicacies to signify good luck and long life that were part of a big New Year’s Day feast to provide a feeling of prosperity. This could include ozoni, a stew with chicken and vegetables; nishime, cooked vegetables; sushi, sashimi and yokan, a gelatinous black bean cake made with sugar and agar, colored red, green or white and sliced into small pieces.

The house would be spotlessly clean, new or freshly cleaned clothes laid out, and the front door decorated with bamboo and pine cut and stapled on both sides of the door. “If you don’t have that you can go to the beach,” Matsuko Matsumoto, who grew up in Kaheka Camp, told me. “They have those wild pines there.” Ironwoods.

Japanese families usually had a Shinto altar in the living room where rice and tea were offered to the ancestors during the year. For New Year’s, according to Matsumoto, people would put small branches of pine and yellow and green croton in a small vase on the shrine, not flowers.

Then, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, people walked quietly in the darkness to the Buddhist temple to receive blessings and “omamori,” good luck amulets to place on the shrine for the coming year. The temple was decorated with a rice straw rope, a gesture to welcome the New Year and ward off misfortune.

Early in the morning, families walked to a community hall where the men would have a little “sake” for purification and everyone would repeat the banzai three times. “Tenoheka, banzai!” Long live the Emperor!

The women returned to their homes, where they would spend the day serving guests while the men would roam from house to house paying calls. (Doesn’t sound quite fair, does it?) The Filipinos in the village would join in with the feasting and the visiting and liven the day with their music.

When the great day ended, worn out or not, it was back to the early-morning summons and the hard life of the fields.

In Honolulu, people of all ethnicities lined up in the wee hours of the morning to participate in the “shogatsu,” New Year’s rituals to ensure an auspicious start. On Maui, the Wailuku Shingon mission headed by the Rev. George Kitagawa offered a New Year’s Eve service. Last night at 11:45, the temple bell rang 108 times to symbolically purify karma and people walked into the temple to receive omamori and a blessing. On Sunday at 9:30 a.m., the mission will offer a fire ritual for purification, where participants will receive a piece of kombu, a seaweed that signifies happiness; a piece of cuttlefish, hard to chew, thus giving the virtue of tenacity; and some sake, for cleansing.

Shintoism is the indigenous, nature-based folk religion of Japan, dating back to 200 BC, emphasizing the harmony of nature and the presence of gods in all living things. It precedes Buddhism as the predominant faith of the country. According to Pat Gee’s article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Buddhists follow the Chinese lunar calendar and will observe the beginning of the Year of the Snake on Feb. 10, but they have celebrated the new year as Westerners do since 1873, when Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar.

The Rev. Reyn Tsuru of Shingon Shu Hawaii predicts that the coming snake year will bring in more stability than the tumultuous dragon year of 2012. The snake’s methodical and calculating ways may not offer an especially rosy year, but it will temper the chaos that the dragon left behind.

I gave my mother a traditional “kadomatsu,” three stalks of bamboo and some pine, which she promptly put on the piano. The mochi paper of a blazing sun rising over Mount Fuji, two hawks flying and gourds in the foreground, went on the refrigerator.

No matter the difficulties that may await us in 2013, may we all know the warmth of community and the joy of sharing.

May we all be protected. May we all be blessed.

* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose “Keiki o ka ‘Aina” column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at