Keiki o ka ‘Aina

She was a kitten when we first met her, a pretty little tabby with intelligent eyes and a lot of spunk.

She appeared at the back porch of a neighbor, who fed her briefly until moving to the Mainland, leaving the kitten behind with a bag of food to be doled out by another neighbor until the new owners arrived.

That didn’t happen. They went to Europe for a month, the food ran out, and her luck with it. That is, until she met Topden, our magnificent black-and-white cat, hand-raised at the Maui Dharma Center and a wise, compassionate being.

The kitten fell in love. She attached herself to our cat, aka Toobie, and what a sight it was to see them flying along the street in the evening, playing as one. Eventually she found her way to our back porch, where she and Toobie often curled up together, the kitten in the embrace of the larger cat. A true love affair.

I am allergic to cats. They give me asthma. We have a $900 air filter to keep the dander down and monthly baths are a non-negotiable condition of residence chez nous. We did not need another cat. Our carpet was already hopelessly marred by Toobie’s childhood expressions. Besides, Tanya, Toobie’s former paramour, was slinking about unhappily at the new love interest.

There the kitten sat at our screen door, paws firmly planted, waiting for us to feed her. “Well, the universe sent her,” I thought. “Maybe she’ll make a good cat.” We called her “Trixie.”

Initially we let her inside where she raced about like a mad thing and, of course fouled the carpet. It became a constant chore to keep her outside at night while letting the others in. A litter box had to be reintroduced.

Several weeks went by. When the thunder and lightning of Tropical Storm Flossie hit, I couldn’t stand the sight of wet little Trixie fixed at the screen. I let her in. We did everything we could for the dear little thing, but do you know what? She was wild. She never warmed to us. She never let us stroke her; she backed away as if stung at our touch. Toobie was her guy. We were food service.

If we couldn’t pick her up, we couldn’t have her inoculated, and baths and flea treatment were out of the question. What were we to do?

Maybe a sanctuary like the East Maui Animal Refuge would help. Good luck getting a call back from those folks. They’re overwhelmed. Maybe the Maui Humane Society would take her? Trying to stuff Trixie into a carrier elicited such fury I had to grab her by the tail. On a boiling day while she gnawed at the bars, I drove her to the animal shelter. They rejected her.

You see, the pretty vet tech explained, any animal put up for adoption has to be tame. Trixie probably was introduced to humans too late for her to trust them. Maybe with patience . . . ? The alternative? The needle. Reluctantly, I brought her home.

“Euthanize her!” said my friends.

Could she be welcomed to one of Maui’s dozens of managed cat colonies? Ha. We asked someone about this, who patiently explained that the colonies already deal with so many interlopers there is no room to willingly import another.

How about dropping her off secretly at a colony at night? Nope. It’s not only illegal, but would subject her to abuse from the regulars. There was no way, it seemed, to keep a smart, pretty, chronically frightened kitten alive on Maui without letting her disrupt our lives.

Then a brilliant idea arose. We know a dedicated woman who manages eight cat colonies on the west side. Would she, could she, maybe accept Trixie in exchange for a handsome donation? She had expenses. . . . There was a long pause.

“Well, that’s very generous.” Slowly she began to think out loud. Well, one colony was about to lose a cat. We’d trap the kitten, have her fixed and tattooed with the colony number, she’d be kept in a cage for a few days while she adjusted, and . . .

Trixie would have her life. She’d be with other cats and we’d be able to visit. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I had no idea the thought and care that Maui’s cat colony managers employ, nor the devotion it takes to do what they do. Ours knows each one by name!

We let Trixie go yesterday. I am sad. Tanya is delighted. Toobie is nowhere to be seen, even though it’s time for breakfast. I think he’s looking for her.

* 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

Our recent trip to Hana to look at historic churches with the popular Kaunoa teacher Sonny Gambonia took us about 10 hours from Haiku round trip, including lunch and several stops.

That’s some improvement since the days of 1837 when an overland trip to Hana from Wailuku took 56 hours, and a trip back on a sailing canoe, six.

On Aug. 22, 1828, the missionaries William Richards, Lorrin Andrews and Jonathan Green, journeying to Hana via Haleakala Crater, dropped down from the rim to a small village on the Halehaku seashore.

The next day they came across a “pavement” built by the 17th-century chief Kihapi’ilani, that afforded the missionaries “no inconsiderable assistance” in ascending and descending the region’s steep and difficult palis. “It extends more than 30 miles, and is a work of considerable magnitude.”

They reached Honomanu that evening and were joined by the Princess Nahi’ena’ena, who arrived by canoe and spent the Sabbath with them. “A horn was blown and at an early hour the house was thronged with attentive worshippers.” The next day, the princess addressed the people, a coup for the missionaries since the Hawaiians revered their chiefs and did as they suggested.

Nahi’ena’ena, then about 13, was the sister of Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III), by Keopuolani, the sacred queen of Kamehameha I. Her mother had died and she clung to Richards as a surrogate father, initially devoting herself to the Christian teaching.

This was short-lived. Nahi’ena’ena was a princess of extremely high rank, considered divine, born to the rituals and rhythms of old Hawaii. Of all three siblings she had the hardest time reconciling the old religion with the new and it tore her apart.

Some 30 years later along Kihapi’ilani’s trail, edifices arose proclaiming the victor in that struggle.

After that trip, Richards suggested a mission station be established in Hana, where the people were the best-looking and most well-fed of all he’d seen. The thatched Wananalua Congregational Church was built in 1838, on a site behind the ancient hilled fortress of Ka’uiki, where Kamehameha battled the forces of Maui during the conquest of the kingdom.

Work commenced in 1842 on the current building, a basilica plan with plastered lava and rock walls 2.5-feet thick. The resident missionary was the supremely unpopular Daniel Conde, mean-spirited and argumentative.

The next church constructed along Kihapi’ilani’s trail was the beautifully maintained Kaulanapue’o Church in Huelo, famous for the owls that lived in the hala grove on the site, hence the name, “The Owl’s Haven.”

In 1853, the trees were cleared, and a rugged path made down a bluff to the sea, where men dived two or three fathoms to detach fragments of coral rock for the walls that were passed, relay fashion, from hand to hand back up the cliff. Coral was burned in a large pit makai of the site to make lime for mortar. Women and children gathered sand and the men carried stones from the ocean’s edge and ‘ohia beams from the forest above.

“It’s in the top 15 of old buildings on Maui, and the best shape of them all,” Sonny told us. Save for a repaired wall after an earthquake in 1938, the building is essentially the original. One thing he would change. “A stately old building like this needs a better door. The door isn’t worthy.”

We journeyed next to the similarly constructed Keanae Congregational Church at the tip of the peninsula, built in 1860. It is grandly named “Lanakila Ihiihi o Iehova Ona Kaua,” which translates as “Sacredness, Success of Jehovah, the Son of God.”

It was the only building in Keanae to remain on its foundation after the devastating April Fool’s Day tsunami of 1946. It, too, with care has weathered the years well, although a quarter of the roof was destroyed last February. (Call Sandy Hueu at 248-8031 to help with repairs.)

In a simple, untended grave lies Uncle Harry Kunihi Mitchell, one of the heroes of the fight to reclaim Kaho’olawe from the Navy. He was the Maui kupuna who mentored the brash young members of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana in the early days of illegal landings, and at whose kitchen table so many plans were laid.

He was a Hawaiian in touch with the ancestral claim to Kanaloa, as the island was once known, resting in peace at a Christian church.

* 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

We were at Keanae, looking at old churches, and I was thinking about miracles, large and small. In my world, where I was sitting qualified as one.

It was on a wooden pew outside the entrance to “The Miracle Church” at Wailua, that well-favored hamlet nestled at the verdant eastern edge of the peninsula.

The church sits on a rise affording a view across the valley of Wailua Falls, a white ribbon plummeting against the high backdrop of luxuriously green cliffs. To the east lay the mystery of Keanae Gap, brooding under the clouds. The garden was alive with ginger and heliconia. It was a brilliant blue day and in the thick air, a faint breeze stirred.

“Drink this in,” I said to myself, “for I probably shall not pass this way again.”

Sonny Gamponia, who leads photography classes of old churches through Kaunoa School, had kindly agreed to give two cars of history lovers a private trip. There we were, at the height of our journey, at the little chapel of Our Lady of Fatima, with its shrine to Mary brought from Portugal.

The Wailua Nui Church, as it was originally called, was built in 1865 by two Belgian priests with assistance from hundreds of Hawaiians, who did the hard labor of procuring the necessary material in a region with no beach. “Rocks abound, but the lime-boiled coral – as well as the sand, has to come from the . . . sea. One has to dive for it as deep as six to ten feet,” wrote Father Leonor Kouesnel, the resident priest, in a letter dated July 31, 1865.

A day was chosen to begin the diving and hauling, but a fierce storm raged and did not calm for four days. “All of our people went down armed with iron bars to loosen the coral. What a surprise greeted them when, coming to the place . . . they found the shore heaped up with coral!”

The coral sufficed to put up the walls, but more was needed and sand as well to plaster them. Once again a time was set to dive. “On the following morning, once more huge waves rose, and took back the remainder of the coral, leaving behind, this time, a huge quantity of sand, unknown to that locality, for a distance of ten miles.”

The people also went up into the mountains in procession, the priest leading, to cut and carry ‘ohia for the beams. “What could not be gathered – boards and tile, bars, etc. – the Hawaiians bought with the little money they had managed to save or gathered by selling their animals.”

I marveled at the devotion that went into that little church with its stuccoed walls, steepled cross now rakishly askew, twin sacred hearts painted at the front. It was a product of that winning formula, self-effort and grace, maker of miracles.

Another miracle occurred in the same area, this time in 1778. Kalaniopu’u was at Wailua fighting Kahekili, the chief of Maui, when Capt. James Cook’s ship was sighted, first northeast of Mokuho’oniki with the prow turned a little to the southeast, then at Kahakuloa, then at Hamakua, and in the evening at Ko’olau.

Moho described the ship with its tall white masts to the Big Island chiefs and they were certain it was the beneficent god Lono, returned from Kahiki, the land of the ancestors. “Lono is a true god to us; he has come back. We descendants of his shall have life,” they exclaimed.

The night passed, and the ship anchored the next day at Ha’alauea, just below Wailua. When they saw the strange object that exactly fit the description given by Moho, the people exclaimed, “The tower of Lono! Lono the god of our fathers.” Then, said Samuel Kamakau in “Ruling Chiefs of Maui,” “The men went out in such numbers to visit the ship that it was impossible for all to get on board.”

Miracles occur, but they are also what you make of them.

We ended our tour with burgers on the terrace at the Hana Ranch Restaurant, a conservative choice considering we could have stopped along the way for fish tacos, pig tacos, Thai food, or vegan wraps at one of the innumerable stands that have proliferated along the highway.

It was a wonderful day. All it lacked, in my perspective, having seen signs for it at what seemed like every turn for the last 10 miles, was banana bread. “Here, take mine,” said Sonny, handing me a loaf. “My wife doesn’t want it.”

* 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

A cherished possession that has miraculously stayed with me over the years is the flowerpot, one of two, I commissioned in Waimea, Kauai, in 1975 from a potter who was experimenting with traditional Polynesian designs.

On either side is a double-hulled canoe in full sail, and in between the sun, moon and stars. Lettering on the bottom reads: Hawaii-Tahiti, 1975. I kept one for myself, the blue one, and gave the brown to my dear friend Tommy Holmes.

We met at the Kamuela Prom, as it was called, the big senior event at the then all-boys Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island to which guys invited dates over from Honolulu for the weekend. Tommy and I hit it off and to my astonishment, he persuaded my date and his to switch. That was a starry moment in my teenage firmament.

Tommy Holmes became a famous waterman, and one of the original three minds behind the creation of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, along with California anthropologist Ben Finney and Big Island artist Herb Kawainui Kane.

They came up with the idea of recreating a Polynesian voyaging canoe and retracing the route the old wayfarers took from Tahiti to Hawaii, using only the ancient means of navigation by the sun, the sea and the stars.

The canoe they built was, of course, the Hokule’a, “Star of Gladness,” that sailed from Honolua Bay on May 1, 1976, and was greeted in Tahiti after a 31-day journey by 17,000 people who waded into the water and flooded the beaches to welcome them. I gave the flowerpot to Tommy, awash in accolades after the trip, as my humble acknowledgment of the accomplishment.

So much good for Hawaiian culture came from that voyage of discovery and the creation of what Kane called a “central object” to the Polynesian culture that pulled so many skills and cultural strains into the process.

Hokule’a began a momentous shift back to the roots of Hawaiian culture and sparked a renaissance all over Polynesia as people there began reclaiming the lost knowledge of the culture and building their own canoes. Other deep-sea voyaging canoes were crafted here: Hawaii Loa on Oahu, built of a spruce log given by Alaska natives; Hoku Alaka’i, at Hilo; Makali’i at Kawaihae on the Big Island; and Namahoe, under construction on Kauai.

The canoe renaissance began on Maui when Levan Sequeira built the Mo’olele, the 42-foot coastal cruiser, in Lahaina, and started the project to create the first blue-water voyaging canoe to be built on Maui in 800 years.

When Sequeira pulled out 17 years ago, Tim Gilliom, the oldest of the talented Gilliom siblings, stepped in to finish it. A captain and boat-builder, who was aboard Hokule’a’s 1999 voyage to the Marquesas and Rapa Nui, he has the good humor, charm and Hawaiian soul, via his maternal grandmother, of the Gilliom family.

With help from an intermittent group of volunteers and some solid regulars, bit by bit, as funding has allowed, he has put together the massive 63-foot transoceanic canoe Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani, “the sacred lizard of Pi’ilani.”

Gilliom lives simply in small quarters and has supported himself with boat work throughout the process. People love him. “He has the biggest heart in the world. Anybody come around, whatever he has, food, clothes, he shares,” a volunteer told me. “He’s a man of men. He’s a true spirit.”

He’s good at everything except public speaking and asking for money. The canoe is set to be launched Dec. 21, but some $51,000 is still needed to buy life jackets, anchors and chains, and other equipment to make it seaworthy.

Under the auspices of Hui o Wa’a Kaulua, the nonprofit supporting the effort, volunteers offer outrigger canoe rides as well as surfboard, paddle board, and kayak rentals from their base of operations at Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina. (Call 280-9352 for reservations.)

For a donation you can also take a thrilling “white-knuckle” ride on the Mo’olele, an experience sure to instill “wa’a (canoe) fever.”

“When I first sailed on this 17 years ago, I never left,” Gilliom said.

He showed me the mast, almost finished, and the three long steering sweeps he’s completing. On Hokule’a, he said, the names of the founders are carved on the sweeps. The one in the middle bears the name Kawainui; the one on the right, Finney’s Tahitian name. The one on the left is for my braddah, now departed from this world for the eternal ocean: “Tommy.”

* 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