Morgan Lee of Christianity Today wrote an excellent deadline piece on the Christian response on Maui to the tragic, devastating fire which broke out on August 8.
Morgan quoted me: “After Honolulu, ‘Lahaina is home to the second-most complete complex of historic Hawaiian Christian sites in one place to be found in all of Hawaii,’ said Chris Cook, an expert on Hawaiian missionary history. ‘The loss of all but the Lahainaluna sites leaves a major gap in the statewide census of intact Hawaii missionary-era (1820–1863) structures.’”
I was told by Ka‘eo Decoite of Mo‘olelo Kū‘i‘o ministries that Samaritan’s Purse and other off-island disaster-scene ministries are on the ground on Maui providing material and spiritual help.
The literal roots of the Lahaina Banyan tree which survived the tragic Lahaina fire and is now the symbol of recovery over there, go back to the Koloa, Kaua‘i Sandwich Islands Mission Station. An account of how an 8-foot banyan tree cutting taken in Koloa became the Lahaina Banyan Tree appear in the pages of my late wife Evelyn Cook’s Smith-Waterhouse family book 100 years of Healing – The Legacy of a Kauai Missionary Doctor published in 2003. Evelyn was joined in publishing the book by Lori Dill of Kaua‘i and the late Uncle Bob Watts from Kailua.
I may be biased, but Evelyn’s account is 10 x better than the history of the Lahaina Banyan Tree being given in the news around the globe. Here is Evelyn’s carefully documented account describing the motive of Koloa missionary son William Owen Smith in planting the Lahaina Banyan in 1873.
Sugar cane cultivation did not assume major importance until after 1876 when reciprocity treaty was signed with the U.S. which allowed Hawaiian sugar to enter the U.S. duty free. The treaty transformed the island sugar business into a highly profitable industry, not just for the haoles, but also for the alii who leased land to the plantations and invested directly in the business themselves.
In 1873, the whaling boom was over but the sugar industry had not yet boomed. Lahaina was a sleepy little town without much crime to keep its sole lawman busy. Sheriff Smith often whiled away slow days sitting on a bench outside the courthouse watching ships in the harbor while trading stories with the elderly Hawaiian men who stopped by to chat. The old men loved it that a haole could speak Hawaiian so fluently, with all its subtle layerings, hidden meanings, and poetic flourishes. Smith could even tell jokes in the native tongue, which delighted them, and his sly sense of humor seemed very Hawaiian to them.
Lahaina‘s weather is sunny much of the time, and since in Smith’s day no trees grew near the courthouse, it could become unbearably hot. So when the sheriff visited his parents on Kauai and they offered to give him a young sapling to plant as a shade tree on the courthouse grounds, he willingly accepted. The tree was an Indian banyan, and Smith planted it in the courthouse square on April 24, 1873, with the help of the old Hawaiian men who liked his jokes. Although it was planted as part of a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the first Christian mission in Lahaina, many of Smith’s descendants believe that his original motive had simply been to provide some welcome shade around the courthouse for his Hawaiian friends. And to this day, the Hawaiians of Lahaina still speak with affection of W.O. Smith.
“My great-grandfather, Mr. Mona Kawenaole, who died of leprosy in Kalaupapa, was the konohiki [land steward] for Lahaina in the mid to late 1800s. He was a friend to W.O. Smith and helped plant that tree,” explained Sissa Kaumeheiwa Reynolds, a Native Hawaiian whose family has lived on Maui for generations.
“It was a friendship tree planted for their friendship and their love for the land-to watch it grow over the generations. Sheriff Smith asked this bunch of old kanaka maoli to plant it with him. They used to hang out by the water and talk story. This was told to me by my grandma and Uncle Frank Kahahani and Uncle Willieama Waiohu sitting around the table talking story, eating saloon pilot crackers and drinking hot cocoa. W.O. Smith was a friend of the Hawaiians. They wouldn’t have been hanging with him if he was no good. I don’t care what people say today. He was a friend,“ Sissa said.
The banyan tree her great-grandfather Kawenaole helped Smith plant 130 years ago is today the largest Indian banyan in Hawaii and shades nearly an acre of the old courthouse grounds. Sissa believes it symbolizes an enduring friendship between hole and Hawaiian that is far stronger than the animosity which sometimes flares up between the two peoples.
Mahalo to the Smith-Waterhouse family for permission to post this passage from 100 Years of Healing : The Legacy of a Kauai Missionary Doctor by Evelyn Simpson Cook, published by Halewai Publishing, Koloa, Kauai 2003.
Two hundred years prior to the current Asbury College Revival the monthly Concert of Prayer for Missions service, usually held the first Monday of the month, drew a circle of global prayer. In Hawai‘i the American missionaries along with Native Hawaiian and Tahitian Christian joined together to pray for missions and the spead of the Gospel to all peoples, for God’s blessing on the Hawaiian Islands, and for their Christian endeavors in Hawai‘i and mission fields in the South Pacific and Central Pacific.
Find out more in this 29-page booklet provided for free by Pa‘a Studios. Print copies will be available at the upcoming Hawaiian Islands Ministries Conference 2023 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu March 16-17-18 and at the Mo‘olelo Kūʻiʻo Seminar set for Sunday March 19 at the Kailua Nazarene Church.
Sybil: Early on the morning of the 25th we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and entered the southern temperate zone. The northern, the region of our birth, we shall probably never enter again.
But, distant climates need not look strange to us, for if we are the children of GOD, and live near to Him, we can never be far from home. [Christmas] was noticed by us as the Anniversary of the blessed Saviour’s birth. Mr. B preached from Luke 2, 14th. [Glory to God in the Highest] …It was peculiarly adapted both to the day and the circum- stances of most of the hearers,—on our way, as we are, with the glorious news of this most glorious event, to heathen sinners.
A CHRISTMAS HYMN By W. G. Conan [Sailor aboard the Thaddeus] Sung at Sea by the Mission family – Tune – “The Hermit”
May Religion’s blest Star, as we traverse the Ocean, Illumine our way, and its comforts impart, While our fond lingering thoughts, we back with emotion, To the country that holds the dear friends of each heart. JEHOVAH— assist, in the soul-trying hour, The Mission of Peace, to a far distant land, By them, may the Priests of Idolatry learn, That their Morais and Taboos and offerings are vain, Let the Nation, from Idols and violence turn, And the joy of Salvation perpetual reign. Now swell the loud anthems of praise to the Lord, From whom streams of Mercy incessantly flow, Be the Father, the Son, and the Spirit adored, By all nations, and kindreds, and realms here below.
January 11th, 1820 – What can I say to my sisters, this morning? I can tell them, could the eye glance across the great waters and catch the little bark, ascending and descending the mountainous waves, which contains their dear sister, their hands would be involuntarily extended for her relief, and their cry would be save her! The sea runs very high, while the wind roars through the naked riggings as you may have heard it, in a November’s day, through the leafless trees of a majestic forest. The dashing of the waves on deck, the frequent fall of some thing below, the violent motion of the vessel, going up and then down, would seem to conspire to terrify and distress; yet I feel my mind calm as if by a winter’s fire in my own happy land. Is it not of the mercy of GOD? I feel it is. But, O, the poor returns I make ! We are approaching Cape Horn. What terrific scenes await us there, we know not.
“Sufficient for us, our Pilot is divinely wise, divinely good.”