Have you ever wanted to step back in time? To see Hawaii what it was like before contact, to hear the spoken language, see where they lived, what they wore, and what they ate? Well, thanks to an amazing group of ‘landkeepers’, you can.
The Maui Hawaiian Village opened up to the public earlier this summer, and what started off as a land rehabilitation project, of removing invasive plants and planting natives, has turned into a ‘living history’ tour in the West Maui Mountains.
I was invited to join one of these tour groups last weekend to see what this tour was all about, and I jumped at the chance. Due to the delicate nature of the location, we all were to meet our first tour guide and driver in Kahului. We were then told where we were going, and explained why the location of the tour is kept quiet (to access the tour the bus drives through a small neighborhood.
The tour bus stops (not too far from Kahului) at a kalo (taro) patch, that is the beginning of our short hike into the valley. We are introduced to two more tour guides (landkeepers they like to call themselves – reminding us they are not professional ‘tourguides’) as well as the seventh generation keeper of the kalo patch that we are standing next to, whose stories of the land are sure to give ‘chicken-skin’.
The hike, with the guides on either end of the pack, to make sure no one gets lost, is not all that strenuous, but is tricky and closed-toed shoes are required (sunscreen and insect-repellant are also recommended). It’s 20-30 minutes of hiking, and its clear that during rainy weather the hike would get quite slippery and a bit more challenging (be prepared to get muddy!)
Upon entering the valley, the landkeepers offer a traditional ‘oli (chant) to ask permission to enter the village. More landkeepers, complete with keiki (children) come out of the hales (shelters) and welcome us into their village.
We were on the shorter tour, the ‘Aina Tour, which focuses on the main three necessities of live for the pre-contact Hawaiians – Food, Shelter and Clothing. The hale are surrounded by native plants, and just as one starts drooling over all the tropical fruits, we are offered beverages and cut up pieces of papayas and bananas.
I won’t give away everything about the tour (and besides, you can read more about it on their website) – but what does quickly become obvious is this is more than just a job for our landkeepers. They share personal stories about the resurgence of the Hawaiian culture, for example how just a generation ago it was illegal for children to speak Hawaiian in schools, and now their own children are able to attend Hawaiian immersion schools.
Each landkeeper kept coming back to two points – one is sustainability. Sustainability is a pretty big buzzword these days, and as our guides pointed out, Hawaii was 2,500 miles from the nearest land-mass, they had to be pretty conservative with their resources. The other point was coming back to ones roots. As the landkeepers were clearing the valley over the last two years, the unveiling of ancient aquaduct walls and taro valleys seemed a great metaphor for their journey. Words, plants, practices and values that have been hidden or lost since the Western contact are just starting to be found and put to use again, and sharing this with each other, with our guests and with our keiki… it seems like the beginning of something very exciting…. there goes the chicken-skin again!
The ‘Aina Nui Tour is 4 hours including transportation, the ‘Aina Tour is 2. School and Kama’aina rates are available. Tours are currently offered a few days a week.