Article: Restoring Paradise


Olowalu is a community on the west side of the island of Maui in the state of Hawaii. It's located about 4 miles (6.4 km) south of Lahaina on the Honoapiʻilani Highway.

It sustained (and could still sustain) a large population, governed by the high chiefess Kalola, daughter of Maui ruler Kekaulike, and grandmother of Keopuolani. It was home to a traditional farming community until the arrival of the Europeans, who replaced it with a sugarcane plantation. The area is home to one of Hawaii's most striking reefs.

From ancient times, Olowalu was considered a place of refuge, or puʻu honua, by Hawaiians. Persons pursued for committing an offense against a family group or an ali'i (royal) were untouchable once they stepped inside its borders. Violating sanctuary was punishable by death. For Pacific Island cultures, maintaining a peaceful order was a deep cultural tenet. For people on Maui, Olowalu created an interval of space and time to resolve disputes.

Historically, Traditional Hawaiian planters filled these arable lands or kula with food and material crops. Olowalu was known for dry land taro and luxuriant shady breadfruit groves. Other crops such as sweet potato and plants that produced useful materials for clothing, shelter and transport, such as kukui, wauke, 'olona, pili and naio were also plentiful. A meandering stream and network of irrigation ditches nourished these crops.

Paradise Not Paradise

The top of the Olowalu ahupuaʻa on Pu'u Kukui reaches 4,457 feet (1,358 m) feet. Its boundaries trace downhill between LThau Mountain on the north and LThau 'Ula Mountain on the south. Olowalu Valley and 'Iao Valley were linked by an ancient trail until landslides covered the summit.

Olowalu Valley opens up to a fan-shaped alluvial plain.

When the Olowalu hills were cleared of sandalwood and hardwoods, Olowalu Valley became a much dryer environment, from mountains to shore. Reforestation of LThau with sandalwood and 'ohi'a lehua is a major long-range goal of the OCR, and a huge undertaking requiring partnership with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

Increased condensation drip in the high forest, added to conservation methods on the kula, are an opportunity to restore past moisture levels to Olowalu Valley. Every activity in an ahupua'a was carried out within the context of a spiritual and cultural belief system that maintained harmony, balance, and peace for both seen and unseen life forms of all creation. Restoring the OCR is a foundation for bringing the concept of sanctuary back into present day culture, and redeeming the powerful history of Olowalu as a functioning pu'uhonua.

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