Even though Lana‘i is one of the most desirable getaways in Hawaii, there was once a time when this exclusive island was the private getaway of ghosts. Up until the early 1400’s, it was believed that spirits dominated this island which sits across the channel from Maui. When Kaulalaau, a mischievous chief from Maui, was banished to the island to live amongst the spirits, the fact that he survived was a symbolic indicator that Lana‘i was a safe place to settle.
Over the four centuries that followed, Lana‘i would house a modest population of chiefs, priests, and commoners. Battles were waged on the ridges of the highlands, visiting royalty made retreats along the shorelines, and legends tell of rival priests who literally attempted to pray each other to death. Though many relics of the past have been lost, visible remnants of the ancient way of life remain scattered about the sparsely-developed island. Even with the recent attention towards growth, a similar amount of dedicated effort has been put towards the cultural preservation of Lana‘i.
For those interested in the culture of Lana‘i, the best place to start is the Lana‘i Culture and Heritage Center set in the center of Lana‘i City. Small but informative, this two-room time portal intricately weaves a story of Lana‘i through the various eras of its history. Everything here, from weapons used by Hawaiians in battle to cans of pineapple which dominated the economy—signify parts of the island’s heritage which have made Lana‘i what it is today.
More than just the displays, however, the well-informed staff are a wealth of information on helping you explore the island. When visiting Shipwreck Beach, for example, they can point the way towards ancient petroglyphs which lie in a grove that is hidden from the trail. Or, for those who want to delve more in depth, they can also discuss the cultural importance of this stretch of coastline known as Kaiolohia.
Heading south on the sandy road towards Keomoku, you’ll find the lonesome Ka Lanakila Church which was once the island’s principal place of worship. Given the historical significance of the church, renovation efforts towards cultural preservation are breathing new life into this stoic outpost. There are also efforts to preserve the sugar mill which dates to the failed plantation at Keomoku, and even though it only lasted for a year, it’s still an important era for Lana‘i since it introduced new cultures into the island’s population.
On the southern coastline, those without a Jeep can take a walk back in time on the short and rugged Kapiha‘a Fisherman’s Trail. Once overgrown by kiawe and brush, this coastal trail has been partially cleared and placards have been erected to tell the area’s history. Centuries ago, before there was a resort, and before Westerners had arrived on Lana‘i, this scenic shoreline by Hulopo‘e Beach was home to a village of adze-carvers and fishermen. Small heiau pepper the coastline, and noticeable areas have been carved in the rocks to gather salt used to preserve fish.
In an effort to fuse the old with the new, this is another example of the cultural preservation currently taking place on Lana‘i. With its unique history, tightly-knit community, and expanse of undeveloped land, Lana‘i is an island where you can preserve the past while sustainably moving towards the future.