In recent posts Sunrise Sister and Lucy (my wife and her sister) thanked me for a tour of the Iao Valley on Maui, a narrow, steep and lush valley of unsurpassed beauty. It’s an important historical site for many reasons, the most famous of which is the 1790 battle in which Kamahameha I defeated the forces of Maui to begin the march toward an islands wide consolidated monarchy. On the one hand, it was the triumph of tactics, discipline and modern technology over traditional means of warfare. On the other hand, it was the brutal slaughter of human life in which the bodies of Maui’s warriors damed the streams flowing down from Pu’u Kukui. One cannot leave that aside, but there is more, enough that, for me, the valley is also a microcosm not only of Hawaiian history but of humanity itself.
The Iao Valley channels streams of seemingly inexhaustible clean fresh water from the rains of Pu’u Kukui. Produce grown in it was able to feed many villages without fear of famine. Its upper reaches were (are) sacred ground once reserved for the burial of the elite. In some ways it could be as close to the Garden of Eden as one might get, but the bloody battle of 1790 destroyed whatever pretensions of innocence to which it may have aspired. Waves of immigrants and plantation farming of sugar cane and pineapple resulted in the abandonment of the valley as an agricultural site. The inexhaustible supply of clean mountain water proved to be both exhaustible and easily polluted. The growing town of Wailuku encroached on it with uncontrolled development.
I don’t know when, but the state stepped in to preserve the valley as a historical site and state park. Today concrete trails take tourists up, down and through it with stops along the way for incredible views and signs describing historical events. Taro and other crops are grown in miniature patches to remind people of what was once there. Sacred grounds are kapu, kept off limits, but one can see into them from a distance. The stream runs free and clear, if not altogether clean. A heritage park displays near life size models of buildings and decorations from each of the major immigrant communities, and from several vantage points one can look down at the industrial harbor of Kahului in the far distance. From nature no longer touched by human presence to shoreline compounds of petroleum tanks and big box stores, it’s all present.
When I am there I cannot help but meditate on how almost every historical human impact on the goodness of God’s creation is present in such a compact space of great beauty: the good, selfish, evil and redemptive work of human being all there and on display for the thousands who come to marvel at its beauty with unseeing eyes and ears that cannot hear the voices in the wind.