Looking for Mamo

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If you are looking for Mamo, sadly enough you are wasting your time. The Mamo, species Drepanis pacifica, was an Hawaiian songbird. The operative word being “was,” because the Mamo is no more. It was wiped out, gone… extinct. Its plumage was spectacular in color and sadly, beauty killed the beast or in this case, the bird.

The Mamo became extinct about 1898. It was about 8 inches long, black with touches of yellow, and a long decurved (curved downward) bill which was used for nectar-feeding. However, despite the fact that it was one of the first Hawaiian birds to come to the attention of Europeans, very little is known about it. Obviously the naturalist from James Cook’s third voyage to the islands knew they fed primarily from the flowers of arborescent lobelias, a genus of flowering plants comprising 415 species. It is also most probable that insects were a part of the Mamo’s diet. It was additionally known that the call of the Mamo was a single note long haunting and rather mournful note. Perhaps it always knew of its eventual demise and extinction.

This legendary songbird with its brilliant feathers was sought after by Hawaiian royalty to adorn and be made into the ceremonial cloaks they wore. Many festive birds with bright plumage including the Black Mamo and Bishop’s O`o were used in the creation of these capes. It is estimated that as many as 80,000 birds were necessary to create a single garment for Hawaiian royalty. However, as devastating as these numbers may seem these birds remained fairly numerous until the Americans destroyed their mountain-forest habitat.


The Ohi’a Tree and the Lehua Blossom

When one thinks of Hawaii, it is quite natural for images of coconut trees swaying in the gentle trade winds of the islands to come to mind. And while the coconut tree is important, it is the Ohi’a that is one of the most beloved and culturally significant trees of Hawaii.

The Ohi’a or Metrosideros polymorpha, (the ʻōhiʻa lehua) is a species of flowering evergreen tree. It is a mainstay of the Hawaiian forest. It grows in both wet and dry climates from sea level to heights above 5,000 feet. It is one of the most abundant plants on the islands, not to mention one of the most beautiful. Its wood was used to create weapons, kapa cloth beaters, boards for pounding poi, enclosures, and statues. Its leaves and bark were used to make medicinal teas and its flowers and seeds fed native birds like the apapane and the now-extinct mamo.

The lehua blossoms, which are a vibrant red have always been important adornments in hula and other ceremonies. It is virtually impossible to hear traditional Hawaiian moolelo (stories), mele (songs) and oli (chants) without some mention of ohi’a or its lehua flowers.

This plant that grows into a tree and is the first to grow on new lava flows is sadly, under attack by the fungus, Ceratocystis fimbriata. This villain is also known as ROD (Rapid Ohi’a Death) because of the speed by which it infects and kills its host, within days to weeks.

In 2016, the Merrie Monarch Festival, a week-long internationally acclaimed hula competition festival held on the big island of Hawaii for the first time in its more than half-a-century history, opted to forgo traditional lei and adornments from the ohi’a lehua tree. This was done in order to help stem the spread of ROD because the disease is ravaging populations of the tree on the Big Island. Efforts so far have been effective in curtailing the spread of this disease to other islands, but the operative words here are… so far.

The legend of the Ohia Lehua is a favorite among Hawaiian mythology. It goes that Ohi’a was a handsome, strapping young warrior. He was also a bit of a trickster and one heck of an athlete.

One night when Ohia was visiting Lehua’s village, he was talking story with her father by the bonfire. It was there that he saw Lehua for the first time and it was love at first sight. Lehua was a beauty. In fact, she was the most beautiful and the gentlest girl on the island. Ohio’s mouth dropped open, and he became so tongue-tied that he could not even finish the sentence he was speaking. Lehua’s father knew instantly that this young man was smitten with his daughter and had to even nudge his guest to remind him of his duties. Ohio simply could not take his eyes off of her. But the attraction was not merely one way. Lehua blushed, and her eyes were equally fixed on the striking young man whom her father was talking with.

When Lehua’s father offered to introduce his infatuated guest to his only daughter, Ohi’a for all of his athleticism, stumbled all over himself. Ohi’a proved himself to be an able suitor and the father quite like the boy… But for Lehua, she was more in love than she could have ever imagined.

The two wed, and one might think that they then lived happily ever after. Such, however, was not to be the case.

One day while Pele was strolling in the forest near Ohi’a’s house she spied the handsome young man working. She decided that she wanted him for herself. She approached and began making conversation with him. Ohi’a was polite to her, but he rejected all of her advances. Soon his young wife appeared bringing him his lunch. As Lehua approached Ohi’a’s face lit up, and he went to her side completely ignoring Pele. One look and
Pele knew this young man only had eyes for his wife.

This infuriated Pele, and in an angry rage, she dropped her human disguise, transforming into a raging column of fire. She then struck Ohi’a down and turned him into an ugly twisted tree. Lehua fell to her knees beside the tree that had once been her husband. Tears streamed down her face, and she begged Pele to turn him back into a man or turn her into a tree, as she could not bear to be separated from her beloved.

Pele ignored Lehua and took her leave. But when the gods saw what Pele had done to the innocent lovers, they became furious. As Lehua lay sobbing in despair, the gods reached down and transformed her into a beautiful red flower, which they placed upon the twisted Ohi’a tree, so that the young wife and her beloved husband would never more be apart.

From that day on… The Ohi’a tree has blossomed with the beautiful red Lehua flowers, and while the flowers remain on the tree, the weather stays sunny and fair. But whenever, a flower is plucked from the tree, heavy rain falls upon the land like tears, for Lehua still cannot bear to be separated from her beloved husband, Ohi’a.


Pele’s Curse

Visitors and locals alike should beware the curse of Pele. Some may scoff at it, while others may ignore it completely. Still, others may not even know about it, but woe be it unto them!

Pele’s curse started as what some believe to have been a disgruntled Park Ranger who simply got tired of seeing people pick up pieces of volcanic rock and carting them away as souvenirs of their stay here on Maui.

Pele is the Goddess of volcanoes and fire. She is not a goddess you want to be messing with either. She is extremely protective of her child the island of Maui. The curse of Pele says that anybody removing a piece of the isle will be cursed with bad luck of all sorts until that part of her island is returned to her.

Some ignore this curse while others take it more seriously, but the truth of the matter is is that once the curse became known hotels and tourist offices became inundated with jars of sand, shells, pieces of coral and rocks of all sizes. Usually accompanying these ill taken souvenirs were letters apologizing for having disregarded the curse and tales of woe that had befallen the unbelievers.

So if by chance you do happen to take a piece of the valley island home with you and begin to notice all sorts of bad things happening… know that Pele’s Curse is nothing to be ignored. Send your souvenirs back to the island to stop the bad luck and hope that Pele forgives you for your discretion.


The year was 1789, just 12 years after the Hawaiian Islands had been discovered by Captain James Cook.  Cook who was initially perceived as a God, eventually overstayed his welcome and was discovered to be a mere mortal.  Ultimately his return to Hawaii was his downfall.  He met with an untimely death by angry Hawaiians who killed him on February 14, 1779, on the Big Island of Hawaii.  However, Hawaii was now on the map for the seafaring captains of America and Europe.

Captain Simon Metcalfe and his son on two different ships set out on a fur trading mission in 1789.  The elder Metcalfe aboard the Eleanora and his son on the Fair American which he captained.  The two ships were small schooners with only five crew members each. The two made plans to rendezvous at Kealakekua Bay in the Hawaiian Islands if by circumstance the two were to become separated at sea.

Simon Metcalfe (sometimes spelled Metcalf) was the first American captain to take sea otters on the Northwest Coast and then trade those furs for goods in China.  Hawaii being a halfway point was a good place to obtain provision of food and water.  He was considered by all who knew him, an irritable, snappish, harsh individual, who was a stickler for rules.  He was a firm believer in robust and immediate punishment for those who broke them.  No doubt he let the “cat out of the bag” (meaning the cat o’nine tails) on more than one occasion to administer just such punishment.

It was wise the Metcalfe’s had made arrangements to meet if they were separated but also unfortunate for young Thomas Metcalfe as you will soon discover.

It seems the father and son did get separated and Thomas Metcalfe’s ship the Fair American was captured by the Spanish and taken briefly to Mexico.  It seems Spain got upset that foreign vessels were engaged in fur trade off the Pacific coast which it laid claim.  It captured several ships including the Fair American and several British ships as well.  These events have become known as the Nootka Crisis for Nootka Sound off the coast of Vancouver.  Britain with its vast armada threatened Spain and Spain without its French ally who was busy with the French Revolution acquiesced to British demands and released all their captured vessels.

Meanwhile, Simon Metcalfe made it to Hawaii and sought refuge and supplies off the coast of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii at Kealakekua Bay.  Tragically, there seems to have been some altercation with the local chieftain, Kameʻeiamoku and Metcalfe had him flogged.  In retaliation, a small boat was stolen and the watchman killed.  This infuriated Metcalfe, and he fired his cannons into the village and captured some of the villagers.  They told the Captain that the boat was taken by people from the village of Olowalu.

Simon Metcalfe immediately set sail for Olowalu off the coast of Maui.  There, he discovered the boat had been broken up for its nails.  Nails for Hawaiians were a real treasure since the Hawaiian culture had no metal smelting technology.  The nails were used for fish hooks, adzes, drills, daggers and spear points.

The Chiefess Kalola of Olowalu was only too aware of the gravity of the situation having returned what she could, that being the stolen boats keel and the watchman’s stripped thighbones. She declared a three-day “kapu” (a Hawaiian corporal offense by law) on all canoes approaching the Eleanora.

Meanwhile, Metcalf who was infuriated… feigned a display of peace and invited the villagers to his boat. When the kapu was lifted, hundreds of Hawaiians paddled their canoes out towards where the Eleanora laid anchored. Metcalf was ready for them, having instructed his crew to open fire with cannon and musket.  When the smoke lifted more than 100 men, women, and children lay dead in the canoes and many others wounded.

To this day the massacre at Olowalu is referred to by Hawaiians as Kalolopahu or spilled brains.

After Kalolopahu, Metcalfe weighed anchor and sailed back to the island of Hawai’i.  Anchoring off of Kealakekua, Metcalf sent his boatswain, John Young ashore to inquire about the Fair American. There Kamehameha learned of the Olowalu massacre from the Eleanora’s boatswain. Kamehameha immediately placed a kapu on any boats going out to the Eleanora for fear the events of Olowalu might be repeated.  Metcalfe sent the head chief a letter demanding his crewman’s release but after several days and fearing the worst fate for his boatswain, Metcalfe set sail for China.

John Young, however, was not killed but instead was befriended by Kamehameha.  In time he became a close and trusted advisor to the head chief.  Something that could not be said for Thomas Metcalf who finally made it to Hawaii after being detained by the Spanish.

About five or six weeks following the Olowalu massacre, the Fair American arrived at the Island of Hawaii. There Kameʻeiamoku, the same chief who Simon Metcalfe had flogged was waiting at Kaʻūpūlehu. The schooner’s crew of five were quickly overcome, and four were killed, including  Thomas Metcalfe. The only survivor was Isaac Davis, whom King Kamehameha also befriended as he had done John Young.

Together Young and Davis with their skills and knowledge of the weaponry also captured aboard the Fair American helped Kamehameha become an undefeatable force.  As horrible as the Kalolopahu was, it was an event that resulted in shaping the history of Hawaii.  Kamehameha’s foresight, leadership, and strategies unified the islands and changed everything for this island culture.

John Young went on to marry the Hawaiian chiefess Ka‘ō‘ana‘eha, and their granddaughter would later become Queen Emma.  Of Isaac Davis, he went on to marry a chiefess and had six children and upon her death married a relative of Kamehameha having two more children.  He, unfortunately, was poisoned in a plot to kill the King of Kauai.  Following his death, John Young raised the remainder of his children.

As for Simon Metcalfe.  He left Hawaii for China not knowing that his actions had indirectly brought about the death of his son.  Some five years later in 1794, he was killed while trading with friendly Haida natives in Canada.



The Observatory on Haleakala, aka Science City…

On a clear day
How it will astound you
That the glow of your being
Outshines every star…  (Lyrics from “On a Clear Day” by Barbra Streisand)

High atop Maui’s Haleakala, the dormant volcano that dominates the island’s landscape, “Science City” sits on a pinnacle of lava, cinders and ash formed from countless ancient volcanic eruptions. Its domes glisten in the brilliant afternoon sun above the mountain’s almost-daily flaring skirt of clouds clinging closely to its slopes like a ballerina’s tutu.

Science City sits atop the mountain’s lofty perch over Maui’s fertile Central Valley below. On the other side of the island valley from whence it gets its nickname “Valley Island” are the West Maui Mountains, also called Kahalewai,. They appear in the distance as a breathtaking three-dimensional patchwork of sugar cane fields and desert. The surrounding blue Pacific, relentlessly whipped by the nearly constant trade winds, reaches in every direction to the distant horizons. But, it is what’s above Haleakala that matters most to Science City (it’s unofficial but popular name) and to the scientists, technicians, and military personnel who use the site for observing, exploring, probing, and monitoring the heavens. It is the unobstructed view of our planet’s sun, solar system, galaxy, and, indeed, the entire universe that make this site unique.

Officially, Science City is known as the Haleakala High Altitude Observatory. With an impressive collection of optical, radio, radar, and infrared telescopes, listening dishes, and sensing instruments. The various observatories scan the limitless sky above on a 24/7 basis. Simultaneously, they perform such diverse missions as exploring the heavens, monitoring natural and manmade space activities, tracking the growing amount of space junk, and defending the nation from missile attacks.

The array of observatories at the summit site includes both science and military projects. They are managed by an alphabet soup of civilian, governmental and military agencies. They are supported by labs and computing facilities far below at the Advance Technology Center in Pukalani and Kihei’s Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC).

On a clear day and might… they can see forever!

Whadda Ya Know About Maui?

RUNWAY 01-19

For 25 years from 1961 to 1986 the Ka’anapali Airport operated with an airport that started just 30 feet off of the Ka’anapali Beach that has affectionately become known today as “Airport Beach.”

It began on an old coastal road that cut through a sugar cane field. In 1961 plans for the development of a resort area by Amfac Inc. dictated the need for a landing strip that could bring in workers as well as equipment and materials.

Designated as Runway 01-19 it soon came into use by the fledgling commuter air service begun by John Peacock and W.K. Woods called the Royal Hawaiian Air Service aka RHAS. Initially, this legendary airline launched in 1962. The runway’s length being only 2615 feet limited the usage to the fleet of single prop Cessna 402 aircraft, but in its heyday, the airport averaged 60 flights a day in and out of Kaanapali.

At the end of the runway was a two story terminal constructed of plywood. The control tower was located on the first floor and a spiral staircase many considered to lead to heaven, led instead to the High School Harry’s Windsock lounge. There the bartender “High School Harry” would treat passengers to his world famous Bloody Marys.

The walls and ceilings of the Windsock were covered from top to bottom with business cards from all over the world, and it was believed that if the walls ever collapsed the lounge would be held together by these calling cards that were stapled, glued and some held in place by bubble gum.

To their credit, the Royal Hawaiian Air Service transported over 2,000,000 island visitors during its lifetime without registering a single incident on its’ watch. Something no other airline can boast.

The daredevil commuter pilots who flew the Cessna for RHAS regarded this airfield their favorite because of its challenges being in the middle of a wind shadow. A “wind shadow” is a phenomenon occurring when the wind air flow encounters an obstacle. The obstacle in question was the West Maui Mountains that shielded the beach from the trade winds. After impact, the wind flow is perturbed over a certain distance creating depression zones. It was not uncommon for the windsocks located at either end of the runway to each be turned inward pointing to the center of the field .towards each other.

During takeoffs and landings when there were no passengers, the pilots routinely practiced STOL’s an acronym for Short Takeoff & Landings in which with a full throttle, a good headwind and full flaps they would land and take off using only 50 feet of runway… OMG. Little wonder Kaanapali Airport along with High School Harry’s Bloody Marys was a favorite for these adrenaline junkies.

But more than just great flying these pilots offered unbelievable service because Royal Hawaiian was known for its entertainment factor as well. The pilots not only guided their crafts safely but gave in flight tours along the way. Aviators were expected to fly low and describe the scenery for passengers. Flight routes were never predetermined, and routes over waterfalls, volcanoes, and whales came standard with the fare. It was said that one pilot even got chewed out for taking a straight, high-altitude flight without narration. Pilots became friends with the likes of Carol Burnett, Charles Lindbergh, and other repeat customers. The company’s sight-seeing vacations attracted worldwide recognition and by 1974 bookings reach 128,546.

The Ka’anapali Airport finally closed its doors on January 25, 1986, to make room for the construction of the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort. However, the actual building did not begin for another 17 years after this date in 2003. Today, the pavilion at Kaheliki park is all that remains of the once bustling little terminal where the A-frame Windsock Lounge sat upon its plywood haunches. However, there you will find a plaque dedicated to those glory days when Airport Beach was indeed Runway 01-19.


Born Was Kumulipo In The Night

Did you know that virtually every culture in the world embraces their own story of creation? They are commonly called creation myths. And while the term myth itself, usually refers to a false or fanciful story, this author in no way wishes to imply or suggest that these beliefs are anything less than what they are meant to be… man’s sacred attempt to explain how the world was formed and where humanity came from.

Hawaiian religion tells a story known as the Kumulipo (Koo moo leapo).  Early Hawaiians did not have a written history, and everything that is known has come to us in the oral form of storytelling or ‘Ōlelo (Oh lay-low) meaning the language and spoken word.  In Hawaii, it is called “talking story.”

And so it began with the first chant:

“At the time when the earth became hot
At the time when the heavens turned about
At the time when the sun was darkened
To cause the moon to shine
The time of the rise of the Pleiades
The slime, this was the source of the earth
The source of the darkness that made darkness
The source of the night that made night
The intense darkness, the deep darkness
Darkness of the sun, darkness of the night
Nothing but night.”

The Kumulipo is an 18th-century chant that tells the story of creation.  It is a genealogy record that describes the lineage of Hawaiian royalty and was created in honor of Kalaninuiamamao, the prince of the Big Island at the time of his birth.  All 2102 lines of it were passed down orally to his daughter Alapaiwahine (Allah payee wa-hinee.)

Kumulipo means “a source of darkness or origin.”  Children in the Hawaiian tradition are brought up to believe that darkness is not a bad place but rather a place of creation.  According to the Kumulipo, the world was created over a cosmic night which entailed many nights.  They believed that man came from the sea just as the seaweed, coral, shark, and fish did.

It was this chant; the Kumulipo said during the Makahiki season (the Hawaiian New Year from October/November to February/March for four months) that the kahunas (Hawaiian priest) would recite honoring the god Lono (Low-no.)

When Captain James Cook in 1779 became the first European to land in Hawaii, he was greeted by the Hawaiians reciting the Kumulipo.  They mistakenly believed him to be their god Lono because of his pale skin and the type of sails on his ship.


The Banyan Tree

Anyone who has ever been to Maui has been to Lahaina… and anyone who has ever been to Lahaina has indeed passed by what is unquestionably one of the most remarkable and impressive trees, they will ever see.  It is the Banyan tree of Lahaina.

Located in the heart of Lahaina directly in front of the Old Lahaina Courthouse, this epic tree has earned the title of the biggest Banyan tree in all of Hawaii. Its branches spread out over more than two-thirds of an acre. It’s circumference measures more than one-fourth of a mile, and its branches soar upwards to a height of 60 feet. If you have ever seen a sight before where all you can say is “Wow!” The Banyan tree is just such an experience.

The tree was planted back in April of 1873 by William Owen Smith, the Sheriff of Lahaina. At the time Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. It was given as a gift from missionaries in India to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first American Protestant mission.

The First Presbyterian Mission was founded at the request of Queen Keopuolani (Key-oh Poo-oh lan-ee), the Queen Mother and sacred widow of King Kamehameha (Kah-may-ah may-ah) the Great

The tree at the time it was planted was a mere 8 foot tall. Today, it is not only the biggest Banyan tree in Hawaii but in the entire United States, as well as being the oldest.

Characteristic of the Ficus benghalensis, better known in Hawaiian as paniana (pan-ee an-ah), are the aerial roots. These roots descend or sprout from the branches downwards towards the ground where they form new trunks. This results in the growth of many trunks around the main trunk. The Banyan Tree in what has now become known as Banyan Tree Park has 16 major trunks, apart from the main trunk.

Those whose see the Banyan  tree cannot help but notice its uniformity which is not a product of chance. Over the past twelve decades, it has been groomed and pampered by a host of Japanese gardeners. Initially, these caretakers hung large pickle jars below the aerial roots whose locations promoted the greatest strength and symmetry. They then identified and removed other aerial roots whose positioning detracted from the overall conformity of this amazing tree.

It is hard to believe this giant began life as an “epiphyte” which is an organism that grows on the surface of a plant.  Epiphytes get their moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and water in whatever debris is around them.

Sadly, the Lahaina Banyan tree has fallen victim to the whims and maliciousness of thoughtless individuals carving their initial through the outer layers of the bark. Even today despite the fact that signs are posted everywhere warning to not climb on the tree, children and even adults cannot resist the urge.  However, there is a hefty penalty for doing so.

The park occupies the site of the Old Lahaina Fort, originally built in 1831. Hoapili (Hoe ah-pee-lee) who was the Royal Governor of Maui, built the fort to protect the town from riotous sailors when Lahaina was used as an anchorage for the North Pacific whaling fleet. After the fort had been demolished in 1854, a courthouse was built on the site. And in 1964, a portion of the old Lahaina Fort was reconstructed.

Every Saturday and Sunday, you can find an Arts & Crafts Show under the Banyan Tree sponsored by the Lahaina Arts Association. There art by local artisans is available for purchase and viewing. The park and courthouse are presently managed by the County of Maui and the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.