Lanai museum teaches visitors about isle history
Kepa Maly grew up on Lanai, adopted and raised by a Hawaiian couple who taught him how to respect and love the land. Now he wants to ensure the values are preserved so others -- resident and visitor alike -- can learn to do the same.
Last month, Maly and his wife, Onaona, opened the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center to spread the word about Lanai's history, heritage and traditional ways.
"Our basic goal is to ensure that a greater awareness of and appreciation for the history and resources of the island is fostered," Maly said. "It's all about respect. We are all related as one big family -- the stars and heavens, every breeze and wave, man and earth."
The museum, in Lanai City's Old Dole Building, teaches visitors about what Maly called 1,000 years of Hawaiian history, 100 years of sheep and cattle ranching history and 70 years of pineapple history.
The center also highlights the lives of various immigrants who came to live on the island during the plantation era: Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Puerto Rican.
The last plantation pineapple was harvested in 1992. The fruit is no longer grown on the island except in a few small family gardens, Maly said.
Today, tourism is the main industry on the island.
Maly said he is delighted to share his 141-square-mile island and its heritage with visitors, but he cautions against overuse and overcrowding.
According to state tourism figures, visitors to Lanai numbered fewer than 40,000 in 1993, the year after the last pineapple harvest, and topped 85,000 by 2006.
That still is only a fraction of the approximately 1.5 million visitors Hawaii welcomes each year.
"It's our smallness that gives it the aloha. It takes a special visitor to come here and really, really appreciate it," Maly said. "Back in the 1950s, 1960s and even into the 1970s, they were selling Hawaii as sand, surf, sun, sex and mai tais. Now, visitors more and more want to experience the real side of Hawaii."
As more visitors look for a Hawaii experience beyond the beaches, Maly said he hopes they would be respectful of the land and the people.
"Everything has a capacity, and we need to find that careful balance to maintain the heritage and still live in today in a way that is healthy for our community," he said. "We are strongly rooted in agriculture, but as we move toward a more tourism-driven island, we mustn't lose our place of identity."
Before Westerners arrived in Hawaii, Lanai's population was 6,000, Maly said, and the islanders lived within their resources. Today the number stands at about 3,000 people, who increasingly rely on goods and products shipped in regularly.