Lahaina Assistant Postmaster Arthur Waal Sr. was photographed in his post office in this undated photo from around the turn of the last century.

Diary is a letter
from old Maui

The book describes Lahaina life
at the turn of the century

By Gary T. Kubota

LAHAINA >> Lahaina Assistant Postmaster Arthur Waal Sr. was reluctant to be the one to lower the Hawaiian flag as Hawaii became an American territory in 1898.

But Waal was given the job in the absence of the postmaster.

"As I was looking up at the Hawaiian flag during the last minutes of its official existence, I can truly say that I had been very happy and contented in old Hawaii and frankly regret the change," Waal wrote in a recounting of his experience.

Today, the Waal family will be returning the Hawaiian flag to Maui to be put on permanent display at the old Lahaina Courthouse.

As part of the exhibit organized by the LahainaTown Action Committee, the family will also be lending Waal's diary and essays describing Lahaina in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Ceremonies marking the occasion start at 1 p.m. at the Courthouse, which now partially serves as a museum.

Theo Morrison, the committee's executive director, who arranged the loan, said Waal's accounts not only reinforce Lahaina's place in history, but also give people today a look at old Hawaii.

"To me it's a slice of life during that era," Morrison said.

Morrison said Waal's son, Arthur Jr., who lives on the mainland, approached her last year to arrange the loan, and since then provided documentation about the flag.

Waal, an immigrant from Drammen, Norway, initially visited relatives on Oahu before working on Maui as a sugar cane field supervisor in 1897 and later for the Lahaina Post Office at the Courthouse near the harbor.

Lahaina, the capital of Hawaii until the mid-1800s, was then the center of trade and communication on Maui, where steamers came to load and unload goods and mail for the Valley Isle.

Assuming the job of postmaster from Oct. 1, 1898, to April 30, 1916, Waal became familiar with a variety of people and events on the Valley Isle.

In an essay, Waal described the Lahaina of 1897 as having no hotel and few rooming houses. But he noted that a haircut was 10 cents compared with 15 cents on Oahu, and that included a shampoo.

"The men in this town part their hair in the middle and wore sideburns, high celluloid collar on white silk shirts with blue or pink elastic silk sleeve bands, pig-top pants," he wrote.

There were telephone lines connecting towns on Maui but no ice manufacturing plants, theaters, drugstores or electric lights.

He recalled the streets of Lahaina becoming dark when a strong wind blew out the kerosene lamps. There were boardwalks in the town, and hitching posts for horseback riders and carriages were in front of every store.

A galvanized bucket full of water hung over the entry to a store as a fireman's first aid.

Horse riding was popular and there was an occasional dance. The popular dances of the period included "waltzes, the two-step, Scottish, Virginia reel, polka and Masurca."

His writings also included brief mention of business endeavors, such as those of Edward K. Duvachelle, who had a frog ranch on Molokai, and George Freeland, who was about to start building the Pioneer Inn.

Waal wrote briefly about a strike at sugar plantations at Olowalu and Lahaina in 1900, when 1,000 Japanese laborers halted work and at one point told Japanese Consulate officials to leave their camp.

In June 1904 he wrote about the Pioneer Mill Co.'s development of the Honokohau ditch from Honokohau gulch to Lahaina and the diversion of 12 million of the 15 million gallons of water daily from a stream.

Waal said the lowering of the flag on Aug. 12, 1898, was a solemn occasion with Hawaiian women clad in their "long loose holukus, with their fragrant leis reminiscent of the old Hawaiian days."

As the flag was lowered, everyone stood at attention and sang "mournfully to the strains of the Hawaii Ponoi."

"On this bright and sunny day at Lahaina, a new territory was added to the United States of America. To its new citizens may it bring further happiness and prosperity. These were my sincere wishes. Time will tell?"

Waal wrote an entry in his diary about how the post office stopped selling the Hawaiian stamp on June 14, 1900, and replaced it with the U.S. stamp.

"The Hawaiian stamp is much more attractive," he wrote.

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