Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi Hawaii’s
Back yard

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

Lahaina’s past comes
to life at interactive

When Karee Carlucci says visitors will get a feel for Lahaina's colorful past at the Lahaina Heritage Museum, she literally means it.

Carlucci is the exhibit director for Maui's newest attraction, which brings Lahaina's intriguing stories to life through dynamic interactive displays.

Lahaina Heritage Museum

Address: 648 Wharf St., Lahaina, Maui, on the second floor of the Old Lahaina Courthouse

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Admission: Free; donations accepted

Call: (808) 661-1959


Web site:

The museum opened on April 16 with an exhibit entitled "The Pacific Canoe from Log to Launch and Beyond the Horizon." It describes how a canoe is constructed from the sturdy trunk of a koa tree, showcases traditional canoe-building tools and chronicles the voyages of the early Polynesian seafarers across the vast Pacific more than a thousand years ago. The exhibit ties in nicely with the International Festival of Canoes (see sidebar), in full swing in Lahaina.

Unlike most museums, touching is encouraged at the Lahaina Heritage Museum. For example, at "The Pacific Canoe," visitors can run their hands along the grain of a koa log and examine coconut husks whose fibers were woven into sennit long ago. They also can handle samples of finished woven sennit. Demonstrations of lauhala weaving and hula implement making take place on a small stage.

"The most difficult part of putting together a pre-Western contact exhibit was that there were no photographs to work from, so we had to focus on artists' renderings to set the tone," says Carlucci. "We were very fortunate to have Hawaii's esteemed artist-historian-author Herb Kawainui Kane donate a few of his prints and giclees for this exhibit."

Her favorite piece is a mural she commissioned from Kihei artist Pamela Macedo that depicts a stately koa tree being selected for a canoe by a kahuna kalai waa (master canoe builder) and his assistants. It covers half of one wall in the 1,200-square-foot museum. Displayed beneath it are ancient stone adzes and other canoe-making implements on loan from the Maui Historical Society's Bailey House Museum in Wailuku.

Well-respected Maui kamaaina, including the Lindsey family, Mrs. Sam Kalama, Bruce Fleming, Richard Baldwin and Poomaikelani Kawananakoa III, provided venerable calabashes and poi pounders for "The Pacific Canoe" exhibit.

Lahainaluna High School offered its full-size, one-man fishing canoe, and Hui O Waa Kaulua contributed a large steering paddle, feather lei and a gourd container. (The Lahaina-based hui built the double-hulled voyaging canoe Moolele, which is used by local high school students to learn traditional navigational techniques firsthand.) Many other organizations and individuals also contributed treasures.

This mural by Kihei artist Pamela Macedo was commissioned by Lahaina Heritage Museum. In it, a kahuna kalai wa'a (master canoe builder) and his assistants are marking a koa tree for a canoe and are chanting thanks to their canoe gods.

THE LAHAINA Heritage Museum is the brainchild of Theo Morrison, executive director of the nonprofit LahainaTown Action Committee, whose aim is to ensure the economic vitality of Lahaina while establishing it as a notable destination for visitors.

The interest in the historical displays "has been astounding," said Morrison, who also serves as the director of the Lahaina Heritage Museum.

Both residents and visitors "were hungry for more information about Lahaina's past," he said, "so it was logical to develop a museum that focused on Lahaina's rich and intriguing heritage."

The Lahaina Restoration Foundation turned over second-floor space in the Courthouse to the action committee to create and manage just such a museum. Seed money came from a $25,000 grant from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Maui County Office of Economic Development, and Morrison retained Carlucci to help coordinate and write the text for "The Pacific Canoe." The two history buffs spent countless hours visiting museums and art centers throughout Hawaii, discussing how they could inspire community participation.

"We want the community to be directly involved with this museum," Morrison emphasized. "It really is their museum."

To that end, the LahainaTown Action Committee is encouraging kamaaina to share their personal stories and artifacts. The organization is also approaching local businesses to sponsor future interactive exhibits that will present the many facets of Lahaina, from ancient to modern times.

"The Pacific Canoe from Log to Launch and Beyond the Horizon" will be on display through Aug. 15. If all goes well, Carlucci says, the next exhibit, "Pioneer Mill Company and the Life of Sugar Plantation Workers," will open on Sept. 1.

The Lahaina Heritage Museum intends to mount three exhibits a year. Possible themes for 2005 include "Hawaii's Royal Family and the Constitutional Government of King Kamehameha III" and "Maui Pineapple Company from 19th Century Baldwin Packers to 21st Century Maui Gold."

Nothing is cast in stone.

"We welcome the community's input on future exhibits," says Carlucci. "What interests you? What stories do you want to be told, and who do you feel deserves recognition for their role in shaping Lahaina's history? Part of the museum's mission is to provide local residents with an opportunity to share their family's history and heirlooms. By doing this, we can build community pride while preserving Lahaina's precious past."


Schedule of events during the
International Festival of Canoes

Each May, master carvers from throughout the Pacific gather in Lahaina to build canoes from scratch during this two-week celebration. Following are highlights of the final week of events.

Events taking place daily today through Friday are an arts and crafts festival, demonstrations of canoe carving, house thatching, drum making and surfboard shaping, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Banyan Tree Park.

Advance registration for workshops and lectures is required; call or visit the Lahaina Heritage Museum to enroll.

There is a fee for the ipu-making and lauhala-weaving workshops to cover the cost of materials (ranges from $7 to $18 per person). Admission to all other festival events is free. Call (808) 667-9194 or go online at for more information.

» 10 a.m. to noon: Kapule Paoa performs
» 1-3 p.m.: Cook Islands Dance Troupe performs

» 9:30 a.m.: Workshop on ipu (hula implement) making
» 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Cook Islands Dance Troupe performs

» 9 and 10:30 a.m.: Workshops on lauhala weaving
» 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Kapule Paoa performs

» 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Kawika Lum Ho performs
» 7:30 p.m.: Lecture on "Canoers and Whalers of the North Pacific," at Campbell Park

» 10 a.m.: Lecture on awa (kava), Snug Harbour Room at Pioneer Inn
» 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Kalani Smythe performs
» 12:30 p.m.: Lecture on ancient Hawaiian weapons, Snug Harbour Room

» 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Kaleo & Friends performs
» 6 p.m.: Parade of Canoes along Front Street from Lahaina Center to Banyan Tree Park
» 7 to 10 p.m.: Hawaiian music concert, Lahaina Library Lawn

» 6 p.m.: Ceremonial launch of canoes at Kamehameha Iki Park
» 6 to 10 p.m.: Festival featuring local foods, display of canoes, music and dance, Kamehameha Iki Park

May 30
» 9 a.m.: Procession from Hanakaoo Beach to Kaanapali Resort. Canoes and surfboards made during the festival are placed in their permanent homes at various Kaanapali resorts.
» 11 a.m.: Lecture on the papa holua and the papa hee nalu (surfboard), Kaanapali Beach Hotel

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.


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