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Paniolo grave near Makena, Maui.

Translation: “Maui. There’s nothing better.”

That’s one motto.

Another is “Maui: the Haole Isle.” (Haole is the Hawaiian version of “Gringo.”)

But it’s the place my mother, who grew up on Oahu (The Meeting Place) chose to retire.

She said, when she bought her place near what would become the swankest tourist destination west of Dubai (or east of Dubai,) that she wanted to live in a place her offspring would be likely to visit.

I would, of course, visit my mother wherever she lived.

I have been visiting Hawaii regularly since my birth at Kapiolani Hospital (yup, same place as Barry) back in the late 60’s.

As a child sent by my tutu to the beach from her condo at the end of Waikiki, I learned to make deep ruts in the sand with my fingers to protect the elaborate sandcastles my older siblings and I would intricately design, build, renovate and destroy before the tide inevitably rose to wipe clean the slate.

Then from my mom’s new digs on Maui I watched weddings on too, too green lawns next door as Japanese couples legally bound themselves often to people they’d never met.

Then I watched my kids make deep ruts in the sand with their fingers to protect the elaborate sandcastles they would intricately design, build, renovate and destroy before the tide inevitably rose to wipe clean the slate.

It seems our traditions are as dependable as the arrival of the next wave.

But a walk down the road has me thinking Hawaii, and perhaps especially Maui, has not always been this way.

I hope Hawaiian children, before Captain Cook discovered their home back in 1778, would play in the sand. I doubt they envisioned European-style castles we emulated.

We know they rode logs, surfing the waves, for fun. And before Cook arrived, there were no mosquitoes in Hawaii. Or snakes.

Keawala 'i Church
Keawala ‘i Church

My walk just two miles along the shore south from the modern swank resorts of Wailea leads me to the oldest Christian church on Maui, Keawala ‘i Congregational Church, which stands in volcanic glory between Makena Road and the sea. As though creating a buffer from the waves I can hear crashing just beyond a barrier of rock and lush vegetation, lay three, and in places, four rows of graves.

Plumeria trees drop blossoms on these concrete rectangles, some also draped with kukui nut leis or feeding poinsettas, that don’t seem, suddenly, to evoke Christmas.

My mom could pronounce this name. But I'm not going to even try.
My mom could pronounce this name. But I’m not going to even try.

Each headstone suggests a story. A story of the island of Maui far more interesting than those now unrolling on the verdant turf of the Sheraton hotel.

It seems that in the recent past, as recent as the lives of those whose headstones still cast shade, inhabitants of Maui were paniolos. Yup, cowboys.

Beef were raised on the dry leeward slopes then herded into chutes formed of black volcanic rock straight into the sea at Makena landing, about a quarter mile north of this church. The cattle were swum to boats that would take the live commodity to Honolulu.

Trends are trendy in Hawaii. Apparently about 100 years ago, the fashion was to place a photograph on the gravestone of the beloved deceased. And so, we have a real glimpse into the past.

As I sense the cattle fences lurking among the Kiawe trees, I wonder what this new swank resort will look in 100 years.

And what will the new motto be?  ‘A‘ole pilikia? 

‘Good-bye troubles’ seems as enduring a characteristic as any.